“I would rather have it said ‘He lived usefully’ than ‘He died rich.'” — Benjamin Franklin (as quoted in the Fall issue of American Benefactor)

Of course, Ben was pretty rich when he said that. But even so, it helps to keep things in perspective. After all, who among us is not richer even than Ben was? We can afford the luxury of staying cool in the summer. What Ben wouldn’t have given for that! We can have hot showers at a moment’s notice. Imagine! Seasick-free trans-Atlantic crossings. (And speedy — eight hours!) Bright light to read by. Rare tropical fruits and juices twelve months a year. All but instant mail and news from around the whole world. Entire symphony orchestras playing in our homes — and carriages — at our whim. Finer medical care than Ben could have dreamt possible. Eyeglasses so small no one can see them (ah, vanity). Zippers. And on and on.

Our homes are not as large as his might have been, and it may be harder for most of us to enjoy the privacy and quiet of a walk in the woods. We are more likely than Ben to have to make our own beds and clean our own floors. But, on balance, few of us would want to trade our trappings of wealth for his.

The trick is not knowing how to get rich. (Work really hard, save and invest every penny you can, stir and allow to simmer for three decades.) It’s knowing how to live usefully. Franklin did stuff like establish the postal service, advance the study of electricity, launch the country’s first fire insurance association, and persuade the French to help America win the Revolutionary War. What are we to do?

Tomorrow: A Couple of Ideas (Meanwhile: If you are required to make quarterly estimated tax payments, don’t forget that today’s the day.)

 

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