Benjamin Franklin Fought Against Socialism

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, August 7, 2018 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

In the latter half of the 18th century, the nations of Europe renewed their experiments with an ancient philosophy known today by the name of socialism. This philosophy, that the government should tax the rich and provide for the poor, has been implemented from time to time throughout human history and always with catastrophic results. When England, France, and the other European powers started bringing back this ancient concept, the leading philosophers of America, including many of our founding fathers, argued strongly against it. One of those philosophers was Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a lengthy article opposing one of the socialist laws that had been passed in England.

Franklin’s article was written to oppose a law prohibiting the exportation of corn from England to the rest of Europe. The goal of the law was to force the price of corn to go down in England by creating a surplus of that particular commodity. The British government was attempting to prevent the farmers from making what they considered to be too much profit and to force them to share their wealth with the poor by lowering their prices. Franklin viewed this as a socialist tax against the farmers.

In more recent times, the American government has been making a similar attempt through laws like the minimum wage law. Like the law prohibiting the exportation of corn, the minimum wage law is essentially a tax on the rich to provide for the poor, and Franklin’s arguments are just as appropriate for our day as they were for his. Here is what Franklin had to say about these socialist laws in his article “On the Price of Corn, and Management of the Poor”:

I am one of that class of people, that feed you all, and at present is abused by you all; in short I am a farmer...

You say, poor laborers cannot afford to buy bread at a high price, unless they had higher wages. Possibly. But how shall we farmers be able to afford our laborers higher wages..?

This operates, then, as a tax for the maintenance of the poor...

For my own part, I am not so well satisfied of the goodness of this thing. I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion about the means. 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.

In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.

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. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen? — On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent.

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.

In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their manners...

Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.

Both America and eventually England heeded the warnings against socialism expressed by Franklin and other philosophers. Both nations opposed the socialism of the French revolution and avoided the consequent revolutions of 1848. They have enjoyed centuries of prosperity as a result, but over the course of the past 100 years both nations have been adopting more and more socialist laws. We need leaders who will heed the warnings of men like Franklin and return our nation to its Biblically-grounded capitalist roots.

By the way, did you know that Franklin became a Christian in 1735 at the age of 29? You can read Franklin’s own confession of faith in Christ in my book Franklin on Faith.

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