I am currently reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and I came across an interesting paragraph related to Economics and American History.

If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.

Is this a true piece of history? Did we create the idea of "making money"?

  • $\begingroup$ A question about the specific phrase "making money" seems more suitable for English Language & Usage SE. But the question who first regarded wealth as something that has to be created and not a static quantity seems on-topic. $\endgroup$ – Adam Bailey Jul 11 '17 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Adam Bailey Wealth as something that is created is my question. I'm sorry if that's not clear. I already asked about the phrase over at English Language and Usage $\endgroup$ – aust1n Jul 11 '17 at 17:06

No, the idea of wealth as something to be created did not originate in the United States. It was part of the mercantilist approach to national economic policy that was widely adopted in Europe in the 16th to 18th centuries.

Mercantilism involved a range of policies, many of which were designed to increase the wealth of one country at the expense of others and probably reduced wealth overall, eg restrictions on international trade, and warfare to gain control over sources of goods. However, it also involved policies that were not at the expense of other countries, including promoting industry via research or subsidies, maximising the use of domestic resources, and (see under France in the link above) decreasing internal barriers to trade, reducing internal tariffs, and improving infrastructure.

  • $\begingroup$ How sure are you that these where the first school of thought (or individual people) to argue that wealth can be created? A quick glance at some ancient history of economic thought (e.g. Aristotle in Politics), or at some economic thought from the Middle Ages (e.g. see the quote by Ibn Khaldun) indicate that mercantilists might not have been the first on this. $\endgroup$ – luchonacho Jul 12 '17 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @luchonacho I'm not claiming that the mercantilists were first, only that they had the idea of wealth as something to be created before the US existed so it was not first. As you suggest, others may have had the idea much earlier. $\endgroup$ – Adam Bailey Jul 12 '17 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ I see. I got the impression the OP wanted to know the origin of such thinking, but I realise now the OP just wanted to put that quote to the test, for which your answer sufficed. $\endgroup$ – luchonacho Jul 12 '17 at 18:16

I think this is almost certainly wrong. I recommend "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" as a good book to read on this subject. Max Weber argues that protestant/puritan work ethics are the precursor to capitalism. Most of the early immigrants to the US were protestants and puritans, but these movements originated in England, Switzerland, Germany, etc.


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