Jon Sanders

Toward the end of Hamlet, the Queen remarks, "One woe doth tread upon another's heel, so fast they follow." I was reminded of her doleful remark Wednesday as the president promoted his latest inane budget-busting panacea.

In the president's remarks and his press secretary's attempted clarification, the rapid succession of woeful comments were treading all over themselves.

While tweaking Congress its vote last night to re-affirm America's motto, "In God We Trust," Obama responded, "I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work."

 This afternoon [White House press secretary] Jay Carney expanded on the president's theological musings, by repeating the truism, "Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, 'God helps those who help themselves.'"

I won't waste time on what to our readership is obvious (it's not a Bible quotation, the president doesn't speak for God, etc.) and what by now should be obvious to any even remotely sentient being: government is patently awful at job creation. Still, not only do the American president and his mouthpiece not know that the proverb "God helps them that help themselves" entered the American conscience by one of the Founders of this nation, Benjamin Franklin, but -- more importantly -- they have no inkling that it instructs self-reliance, not government dependence.

In short, Obama and Carney got the proverb's origin and meaning completely, absolutely, fully wrong. They took a liberating maxim from one of the nation's Founders and processed it into a state-enslaving command from God. This compounded foul-up is perfectly emblematic of the Obama style of governing, a religion of ignorance.

The Way to Wealth

Writing under the pseudonym Poor Richard Saunders, from 1732 to 1757 Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard's Almanack annually, packing it with the expected calendars, weather tips, stories, poems, etc. Franklin also added many proverbs he gleaned and honed from the collected wisdom over the years along with some of his own invention. They praised industry, thrift, and sensibility, and they did so with a fetching wit. They include:

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
There are no gains without pains. 

Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson noted that the Almanack combined two goals of its inventor: "the making of money and the promotion of virtue." Isaacson explained:

... Franklin was not a moral prude, and he did not dedicate his life to accumulating wealth. "The general foible of mankind," he told a friend, "is the pursuit of wealth to no end." His goal was to help aspiring tradesmen become more diligent, and thus more able to be useful and virtuous citizens. (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Simon & Schuster, 2003, pp. 94 and 100.)

In 1757 Franklin compiled many of Poor Richard's mottos in a fictional speech delivered by the character of "Father Abraham" and published it under the title of The Way to Wealth. Isaacson notes (p. 100):

The Way to Wealth... became, for a time, the most famous book to come out of colonial America. Within forty years, it was reprinted in 145 editions and seven languages; the French one was entitled La Science du Bonhomme Richard. Through the present, it has gone through more than thirteen hundred editions.

So the current president is right to quote Franklin in instructing the nation on the way to wealth. He just doesn't know it. I mean, he really doesn't know it.

Allow me to illustrate with a few liberal quotations from The Way to Wealth. By all means read it all, but these should do for a start. Readers will be forgiven if they fall to the temptation of drawing comparison with today's protesters lounging about in tents for weeks demanding wealth just be handed over to them by government (a pursuit of wealth to no end, indeed, save that there is not even industry in the pursuit, as thoroughly passive as it is).

"Friends," said he, "the taxes are indeed very heavy, and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us, by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves, as Poor Richard says."

Just try to infer from these lines that the way to wealth is the act of waiting for government to hand you a job (and forgive your debts and feed, clothe, and treat you and provide whatever else you covet beyond arm's reach):

"So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains; then help, hands, for I have no lands; or, if I have, they are smartly taxed. He that hath a trade hath an estate; and he that hath a calling, hath an office of profit and honor, as Poor Richard says; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes.

 "If we are industrious, we shall never starve; for, At the working man's house hunger looks in, but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.

"What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy, Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep."

 In light of the president's comments, I feel compelled to include a final quotation from Franklin as a warning.

This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.

 

 

 

 


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.