The Morality of Making Money

Ayn Rand described as the proudest distinction of Americans, “because it contains all the others,” she believed, the fact that they were the first to coin the phrase “to make money.” Men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity, she noted in “The Meaning of Money,” published in For the New Intellectual (1961), “to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created.”

In Objectivism, money represents productiveness and liberty. It rests on the axiom, wrote Rand, “that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort.” It was in the United States then that money reached its full and proper status as the expression of virtue because this was the first nation to recognize man’s inalienable right to the fruits of his own labor.

Seeking to define the entrepreneurial spirit that came to fruition in America, German sociologist Max Weber famously quoted one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin in his masterwork, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). Capitalism, according to Weber, was premised upon a peculiar notion of duty “of the individual toward the increase of his capital, which is assumed as an end in itself.”

In a letter entitled “Advice to a Young Tradesman,” dated 1748 and published in the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the famed political theorist gave meaning to the phrase that “time is money.” The way to wealth, explained Franklin, “is 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.”

He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all the gets (necessary expense expected), will certainly become rich, if that Being who governs the world, to whom all should look for a blessing on their honest endeavors, doth not, in His wise providence, otherwise determine.

Weber determined that Franklin’s ethic — “the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life” — was inspired by Puritanism which taught men to dedicate themselves with absolute diligence to hard and honest work. Equally important however was the utilitarianism of Franklin’s moral attitudes.

“Honesty is useful,” noted Weber, “because it assures credit; so are punctuality, industry, frugality, and that is the reason they are virtues,” but only in so far as they are useful to the individual.

A virtuous man, a man who makes money honestly and purposefully, is a proud man. Pride, consequently, is one of the defining values of Objectivism. “It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one’s own highest value by achieving one’s own moral perfection,” wrote Rand in “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness (1964). One must strive relentlessly for accomplishment and success to pursue happiness and the will to “make money,” to create one’s own wealth, is the indispensable articulation of this code.

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Comments

  1. Making money comes from providing a product or a service that has a value to the buyer. Providing that product or service is often a challenging and rewarding experience. However, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy :D

  2. I remember I was once in America and watched a televised debate on the subject of work and holiday(vacation) times. A young woman, who I believe was a journalist, was pressing her point quite loudly along the following lines; ‘I love to work, I find it a challenge. When I’m on vacation with the kids and my husband I get bored so easily and so much look forward to getting back. People like to work, it gives them something to do. Vacations are boring’ An elderly gentleman who I took to be some kind of commentator then responded ‘Uh…you’re a journalist Karen (or whatever her names was). I think regular joes like a bit of time off once in a while. I also think they enjoy being with their familieis.’

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