"There's something really sexy about Scrooge McDuck"
Just for kicks I looked at the responses to the piece posted in Slate's forum "The Fray." As usual, most of the posters think Landsburg is a morally obtuse idiot, but they fail to see the value of the basic idea.
I've been reading Landsburg's pieces for a while, and this is typical. He usually makes some statement that is widely believed (e.g. "Scrooge is a bad guy") and attacks one or more of its foundations. He usually oversimplifies, but he gets at some core issues in a novel way. Readers who are too quick to object are missing the whole point. The value of the column is not that Scrooge is actually a good guy (he isn't), but that he's not bad for the reasons you may have thought (because his hoarding of money impoverishes others). The right reaction is not indignation, but to think of what Landsburg might have left out and whether that might change the conclusion somewhat (e.g. what if Scrooge passes his wealth on to his children and they spend it). Years ago Paul Krugman wrote a great essay about how people tend to overreact to simplified economic models rather than learn from them.
My favorite Landsburg column explains why nobody should be upset about the budget deficit (if you don't know why, you should read the column). I'm still upset about the deficit, but not as strongly and not for the same reasons as I was before I understood his argument. A somewhat related idea is that privatizing social security is nothing more than a "debt-swap," which I posted about here.
One aspect of the miser-as-benefactor argument that Landsburg doesn't address is the difference between putting your money in a mattress and lending it out to a bank. If you lend it, it lowers the interest rate, helping borrowers (who tend to be poor) but hurting lenders (who tend to be rich). If you put it in a mattress, it increases the value of the money held by those who have it (the rich). So in this respect Ebeneezer Scrooge is preferable to Scrooge McDuck, but both are still more "generous" than if they consumed resources themselves.
Bonus trivia: what movie does the title of this post come from?