Religion & Liberty Online

6 Quotes: Ben Franklin on money and virtue

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Today is the 311th birthday of the Founding Father and polymath, Ben Franklin. As a leading statesman and scientist of his day, Franklin made innumerable contributions—many of which made him a wealthy man. At his death, Franklin is estimated to have been worth about $67 million.

Here are six quotes by Franklin on money, wealth, and virtue:

On increasing wealth: The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words—industry and frugality.

On the prejudices of politicians: We assemble parliaments and councils to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconveniences of their collected passions, prejudices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrêts, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men are the greatest fools upon earth.

On credit and debt: Creditors have better memories than debtors; and creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.

On wealth and happiness: There are two ways of being happy—we may either diminish our wants, or augment our means—either will do—the result is the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest. If you are idle, or sick, or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means. If you are active and prosperous, or young, or in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants. But if you are wise you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

On taxation and vices: We are more heavily taxed by our idleness, pride, and folly than we are taxed by government.

On money and time: As for a little more money and a little more time, why it’s ten to one if either one or the other would make you a whit happier. If you had more time, it would be sure to hang heavily. It is the working man is the happy man. Man was made to be active, and he is never so happy as when he is so. It is the idle man is the miserable man. What comes of holidays, and far too often of sight-seeing, but evil? Half the harm that happens is on those days. And as for money—Don’t you remember the old saying, “Enough is as good as a feast?” Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way. That was a true proverb of the wise man, rely upon it: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure, and trouble therewith.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).