Benjamin Franklin is famous today for a great concatenation of achievements; for his political endeavours, his inventions, discoveries, and his revolutionary beliefs. He is also regarded by many as one of the first to articulate the specific brand of American optimism.
Between 1732-58, Franklin cultivated a large following for his pamphlet–or almanac–printed under the pseudonym “Poor Richard.”
In his pamphlet, Franklin included math exercises, weather forecasts, poetry, astronomical information and occasionally, demographics. Of all the profound amount of exciting information contained in the almanac, the most favoured content of Poor Richard’s Almanac was the aphorisms, maxims and proverbs he would write.
The character of Poor Richard was largely inspired by Jonathan Swift’s pseudonym “Isaac Bickerstaff.” Franklin was interested in the way Swift used Bickerstaff to convey a serious message through irony and satire, all while keeping his true identity anonymous. Like Bickerstaff, Poor Richard also claimed to be an astronomer and also attempted to predict the deaths of real astronomers in jest. Unlike Bickerstaff, Richard became a method through which Franklin would frame his practical scientific and business perspectives; thus the irony and satire were supplanted with a more earnest and genuine expression of ideas.
And the extra-shiny, insurmountable, sincerely-articulated marque of American optimism was born.
Several years after the cessation the the Almanacs’ publication, a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour (For non-french speakers, this translates to of the Court. If this name does not immediately indicate aristocratic douchebaggery, I don’t know what does) wrote a friendly parody of Poor Richard, called Fortuné Ricard (Fortunate Richard). In this parody, de la Cour jestingly prods at the spirit of enthusiasm characterized by Franklin’s almanac. Fortuné Ricard leaves 5 lots of 100 lives in his will, stating that they must each be held in a compound investment fund for 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 years. The character predicted that this would result in billions or trillions of lives, which were then to be spent on public works projects. Franklin was amused by this parody, and more so inspired, as he subsequently left two lots of 1000 pounds of British sterling (worth 4444 USD today) to his two favourite cities: Boston and Philadelphia. The stipulations were that the bequest must be compounded for 100 years before the cities could withdraw funds. Franklin estimated that this would amount to 131,000 pounds and that 100,000 pounds were to be spent on public works projects and invested in young people finishing their apprenticeships. The remaining 30,000 would be left in the compound fund for another 100 years before it could be withdrawn again and spent on public work projects. Franklin estimated its worth to be 4 million pounds.
When the cities withdrew their funds in 1991, the combined bequest was 6.5 million dollars (5.15 million pounds).
The Scribe’s Thoughts:
The contributions made by Franklin towards the betterment of mankind are immense, and his profound truths are just as appropriate today as they were nearly three centuries ago.
The power of compound interest is only growing more and more relevant in today’s economy, and it is integral to one’s success not only as a business person but as a member of society.
As Benjamin said:
“Money makes money, and the money that money makes, makes money”
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