Image - Michael Meyer and illustration of Benjamin Franklin
Past Event

Benjamin Franklin's Last Bet

Benjamin Franklin was not exactly a gambling man. But he wagered 2,000 pounds, at the end of his illustrious life, on the survival of the United States. Franklin's bet was that, if the trustees of his legacy funds lent it out over the next 200 years to Boston and Philadelphia tradesmen to jump-start their careers, the U.S. economy would flourish. Each loan was to be repaid with interest over 10 years, and if all went according to Franklin’s inventive scheme, the accrued final payout in 1991 would prove to be a windfall.

Meyer traces the evolution of these twin funds as they age alongside America itself, bankrolling woodworkers and silversmiths, trade schools and space races. Franklin’s wager on this early version of microfinancing was misused, neglected, and contested—but never wholly extinguished. With charm and inquisitive flair, Meyer shows how Franklin’s stake in the “leather-apron” class remains in play to this day, and offers an inspiring blueprint for prosperity in our modern era of growing wealth disparity and social divisions.

MLF Organizer
George Hammond

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Bernard Osher Foundation

Meyer photo courtesy the speaker.

April 19, 2022

The Commonwealth Club of California
United States

Image - Michael Meyer

Michael Meyer

Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh; Author, Benjamin Franklin's Last Bet

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates