Benjamin Franklin – The Way to wealth

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a native American and one of the founding fathers of the United States. The Declaration of Independence of the United States also bears his signature.
Coming from a humble background, he epitomized the American dream like no other. Initially a printer, then a successful publisher and entrepreneur, he became increasingly involved in politics and finally fought for the independence of the USA. On the eve of the French Revolution, he was successful as a diplomat in France and achieved political recognition of the United States by France.
In addition, he also excelled as a natural scientist and invented the lightning rod.

Poor Richard's Almanack

When he began his entrepreneurial activities, he first began publishing Poor Richard's Almanack anonymously. A very popular collection of sayings in the American colonies, the fictional character Richard Saunders wrote about his life in an entertaining and humorous way. Many sayings from it became American proverbs, such as "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise". In 1758, he compiled the most popular sayings from this into his work "The Way to Wealth," which is still very well-known today, and put them into the framework of the sermon of a Father Abraham.

Benjamin Franklin – Joseph-Siffred Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin, Joseph-Siffred Duplessis, oil on canvas, c. 1785

The Way to Wealth

Full text from 1758

Father Abraham's sermon

"Friends and neighbors! Taxes are indeed very high, and if those imposed on us by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we could more easily rid ourselves of them; but some of us have to pay many other taxes that are much heavier. We are taxed twice as much by idleness, three times as much by pride, four times as much by folly. And politicians cannot free us from these taxes by lowering them. But let us listen to a helping counsel: God helps those who help themselves, as Poor Richard says in his 1733 Almanac.

A government that taxes its citizens by requiring them to spend one-tenth of their working hours in its service would probably be considered harsh. But idleness taxes us much more harshly when we add up all the time spent in absolute laziness or doing nothing, wasted in idle activity or entertainment that leads nowhere. Laziness brings sickness and shortens life. Laziness wears away at our substance like rust, more than work wears us out. The key you use consistently always shines. So if you love life, don't waste time, because life is made of its substance.

How much more than necessary we spend in sleep, forgetting that sleeping foxes do not catch feathered birds and that we will find enough sleep in the grave. If time is the most precious commodity, then wasting time should be the greatest waste because lost time is never found again and because what we call "enough time" always turns out to be too little. So let's be awake, active and purposeful! Through diligence, we get more done with less clutter. Laziness makes all things hard, but activity makes all things easy. If you get up late, you'll have to schlep all day and you'll barely get your business done in the evening. Because idleness paralyzes, it breeds poverty. Do your business, don't let it drive you. Early to bed and early to rise, that is the mark of the rich, the healthy and the wise.

So what is the use of hoping for better times? We ourselves can improve these times by getting moving. Activity need not be desired. Those who live in hope die in fasting. Without diligence no price. So help the hand, for I have no land, and if I have it, it is heavily taxed! The merchant has a business, and the honorable man has a reputation, and with it a task of honor and income. But the business must be worked, and the reputation must be carefully pursued, or neither the business nor the reputation will enable us to pay our taxes.

If we are productive, we will never starve, for hunger looks into the worker's house but dares not enter. It is the same with the bailiff, for productivity pays debts, while gloom increases them. So unless you have found treasure or are the heir of a rich ancestor, diligence is the mother of happiness. God gives everything to the diligent. So plow deep while the lazy man sleeps, and you will have grain to sell and keep.

Work today, for you do not know how much you will be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrows. And further, if you have something to do tomorrow, do it today. If you were a servant, wouldn't it shame you if your good master came and saw you loafing? So if you are your own servant, you will also be ashamed if you catch yourself loafing. When there is so much to do for you, your family, your country, and your gracious king, get up at dawn. Don't let the sun look down and say, "There lies the inglorious one.

Methinks I hear some say: May not a man give himself leisure? I say to you, friend, use your time well if you want to give yourself leisure. If you're not sure you have a minute, don't throw away an hour. Leisure is to do something useful; the diligent will acquire this leisure, the lazy never. Leisure is different from being lazy.

Do you think that idleness brings you more comfort than work? No, problems spring from idleness and painful toil from misplaced comfort. Many would live on their wits without work, but they fail for lack of provision. While productivity brings convenience, abundance and respect. Fluttering pleasures fly away with them. The industrious spinner has a long service, but comes by it only to a sheep and a cow. But then everyone offers him a friendly greeting.

With our productivity we must be as steady as we are sure and careful. We should survey our affairs with our own eyes and not rely too much on others. Consistency is important! I have never seen an often uprooted tree or family flourish as well as those who are firmly rooted. Three uproots are as bad as one fire.

Nurture your business, and your business will nurture you. If there are errands to run, go and do them yourself. You must drive your own car to success if success is to be your own.

The master's eye does more than his two hands. The lack of care does more harm than the lack of knowledge. Not to supervise workers is to leave their wallets open. Relying too much on the attention of others has already meant ruin for many. In the affairs of this world, man is saved not by hope but by desire. Mindfulness in one's own affairs is profitable. Learning is for the learned, wealth is for the careful, power is for the bold and heaven is for the virtuous.
And further, if you want to have a faithful servant, and one whom you may also like, then serve yourself.

It is advisable to be prudent and careful, even in the smallest things, because sometimes a little carelessness causes great harm: Because he lacked a horseshoe nail, the rider lost the horseshoe; because he lacked the horseshoe, he lost the horse; because he lost the horse, he was doomed, overpowered by the enemy and slain. And so, with one little horseshoe nail, a human life was lost.
So much for productivity, my friends, and maintaining one's business. But to make productivity even more sure of success, we must still speak of frugality. A man will not be able to lift his nose above the curb unless he can keep what he gets, and he will go to his grave in the end without a single penny. A fat kitchen, creates a narrow will.

Many a household has become narrow because the housewife has left embroidery and spinning for tea; and many an estate has withered because the master has left the chopping block and the axe to drink punch.

If you want to become wealthy, you have to consider savings as well as income. Two indias could not make Spain rich because expenses were greater than income. So away with your expensive folly, and you will not have to complain about hard times, high taxes and mouths to feed! Women and wine, let them be! Gambling and fraud consume great fortunes in flight!

And further, what feeds one vice could feed two children. You might think a little tea or punch now and then, a little more expensive food, the clothes a little finer, a little entertainment now and then, can't be too big a deal. But many little things become big things; so pay attention to the little expenses as well. Even a small leak can sink a big ship. Those who love sweets will turn out to be beggars. Fools make feasts, wise men eat them.

Here you are all gathered in the market to buy beautiful things and trinkets. You call them goods, but if you are not careful, they turn out badly for some. You expect them to sell cheap, maybe they will, for less than they cost. But if you don't need them, they will cost you dearly. Buy what you don't need, and soon you will have to sell things you do need.

When you find a bargain, pause for a moment. It may just seem cheap, but in reality it's not. The supposed opportunity in your business could actually be fleecing you and doing more harm than good. Many have ruined themselves by buying bargains.

It is foolish to spend your money on things whose acquisition is deplorable; and yet this folly is practiced every day in the markets. The wise learn from the mistakes of others, the foolish hardly from their own, but, felix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum (happy are those who can learn from the dangers of others, prudence). Many were already leaving the market, laden with beautiful things but hungry stomachs, leaving their families half-starved. Silk and satin, scarlet and velvet extinguish the fire that burns in the kitchen."

These are not the necessities of life; they can hardly be called comforts. And yet, just because they look pretty, many want them. Thus the artificial needs of men become more numerous than the natural ones. For every poor person there are a hundred needy ones. Through these and other extravagances, the nobles become impoverished and are forced to borrow from those whom they previously held in low esteem, but who were able to maintain their standing through thrift and efficiency. This case clearly shows that a plowman stands higher on his legs than a gentleman on his knees.

The fine urchins may have a small fortune, the origin of which they do not know. They think the sun shines and evening never comes. Spending a little of that much can't hurt, they say. But only children and fools think that twenty shillings cannot be spent and twenty years will never pass. But if you always take from the flour pot and put nothing into it, you will soon look in dismay at the empty bottom. Only when the well is dry will you realize the value of the water. But you can estimate it before that. If you want to find out how expensive money is, just try to borrow some. To live on credit is to live in worry. Even the creditor realizes how hard it is to get it back.

Foolish pride in clothes is a sure blessing; So you always just go by your whim, Rather go by your wallet! Pride is at least as demanding a beggar as want, and much more impertinent. If you have bought one fine garment, you must buy ten more to make your appearance appear of one piece. It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow. It is truly foolish of the poor to ape the rich, as it is foolish of the frog to puff himself up to resemble the ox.

Big ships can go far out to sea, small boats I advise to stay near the shore.

In any case, it is a folly that will soon be punished; for pride that dines with vanity will dine with contempt in the evening. In other words, pride breakfasted with abundance, then ate with poverty, and finally dined with shame. After all, what good is pride in appearance for which one risks and suffers so much? It does not make one healthier, nor does it alleviate pain, nor does it increase the person's prestige. It causes envy, it accelerates the damage.

What is a butterfly but a finely dressed caterpillar? Only the image of a pompous stuck-up twit.

But what madness it is to plunge into debt for such superficialities. According to the rules of the market we are in, we are given a credit of six months. This has caused some of us to accept this offer because we cannot spare our cash. But consider what you are doing when you go into debt. You are giving someone else power over your freedom; if you can't pay on time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor. You will be afraid when you talk to him; you will make pathetic, insidious excuses and gradually lose your sincerity and sink to the bottom, downright lying. The second vice is lying, the first is indebtedness. The lie rides on the back of debt.

No free-born Englishman should be ashamed or afraid to seek out or approach a man. But poverty often robs a man of his reason and virtue. Yes, it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.

What would you think of a prince or a government that forbids you to dress like a gentleman or a lady and punishes you for it with imprisonment or serfdom?
Would you not say that you are free and have the right to dress as you please, and that such a decree, a violation of your privileges, and such a government is tyrannical? And yet you submit to such a decree when you go into debt for those clothes! Your creditor can take away your freedom, and you shall slave for him if you cannot pay.

If thou hast taken thy advantage, thou mayest think little of repayment. But let me tell you, creditors have better memories than debtors. Creditors are a superstitious sect, passionate observers of predicted days and times. The day comes before you are aware of it, and the debt faster than you can pay it. But when you think of your debts, the deadline that seemed so big at first suddenly becomes so small. It will seem to you as if time has added wings to its seven-mile boots on your feet and shoulders. A short spring is had by those who have to pay back money at Easter.

The debtor is ultimately a slave of the creditor. Spurn the chain, protect your freedom and preserve your independence! Be diligent and free, be diligent and free! For the moment it may seem to thee that thou art in prosperous circumstances, and that therefore a little extravagance will not hurt thee; but save for old age and need while thou canst. The morning sun does not bring bliss all day long.

The income may be temporary, but the expense will be permanent, and will surely be with you all your life. It's easier to build two fireplaces than to heat just one permanently. So go to bed unprovided for rather than waking up with debt.
This lesson, my friends, is common sense and wisdom. All in all, don't rely solely on your own labor and thrift and prudence. Although these are the most excellent qualities, they can break down without the heavenly blessing. Therefore, humbly ask for heavenly blessings and do not be unloving to those who lack blessings, but comfort and help them. Think of Job, who was in distress for a long time and later became a made man.

And now, in conclusion, experience remains a good school. Fools will not learn in any other, if at all. We can give advice, but not guidance. Those who do not listen to advice cannot be helped. He who does not listen to reason will be soundly slapped on the knuckles by it."

Thus the old man ended his speech. The people heard it and nodded to his instruction and immediately began to do the opposite, as if it had been an ordinary sermon. As soon as the auction opened, they bought extravagant things, disregarding his advice and their own fear of the high taxes.