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What would Ben say?

Created date

January 25th, 2011

Benjamin Franklin wore many hats: statesman, philosopher, scientist, inventor, and journalist. As the latter, he proved an infinite source of wisdom, crafting witty bits of advice that Poor Richard's Almanack subscribers could use in their daily lives. "Clean your finger before you point at spots." "Beware of the little expenses, [for] small leaks will sink the greatest ships." "He who multiplies his possessions multiplies his cares." Phrases such as these made the almanac a serialized guide to humility, frugality, and prudence values that Franklin hoped would define America. So, what would the father of electricity say about his great nation today?

Mock treatise

After more than 200 years, Tom Blair picks up Franklin's pen and attempts to answer this question in his new book Poorer Richard s America (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010). Based on extensive documentation detailing Franklin's philosophical outlook on everything from money to politics, Blair sets forth a 220-page mock treatise in the spirit of a deeply disappointed founding father. For the last two centuries, Franklin watched from above as Americans sank into material excesses, smothered by a "gotta have it now" mentality. As for politics, he sees a nation of leaders that only follow the polls and men and women who draft legislation with an eye toward the next election rather than the best interests of their constituency. The government they run has fared little better. Every day, the national deficit ticks higher, burdening future generations with an unmanageable financial load much of it owed to foreign nations.

But Franklin also sees a great deal of potential. When he left this earth, Americans were self-reliant and resolute, determined to forge their own path on the world stage. In the time since, they've done exactly that. Franklin might think that Americans today still possess these noble qualities and that, if they choose to do so, they can continue along the same road as their forebears. The narrative is sharp, witty, and captures the essence of its supposed author. In all of this constructive criticism lies the beauty of Blair's book, for the reader can imagine that Franklin is behind it.