The Power of One

"All great men are tainted with it…" – Madam Brillon in Paris

"One must do mad things when one loves madly." – Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin succeeded like no other. He built a fortune from scratch and is the only Founding Father to make the Financial 100, the wealthiest Americans of all time. One historian calls him "the most versatile genius in all history." More than Adams, Jefferson, or Washington, Franklin improved the daily lives of citizens with his Franklin stove, lightning rod, bifocals, and Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Politically, Franklin should be called the "co-father" of the nation. Washington won the war at home, but Franklin won the war abroad. Without Franklin’s brilliant diplomacy, the French would never have provided the military and financial aid – over one billion dollars – essential to achieve American independence from the British. (In fact, Franklin’s fundraising was so successful that the French government went bankrupt a few years later and caused the French Revolution.)

Franklin also lived longer than any of his founders…to the glorious age of 84. He continued to influence all Americans after he died in 1790, with the publication of his famed memoirs, the most popular autobiography ever written, and the nation’s first "self help" book, "The Way to Wealth."

But now he has pulled off his most astonishing achievement yet: completing his Autobiography 215 years after his death.

Well…okay…so he had a little help from me! Over the past year, I compiled and edited his Compleated Autobiography, drawing upon thousands of Franklin’s personal correspondence and journals. It proved to be the most creative and rewarding project of my life.

Benjamin Franklin’s Success: The Rest of the Story

Let me explain. Franklin was so busy throughout his adult life that he never finished his life story. The Autobiography ends abruptly in 1757, when Franklin was only 51. Yet he lived another 33 dramatic years, some of the most eventful in American history, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence, his nine-year stint as minister to France, and being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

I thought it was high time that Americans heard the "rest of the story," as Paul Harvey would say.

In compiling and editing Franklin’s private letters and diaries, I discovered the source of Franklin’s incredible success story. It’s what the French call savoir, as in savoir-faire and savoir-vivre. The words are hard to translate, but essentially they mean "practical know-how" and "good manners."

You see, Franklin has the strongest drive – some might even call it sex drive – of any man alive in the 18th century. Franklin took to heart Poor Richard’s refrain, "Drive thy business!"

Franklin was driven to achieve success in business, politics, and human relations, and he mastered the techniques of success. He was a creative genius. In business, he worked longer hours than his fellow printers…he kept ahead of his competition in new printing techniques and introducing better products, such as the annual farmer’s almanac, which he improved upon.

Throughout his life and writings, he did more than anyone else to lay the groundwork for wealth creation in our emerging nation. He chronicled much of his business success in his autobiography, thus creating the first "rags to riches" story in American history. Business luminaries from Andrew Carnegie to Warren Buffett have sworn by Franklin’s good counsel. In his "Advice to a Young Tradesman," he wrote, "In short, the way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality; that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything."

Benjamin Franklin’s Success: Strong Personal Relationships

But the most successful method was his ability to communicate and develop strong personal relationships. In Philadelphia, he created the Junto, a club of artisans that met Friday evenings to socialize and debate "morals, politics or natural philosophy." He developed a strategy to befriend everyone, including his enemies, but avoiding dogmatic views and speaking ill of others, and maintaining a degree of humility. "Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults," explained Poor Richard. "A true friend is your best possession."

Franklin succeeded in politics because he focused on projects that everyone supported. Who could oppose the building of a hospital, a college, or fire insurance company, or a library? "A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar," says Poor Richard. And: "A good example is the best sermon."

People of all walks of life were naturally attracted to him. Of all the Founding Fathers, only Franklin is approachable, somebody you could sit down and have a beer with. Washington was too aloof, Adams was too obnoxious, and Jefferson was too intimidating. Only Franklin could say, "I love company, a chat, a laugh, a glass, and even a song, and relish the grave observations and wise sentences of old men’s conversations."

And it wasn’t just men who enjoyed Franklin’s company. Women, in particular, were memorized by Franklin. He exuded sexual prowess. "Somebody, it seemed, gave it out that I loved ladies; and then everybody presented me their ladies (or the ladies presented themselves) to be embraced, that is to have their necks kissed." He went on to write, "The French ladies had a thousand other ways of rendering themselves agreeable by their various attentions and civilities, and their sensible conversation. Tis a delightful people to live with."

While ambassador to France, Franklin developed a close friendship with Madam Brillion, Madam Helvetius, and many other women. Jefferson observed him to be in a "frenzy" around women. The Puritans John and Abigail Adams found the French ladies’s behavior around the old man "disgusting." Franklin, who had been a widower when his wife Deborah died in 1774, proposed marriage to Madam Helvetius, but was turned down.

Benjamin Franklin’s Success: A Family Tradition

Yet, it is clear from his private letters that Franklin was sexually active into his seventies! (If you want proof, see pages 162, 166, and 278 in the Compleated Autobiography.) But he was no lecher, despite all the rumors. Historians say there is no evidence that Franklin sired multiple children out of wedlock, as his contemporary critics maintained. He had only one illegitimate son, William, whose relationship became embittered after William became a British royalist during the American Revolution.

However, William had an illegitimate son, Temple, and Temple sired a child out of wedlock, so there’s a family tradition of promiscuity. (Interestingly, I am a direct descendant of Ben Franklin through a "natural son" of Franklin’s grandson Louis Bache!)

Napoleon Hill’s most famous chapter in Think and Grow Rich is "The Power of Sexual Transmutation." He makes the point that the sex drive, if channeled properly, can be the source of great creative power. It’s much more than the sexual act. Rather than suppressing this natural sex drive into celibacy, it can generate the passion to achieve great productive ends that are rich, powerful and many faceted.

Ben Franklin discovered the power of sexual transmutation and, consequently, fulfilled his destiny. His drive to succeed was so strong that he overcame great odds at various critical times in his life. He had many setbacks in life…financially, he lost most of his regular income when the British fired him as postmaster and colonial agent; he suffered devastating bouts of gout, high fevers, and kidney stones that were so painful he could barely stand during the final seven years of his life; his life was constantly threatened by redcoats, spies and privateers; and he had to fight constantly with John Adams and other commissioners to convince the French to give more and more aid to a new nation who was virtually bankrupt.

If Franklin’s Compleated Autobiography reveals anything, it tells a miraculous story of American independence, and the critical role Franklin played in it. "The whole affair of this business," he wrote, "was such a miracle in human affairs, that if I had not been in the midst of it, and seen all the movements, I could not have comprehended how it was effected." Ultimately, Franklin became deeply religious because of this "miracle" and he would later write, "I have lived a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men!" He had no doubt in his mind that Providence had preserved his long life to witness the creation of the United States, a nation destined for greatness and the "cause of all mankind"…freedom.

At the end of the War for Independence, Franklin was optimistic about this new nation: "America will, with God’s blessing, become a great and happy country." He was right. And we have Ben Franklin and the other great Founding Fathers to thank for it.


Mark Skousen
for The Daily Reckoning

December 21, 2005

Mark Skousen is the editor of  Forecasts & Strategies , now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it remains one of the most successful investment newsletters in the nation.

"I am much more optimistic," said Horacio Marquez, comparing himself to your editor.

Señor Marquez sees the glass more than half full. He sees it practically running over. Yes, the U.S. economy is overextended and will probably slack off next year. But, no, the world economy will not fall apart. Instead, it will boom, thanks to spectacular rates of growth outside the United States.

We ran into Horacio in Baltimore, where he gave us a copy of his outlook for 2006.

"The best opportunity for profits since the Second World War," it begins. "The deceleration of the U.S. economy will be more than compensated for by acceleration in Japan, Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, emerging countries in Europe, India and China."

If American consumers stop consuming, China’s factories will have to look elsewhere for new customers. India’s service industries will have to look for other people to service. Germany’s auto manufacturers will have to find other drivers. Brazil will have to find new markets for its soybeans.

But so what? America prospered in the 20th century without depending on foreign spendthrifts. Shoemakers in New Hampshire cobbled for aircraft workers in California who built flying machines for businessmen from Atlanta. Nearly every family ended the century richer than it began it. Mightn’t factory slaves in Shanghai buss and shlep for IT geniuses in Bangalore as well as those in Silicon Valley? Mightn’t a new Mercedes grace the parking lots of Singapore as well as those of Hollywood? Mightn’t Malaysians, Indonesians, Nepalese, and Cantonese begin using handheld electronic gizmos made in Japan and fattening themselves on food enriched with soy oil imported from Brazil?

Horacio thinks so.

"Buy Mitsubishi," he recommends. "Japan continues its agenda of profound restructuring, including the privatization of the postal system. The banking system is near the end of its process of restructuring… deflation….is giving way to a light and benign inflation….[and] the Chinese economy feeds on rising industrial and technological imports from Japan."

Likewise, in Brazil, a combination of favorable political developments and an expanding world market for primary products is doing wonders for the economy. Brazil’s finance minister is an old Trotskyite. President Lula has said a lot of stupid and silly things. But, fortunately, he didn’t mean it. Instead, they’ve instituted reasonably sensible and conservative economic policies – almost the exact opposite of those north of the Rio Grande. The fiscal deficit is declining. Interest rates are relatively high (credit is tight). Inflation rates are falling. The economy is growing. And one of Brazil’s major steel producers, CVRD, looks like a bargain, says Horacio.

Maybe he is right. Maybe, on a global basis, the glass really is more than half full. We don’t know. Buying a few solid stocks in growing markets might be a good strategy. The rest of the world kept growing when Britain went into decline in the late 19th century. And so, the rest of the world will probably keep growing as the United States declines, too. But Daily Reckoning readers are urged to hold onto some gold; the transition could be rough.

More news, from our currency counselor…


Chris Gaffney, reporting from the EverBank trading desk in St. Louis:

"Anyone who has been to the doctor, paid school tuition, or had to purchase a home will certainly tell you there is inflation in this economy! The car prices and flat-screen TV prices may be dropping, but just how many cars and TVs can we buy?"


And more views out the window of our new "Casa Bonner" in the Nicaraguan Riviera.

*** Speaking of gold…the price seems to be holding above $500. We expected it to correct. So far, the correction has taken about $30 off the price. We suspect that the correction has further to go. We will wait and see…and prepare to buy at any price below $500.

*** "Dear Lord, bless this house and everyone who comes into it. Help them to grow to love and respect each other…and help the family to come together in peace, joy, and the love of God. "

Padre Mandeca came over yesterday to bless the new house. He turned out to be an agreeable man from Managua who had gone to seminary in Boston.

After the blessing, he took a sprig of hedge, dipped it in sanctified water, and asperged the living room…and its occupants. Then, he moved from room to room, tossing drops of water onto the furniture.

"This is ridiculous," said Jules, a 17-year-old rationalist. "What is the point of this? Is this really going to make the house better in some way… is it going to ward off evils spirits or something?"

"Who knows?" saith his father. "But it is a nice custom. And why take chances?"

"Yes," added his mother. "Don’t be such a cynic. Maybe it does ward off evil spirits. And maybe it just helps us remember what we are doing…and how we want to live…so that WE ward off the evil influences ourselves."

"Well, you brought the padre down from Managua," said our friend Antonio the next day. "But you should also get the padre from [nearby] Tola. He blesses all the new houses in the area."

"Oh…yes…we’d love to have him come and bless the house," said Elizabeth.

"What, you’re not really going to have the house blessed twice," replied the cynical 17-year-old modernist. . "Isn’t that overkill? I mean, either Padre Mandeca blessed the house effectively or he didn’t. Either the blessing was worth something or it wasn’t. If it was…you don’t need to do it again. The house is already blessed. If not, then blessings really don’t work…so there’s no point in doing it twice."

"But why not?" opined his father. "Why take chances?"

*** Padre Mandeca began a special school for very poor children in a very poor section of Managua.

"We have about 300 students. Their mothers bring them every morning. We insist that they pay 10 cents per day. But even that is too much for many of the parents. They bring them to the school and beg us to take them…but we don’t have any more space."

Nicaragua is a poor country. Beggars without arms or legs ask for alms on street corners. Often, the beggars have children too, who pester motorists…offer to clean windshields…or sell tomatoes. Only a few lucky ones get to go to Padre Mandeca’s school.

"How is the school supported?" we wanted to know. Elizabeth visited the school with a friend last year. She was already eager to help.

"We do our best. Much of the staff is made up of nuns…of course, they’re not paid. And the people who are paid don’t get very much money. You know, in that neighborhood, no one gets very much money. We’re able to operate the whole project – in two separate locations – on $5,000 per month. We get about 10% of our budget from the government. The rest comes from private donations. But, to tell you the truth, it’s very hard to raise money in Nicaragua. There is not a lot of money…and so many people who need it."

There are a lot of ways to part with money, dear reader. You can go out to dinner. You can buy a new car. You can get a new shirt or a new watch. You can support a political party…buy a stock…give money to your children…or throw a wild party. We don’t know whether one way is better than another. New cars, new houses, new furnishings, new trips, new art, collectibles, ranches in Argentina – many of the ways a middle-aged man spends his money are embarrassing or pathetic. All we can say is that when we offered to make a donation to Padre Manteca’s school at least no member of the family rolled his eyes or laughed.

"Padre, you blessed our home. We would like to do what we can to help you."

Daily Reckoning readers who would like to make a contribution are invited to contact Kate at our headquarters in Baltimore: