For the past few years, I’ve liked to bring up the question of Santa's political leanings for the sake of a fun holiday debate. However, when I brought up the topic at Thanksgiving, I realized that there are a number of unanswered questions that can have significant impact.
Placing Santa on an authoritarian-libertarian axis is easy. I mean, honestly, we have a song about Santa’s unchecked global surveillance complex:
He's making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
That’s worse than the NSA.
However, let’s probe into the economics of the North Pole.
My titular question is a key one: Do the elves have unions? The North Pole has a very strange political-economic system from what we can tell, considering that Santa is seemingly both the head of state and the CEO. That’s a fusion of corporate and state power with echoes of Italian fascism---the cult of personality around Santa certainly does nothing to diminish that echo.
If Santa is both CEO and political dictator, where do elves go for redress of wrongs at the hand of Santa? Is there a constitution in the North Pole? Are there judges and courts? Does the North Pole even have workplace safety laws? We just don’t know.
Are elves justly compensated? Are they even compensated in the first place? Elves might be more akin to serfs, with the paternalistic despot providing them with the basics of housing, food, and shelter in exchange for their unbroken obedience and toil? (We also must wonder if the elves have to produce their own clothing, food, and houses as well. Does the North Pole have its own internal economy for the exchange of such goods? Is this what happens during the non-Christmas season, or is Christmas production so demanding that it requires full-year attention?)
Can elves retire? Does the North Pole have a system of state-run pensions to provide economic security to the elves that can no longer work?
Can elves have children? If they can, do their children receive an education? Do Santa and Mrs. Claus run the schools as well? Does the North Pole have child labor laws? I would prefer that my Christmas presents not be made with child elf labor.
Some people like to say that Santa Claus is a big fan of redistribution. I’m not so sure of that. Santa gives more gifts to rich children and fewer gifts to poor children. Frankly, he’s not a very effective redistributionist then. His practices remind me of the unequal funding formulas so common in our education system.
Santa often produces toys and other goods made from resources likely not available in the North Pole. Do Santa and the North Pole have free trade deals with countries across the globe?
Similarly, what powers those factories? We know that the North Pole has coal mines, considering that naughty children get coal in their stockings. (The fact that coal mines purportedly exist in the North Pole yet no Western nation has ever yet invaded and occupied it stretches credulity.) Do the factories run on coal? Other fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas? Solar power wouldn’t be reliable year-round that far north, and I’m not sure how windy it gets up there. Do the factories just run on Christmas cheer and good will? At least his sleigh doesn’t run on fossil fuels. We just have to hope that he and Mrs. Claus take good care of the reindeer.