Claims to Fame and Coals to Newcastle

If someone discovered the Gulf Stream, that would be a pretty good claim to fame, wouldn’t it? Not a great one, but still a modest claim to fame.

How about if someone, back in colonial times, invented a heating device that more than tripled the energy output of a wood fire? Another minor claim to fame.

Now, what if someone invented a musical instrument and Wolgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a piece of music expressly for that instrument? Now that’s a serious claim to fame.

What if that same guy won independence for the American colonies and hammered out their constitution? And discovered the flow of electricity? And invented bifocals and started the first volunteer fire department and the first public library?

What if this same guy endowed two trusts, one in Boston and one in Philadelphia, to assist aspiring craftsmen which are still not only solvent, but flush more than two hundred years later in our own day and age?

What if this same guy, in his eighties, shocked stodgy old John Adams by his dissolute behavior in — where else — Paris, France?

One reason Adams was shocked was that this is the same guy who authored most of the sturdy old adages from Poor Richard’s Almanac that govern the industrious to this day — “Early to bed, early to rise,” “A Penny saved is a penny earned,” etc. Either one of them would be a claim to fame in itself, and there are lots more.

Well with all these claims to fame, don’t you have to concede that Benjamin Franklin is a pretty remarkable guy? If you haven’t read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin you’re missing out on a lot of good advice and interesting reading. He was a vegetarian, you know.

Well the modest chore of this blog entry is to add yet another claim to fame to this imposing list, one I discovered in Robert Heilbronner’s book about the great economists called The Wordly Philosphers.

It turns out that while he was in England before the Revolution, Benjamin Franklin had lots of long conversations with Adam Smith while Smith was writing The Wealth of Nations. Indeed, you could almost say he was a collaborator in this seminal work of economics whose influence on people and events is still evident today.

Of course we all know that Franklin was the central figure in Max Weber’s treatise The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, a work based almost entirely on his Autobiography.

So in addition to inventing the glass armonica and the Franklin stove, Benjamin Franklin was one of the most influential founders of the infant science of economics.