Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 3. Benjamin Franklin

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXIV. Economists

§ 3. Benjamin Franklin

In the pre-Revolutionary literature there stands out only one prominent name in American economic discussion, Benjamin Franklin. His contributions represent the common-sense reactions of a powerful mind to the problems of the day, reinforced later on by general reflections suggested by the Physiocrats and Adam Smith. In his first work on paper currency, referred to above, Franklin was influenced by Petty in selecting labour, rather than silver, as the best measure of value. In his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he shows himself a forerunner of Malthus, and incidentally points out why wages must continue to be high in a country where there is an abundance of free land. In The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to her Colonies and the Acquisition of Canada and Guadaloupe (1760) he emphasizes the principle of division of labour, and explains why manufacturing industry is difficult to introduce where the profits of agriculture are high. In On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor (1767) he elucidates the reasons why export taxes are injurious and contends that “The best way to do good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” In his Positions to be Examined Concerning National Wealth (1769) he considers, and gives partial adherence to, the Physiocratic doctrine. In his Reflections on the Augmentation of Wages which will be Occasioned in Europe by the American Revolution (1788) he virtually develops the modern theory of the economy of high wages. Finally, in his Wail of a Protected Manufacturer (1789) he punctures some of the selfish arguments of a favoured class.