Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ben Franklin's On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, 1776

In his time, government controls forbade the export and set prices on the crop of corn farmers. Franklin's outrage was surely righteous on this issue. Being given a limited market and prevented from selling the product at the desired price, the farmers were forced sell the fruits of their labor at prices below what they should have earned in the market. Supposedly, this was so that poor consumers could afford the product; however, Franklin claims similar measures were not made in other markets. I doubt there is anyone who would not be upset at this.

He then proceeds to lambaste the poor of America for being lazy, drunk, and ungrateful. Reasonably, this makes Franklin appear to be a grouchy old-man with a, "Hey you kids, get off my lawn," mentality. After all, how dare the poor not come up to him each day and give their thanks to him. Such a rant would seem unbecoming of someone of his intellect, yet things were different then. How does his rant hold up today?

"There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor."

It certainly seems that in his day, the poor and unfortunate were better cared for than today. Nowadays, none but the ultra-rich can afford serious health care without health insurance. Yes, there are clinics available; however, treatment for serious ailments is still beyond the means of the uninsured to afford. Most care will be limited to dealing with the deadly repercussions of not being able to afford the care that would have prevented catastrophe in the first place.

It also seems unlikely that the rich of today would urge Congress to pass a law that would tax them for the benefit of the poor. According to the modern Tea Party, that is the sort of thinking that would be the most wrong.

"I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."

This does seem pretty common sense to me. I imagine that this does to everyone. However, given that he wanted to "do good" to the poor, it is illogical to conclude that he felt letting them starve and die in an environment with no jobs would have been Franklin's desire. If only temporary until such a time as conditions for employment change, such care for the unfortunate could not be objected to be Franklin.

One thing is certain, simply letting the poor be without assistance or guidance as most conservatives today should be done would not match Franklin's desire to actively lead or drive the poor out of poverty. Inaction is never leading.

It's likely many will say that if social security had existed during Franklin's time, this would be his argument against it:
"The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness."

With the slow death of the American economy that is ongoing today and with the majority of jobs paying wages so low that meaningful saving is impossible, Franklin's idea that a program such as Social Security should not exist is certainly outdated.

Instead of applying Franklin's desire as to how social protections should work while in an economic model that is vastly different from what existed while he lived, it would be better, and the only logical goal, to instead make today's economy into something in which Franklin's desired type of social protection could work. That economic model requires that jobs be available and that those jobs actually pay a wage that allows saving to be made for the future. That certainly doesn't exist today.

I have no doubt that, if Franklin were to meet today anyone trying to apply his comments on the economy then to the economy now, he would tie that person to a kite and send them up to meet a storm.

Here is a link to Ben Franklin's On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, 1776.

Note: The above link is provided by the Claremont Inst. which excluded Thomas Paine (among others) and his works. By means of excluding disagreeing Founding Fathers and/or excluding certain writings, it uses false assertions to claim that the Founders unanimously endorsed certain ideas.

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