False Estimates of Valued Things
In many ways, we only have ourselves to blame when it comes to the state of our economy and our current financial crisis. We share the blame with our federal government who allowed credit card companies, lobbyists, mortgage lenders, and big banks to lock it's citizens in a prisons of debt. The good news is that we don't have allow this situation to continue.
We don't have to continue to spend $1.5 trillion a year using credit cards, which is a shocking number, considering that our use is greater than the rest of the entire world combined. We are guilty of paying too much (for our whistles) by deluding ourselves into thinking that we have an entitlement to having what we want, when we want it, just because someone is willing to give us credit to enable us to indulge ourselves.
I Confess, I Paid Too Much For My Whistle
Is Your Credit Card Debt Keeping You In Prison?
History We Forget
Just a mere 150 years ago, people went to prison for debt in America. Plus, you had to still repay the debts, once released from debtor's prison and you got to pay for the cost of keeping you in prison. Now, wouldn't that be interesting if that were still the case today?
Let's see, we already have almost 3 million people in prison today, here in the U.S. Statistically, we have a population of slightly over 300,000,000. Of that population -- and just using the low end figures of 47% being bantered about about the number of American's being in debt -- Would we have 141,000,000 awaiting sentencing and a room at the local hoosegow?
Life Lessons in Extravagant Purchases
In case you are not familiar with Benjamin Franklin's famous essay:
To Madame Brillon
I received my dear friend's two letters, one for Wednesday and one for Saturday. This is again Wednesday. I do not deserve one for to-day, because I have not answered the former. But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles, if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen; and as Mr. B. has kindly sent me word that he sets out to-morrow to see you, instead of spending this Wednesday evening, as I have done its namesakes, in your delightful company, I sit down to spend it in thinking of you, in writing to you, and in reading over and over again your letters.
I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your bonclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution.
You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.
When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.
This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don't give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.
As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.
When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, this man gives too much for his whistle.
When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, "He pays, indeed," said I, "too much for his whistle."
If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, "Poor man," said I, "you pay too much for your whistle."
When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, "Mistaken man," said I, "you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle."
If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, "Alas!" say I, "he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle."
When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, "What a pity," say I, "that she should pay so much for a whistle!"
In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.
Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.
Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours very sincerely and with unalterable affection.
Ben's Secret of Success Thoughts
In Ben's Day
In Benjamin Franklin's day, a man (or woman) had to be a good credit risk to get a loan. People didn't walk around with credit cards or even anything remotely like one. Back then, if a person had not lived up to their obligations, the reasonable thing was, that no one would loan to them until they had proved to manage their finances. These decisions were based on sound business concepts, not the get-rich-quick plans of today's lenders.
In other words, to quote Ben, there wasn't a practice of, "neglect of that caution" in past lending practices.
One Hundred & Fifty Years Later
Credit lenders of 2008 have evolved to a mentality that dictates, "Who cares if your credit isn't perfect" we'll lend you the money, but we'll just charge you higher interest rates. And even if your credit is good, "we'll lend you even more than you can really afford, "because we know you'll be only making the minimum payment and therefore, be paying us forever."
"You've used your credit to get what you want, right now, and we have you for life."
The Real Benjamin Franklin
If the real Benjamin Franklin was to stand up in the history books, some would find this brilliant man, a little tarnished by his own very real lack of a halo. First of all, while he was alive, he was not how we remember him in history. He certainly wasn't famous in the world of science during his life time. He was more political and entrepreneurial than first meets the mind when you hear the name, "Ben Franklin." Furthermore, he was a big time player, when it came to the ladies.
Our children are taught to remember him for a few things, but they aren't taught to remember:
- That he created the first fire department in this country.
- That he created the first lending library.
- He helped to establish the first secular college.
- That he was a peacemaker between our country and that of others.
- He invented the "Franklin Stove."
- He created the first post office in America.
- He invented bi-focals.
- He marketed the first playing cards in America.
- He created the first public hospital.
- He was responsible for the first paved streets in the U.S.
Some of his more noteworthy quotes that we should ponder:
- When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.
- A word to the wise is enough, and many words won't fill a bushel.
- To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.
What Would Ben Think?
A still popular and brilliant figure in history even today, Ben made his own mistakes, including financial ones in the early days. Like many exceptional people in the business world, his personal relationships were sometimes questionable, sticky, and complicated. He had his troubles with the ladies. He had a rocky relationship with his son. He could be judgmental and stubborn.
Still, I can't help but wonder, what would Ben think if he could see us now? As smart as he was, would he know what the solutions to our current financial crisis are? I'm not sure. How would he judge us? How will history judge us?