Who deserves blame for the bad economy? We do.
By neglecting Ben Franklin’s gospel of thrift, Americans got into trouble.
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You can't get something for nothing
American investors deceived themselves with tomfoolery if they thought they were going to get something for nothing without risk or work.Skip to next paragraph
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Lesson No. 1: “Nothing in life is free.”
Lesson No. 2: Economies are ever cyclical. American economic history is packed like a Dagwood sandwich with booms followed by busts. During my past 40 years in the workforce, I went through at least five US recessions. Broadcasting is always hit hard. Many colleagues lost their jobs in these economic contractions. That’s the nature of the market capitalism we Americans revere.
Lesson No. 3: Economic suffering need not be catholic. Many more Americans could have safely weathered the financial storm of the past three years if they had heeded the wisdom of perhaps the wisest of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
Heed Ben Franklin's counsel
In two works, “The Way to Wealth” and “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” Franklin preached virtue from the canons of the Protestant ethic, which, when committed to heart, could have saved millions of Americans much suffering in this recession.
Poor Richard said, “The second Vice is Lying, the first is running in Debt.” Think for a moment of the huge credit-card debts Americans ran up in the past decade. Worried about losing my job in the first Bush recession of 1991, I quickly learned the best investment you can make is paying off all your debts as fast as you can.
Franklin also offered wise counsel for those who placed their faith solely on the stock market, expecting it to pave their streets with gold. “He that lives upon Hope will die fasting,” he said. And to those with dreams of becoming Wall Street high rollers he warned, “[L]ittle Boats should keep near shore.”
If you lost a bundle in the past three years in the market or in real estate, Franklin’s sympathy is spare. He said, “When the Well’s dry, they know the Worth of Water.” He was even less empathetic with other economic gamblers when he observed, “After crosses and losses, men grow humbler and wiser.” Having been raised an American Puritan, Franklin was our high priest of industry, frugality, and perseverance. “Industry pays Debts…,” he wrote.
Some writers suggest Franklin’s greatest invention wasn’t bifocal glasses but his aphorisms like, “If you would know the Value of Money, go and try to borrow some.” Too many Americans learned that truth painfully, buying ballooning mortgages and believing if they rolled over the investment quickly they would never have to pay off the mortgage. Wrong!
Perhaps if Franklin’s wisdom was taught again in schools, there would be less lust for political revenge this November – and more chastened self-reflection. We are a poorer people for ignoring his sage counsel. If we’ve tuned him out, perhaps we might heed Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, But in ourselves....”