Sunday, September 29, 2013

321. Benjamin Franklin and Making of American Civilization

No other figure has had such a clear vision concerning the future of American civilization and how American civilization could grow out of European civilization. In the long process of “the breaking of the old world,” Benjamin Franklin wanted to turn himself from being a European “to be American.”

Franklin’s efforts to draw positive elements from Chinese civilization in the course of building an American civilization carried much weight in Franklin’s contribution to the formation of American civilization. His correspondence and miscellaneous papers throughout his life indicate that he was amazed in Chinese culture. He explored almost every aspect of Chinese civilization, from spiritual to material. He believed that China was “the most ancient, and from long Experience the wisest of Nations”.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

320. Benjamin Franklin and Chinese Imperial Economic Theory

Benjamin Franklin showed a great interest in Chinese economic theory and practice. At some point between 1765 and 1774, he studied Chinese economic theory. He wrote the following to convey a pamphlet on economic theories by George Whatley, his English friend; It was an excellent saying of a certain Chinese Emperor, I wil, if possible, have no Idles in my Dominions’ for if there be one Man idle, some other Man must suffer Cold and Hunger. We take this Emperor’s Meaning to be, that the Labor due to the Public, by each Individual, not being perform’d by the Indolent, and necessary to furnish his Subsistence, must naturally fal to the share of others, who must thereby sufer.” 

From his autobiography we learn that Franklin practiced the Chinese emperor’s theory at his home. In his own home he “kept no idle Servants” In October 1786, Franklin expressed his position against “accumulation of debts as a practice adverse to the economy and cited the high interest in China as a salutary means of discouraging borrowing.” He stated that interest was three percent per month, for 10 months in China, or 30 per cent per ann., which promoted industry, kept down the price of land, & made freehold more common.”

Franklin tried to gather economic theory from China as detailed as he could. He recorded in his notebook, a silversmith’s and his apprentice’s salary in a month, and a medical doctor’s income for his visit to his patients. Interestingly enough, Franklin even examined the “Fee paid on a Gift from the King.” His study of silk economy also gives readers a very deep impression. After examining the silk economy in China, Franklin pointed out the perspective for silk economy in Pennsylvania. “That Part of the Imperial Revenue in China paid in Silk, amounts to above 955,000Ib. Troy, and perhaps this is not the twentieth Part of the Produce of that Empire. One Million of Trees disposed into Mulberry Walks, in Pennsylvania, would in a few Years, enable a yearly Remittance to Great-Britain of a Million Sterling, and no Ways interfere with the other necessary Branches of Labour in the Community.”