On this day, May 23, 1785, Benjamin Franklin announces his latest invention helping book readers everywhere. Did you know that he wished he could have born in our time? Here’s the story.
On May 23, 1785, Dr. Franklin wrote a letter to George Whatley talking about how he invented bifocals.
“… MY double spectacles can only serve particular eyes…I imagine it will be found pretty generally true, that the same convexity of glass, through which a man sees clearly at distance proper for reading, is not the best for greater distances. I therefore had formerly two pairs of spectacles, which I shifted occasionally, as in traveling I sometimes read, and often wanted to enjoy the scenery. Finding the change troublesome, and not always sufficiently ready, I had the glasses cut and half of each kind associated in the same circle, thus By this means, as I wear my spectacles constantly, I have only to move my eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near, the proper glass being always ready.”
Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiastic supporter of free trade and free men. He believed free men are the greatest inventors. The last two hundred years have seen an explosion of inventions for the benefit of mankind; we’ve also seen a tremendous increase in the standard of living.
Today, the average American earns about $130 per day; it’s about $20 in China and $10 in India. Under full-fledged socialism they were around a buck per day. This teaches us that any step toward free markets, even if they are but small ones, improves the lives of people. Two hundred years ago the average income in terms of modern prices was about $3.00 per day per person – that’s world-wide! So if you complain about today’s economy try to gain a little perspective.
How did such advances come about these last 200 years? Some think that government programs are responsible. If government is the answer, then wouldn’t the ancient Governments of Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome have sufficed? Government is necessary, but its primary function is to protect free people, the very people who change the world for the better. Government helps maintain a free atmosphere. It is true that from time to time Government aids inventors, like Samuel Morse and his Morse Code project, but the great inventions are originated by a free people.
So what brought about this great change in the standard of living? Liberty. Free people invent things that change the world. Slaves and serfs under the iron yoke of masters, feudal lords, and bureaucrats are creatively handicapped.
“Commerce…the more free and unrestrained it is, the more it flourishes; and the happier are all the nations concerned in it. Most of the restraints put upon it in different countries seem to have been the projects of particulars for their private interest, under pretense of public good.”
Free people come up with great ideas; others come later and improve them. The last 200-years have seen an ideas explosion. All around us we see 1800s inventions improved; items we use every day from electric lights to kitchen sinks. We have amazing medical advancements too. Sicknesses which at one time were death sentences are now fixed with a pill.
All these advancements are the results of free men and free markets. Benjamin Franklin said this as early as 1788:
“I’ve been long impressed with…the growing felicity of mankind, from the improvements in philosophy, morals, politics and even the conveniences of common living…by the invention and acquisition of new and useful instruments…and that I have sometimes almost wish it had been my destiny to be born two or three centuries hence. For invention and improvement are prolific, and beget more of the kind.”
Uncle Ben wished he could be born in our day to see the results of free markets and free men. Imagine if he was able to see what free-men have produced since he penned those words! He’d be overjoyed!