Wisdom's Guide to Wealth
"The Way To Wealth" by Benjamin Franklin
“The Way To Wealth” written by Benjamin Franklin has not been out of print since first penned in 1758. Indeed, this essay has been translated into almost every language and is considered one of the most important books on business. I have kept my copy, published by Applewood Books, since 1986. This edition is the source for all quotations in my blog.
The story is told from the perspective of Franklin’s character, Richard Saunders of “Poor Richard’s Almanack” fame. The story unfolds when Richard Saunders, incognito, arrives at a gathering of gentlemen waiting for an auction to start. Our narrator overhears the men talking about the heavy burden of taxation and asking one elderly gentleman named Abraham what he thinks of the confiscatory rate of taxes. “Father Abraham” begins by quoting liberally from Poor Richard. Franklin expresses our narrator’s satisfaction as being the source of the old man’s wisdom. As far as taxes are concerned, “Father Abraham” tells the crowd that the taxes levied by the government are the least of their worries.
He admonishes them to be more concerned about the higher taxation which arise from idleness, pride, and folly. In this section the first of many noteworthy quotes occurs as “Father Abraham” reminds the gathering “God helps them that help themselves.” The rest of the essay discusses four critical components of success in business.
Industry. The first component is identified as “Industry” which encourages us to not fear hard work and identifies “Time” as the critical resource not to be wasted. Another quote which has long been a part of our culture is printed here: “…early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Another time management classic is noted here: “…never leave till tomorrow what you can do today.”
The second component centers on active business management. “Care” involves keeping an eye on your business and not putting too much trust in another to oversee your operations. “Father Abraham” encourages active management with the quote: “…the eye of the master will do more work than both of his hands.”
The third component deals with keeping your expenses low and saving. The modern reader may say, “What’s the big deal? Everybody knows we should save.” Knowing something and doing it are two different things. This statement is confirmed by the large amount of debt, and the low savings rate of Americans today. “Father Abraham” warns the assembled “…Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship.” Another bit of advice is offered: “…Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever, while you live, expense is constant and certain…”
Knowledge. The final point “Father Abraham” makes regards Knowledge defined as reason and wisdom. In this section our wise old man emphasizes the role that the blessing of heaven plays as the cornerstone. He encourages the listener to seek the blessing in a humble manner and refers to the Biblical story of Job to illustrate this point. He proposes that one have a charitable heart towards the needs of others. “Father Abraham” concludes with a discussion about the role experience plays in gaining Knowledge. He says that “experience” is a costly school, but fools will learn in no other way. He continues by admitting that we can offer advice to people, but we cannot offer conduct. In other words, people may listen, but may not follow the advice.
Franklin closes with this: All of the assembled had listened intently, agreed with everything “Father Abraham” said, and then proceeded to do the opposite when the auction started. They bought and bought with reckless abandon. As for our narrator Richard Saunders, he decided to forego purchasing a new coat, (the original reason for his trip to the auction) and chose to wear his old coat a little longer.
I have read and re-read this little book a hundred plus times since I purchased it in 1986. Like our assembled group in the story, I was well intentioned to follow the four points. At many times I did follow “Father Abraham’s” advice. However, like the group I fell victim to consumerism purchasing things I really didn’t need. It’s amazing to me that this small tome has aged so well. The understanding of human nature revealed in its pages is as true today as it was over 264 years ago when first published.
I encourage you to obtain your own copy. Read it and incorporate its principles into your daily life. Teach “The Way To Wealth” to your children, grandchildren, and all those you care about. Send copies to your elected officials. A dose of fiscal frugality wouldn’t hurt at all.