It’s A Wonderful Life as an economics lesson

It’s A Wonderful Life as an economics lesson

Here’s an interesting observation: Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” provides an excellent basic economics education, as well as a brief primer and introduction to the financial services industry in this country.

I love “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it’s the greatest financial services movie ever made. Sure, Jimmy Stewart is unforgettable as George Bailey. And Donna Reed as Mary Bailey has permanently blown the curve in the annual competition for ultimate Christmas wife and mom. For me, though, the unsung star of the film is the Bailey Building and Loan.


George and Mary, through their steadfast adherence to good, their commitment to each other, and to the value of sacrifice for the good of others, are a literary beacon of hope. The Bailey Building and Loan survives as a stalwart against Mr. Potter’s power and greed because George and Mary and all the depositors of Bailey’s Building and Loan stick together. We can’t feed our kids on faith. We can invest and diversify to smooth out the bumps of life for ourselves and each other. As for Mr. Potter, he’ll always be around with a higher salary, a swankier office, and a cigar. Mr. Potter is everywhere. His seductive power is especially compelling when the chips are down, and doubt overtakes our confidence in the long term investment strategy.

The writer also transcribes her favorite scene, during the run on the bank, when George pleads with the depositors that their deposits are not liquid assets, but investments in the lives of their neighbors and figurative pledges of faith in their community to survive. It’s an interesting point.


I will add that the following dialogue from George in the scene where Potter wants to close down the Building & Loan after George’s father died is a quite accurate reflection of Catholic social justice as it relates to economics:

Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… Why, in the twenty- five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what’s wrong with that? Why… Here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… What’d you say just a minute ago?… They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken- down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!

  • I’m with you- but if you check out Rod Dreher’s blog, he’s touting paleocon Deneen’s theory that George Bailley destroyed everything good about Bedford Falls by building a suburban-type housing development where neighbors no longer chit-chatted on the porch during hot summer nights.