America’s first entrepreneur

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As a lover of history books, my family knows what to give me on my birthday and Christmas. I have so much reading material by my bed that I asked everyone to hold back last Christmas. I just finished reading one of those gifts. I don’t remember who gifted it to me, but I would like to thank them.

It’s a book on George Washington. I put off reading this book. After all, I have read more than one book on the first President of the United States. What could I learn that I already did not know?

It turns out a lot.

Written by economist Cyrus A. Ansary, “George Washington Dealmaker in Chief” tells the story of the father of our country as an entrepreneur.

How much do you think Washington was worth when he died (in 2017 currency): $340,000, $3.4 million, $34.4 million, $3.4 billion or $34.4 billion?

With little formal education, Washington, at only 16-years-old, started earning money as a surveyor. Two years later, George purchased three choice parcels of land totaling 1,459 acres. He eventually accumulated over 68,700 acres.

At the time of his death, Washington owned more than a dozen businesses, including milling, spinning and weaving, tannery, shoe manufacturing, production of barrels and bricks, and commercial fishery. He manufactured ropes, saddles and harnesses, ran a distillery, produced fertilizer, and owned an orchard and a dairy.

Ansary says, “His [Washington’s] service in the public sector [as President and as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army] contributed nothing to his wealth; on the contrary, it was a distinctly negative factor in his accumulation of assets.”

In contrast, today, politicians from both sides of the isle, often use their office to accumulate wealth. Bill and Hillary Clinton moved into the White House in 1993 as part of the middle class. In 2021 their net worth was $120 million.

Under British rule, the 13 colonies in America were under a planned economy — not much different than the Soviet Union two centuries later. This was one of the reasons Americans fought for their freedom, to relieve themselves of the “economic straitjacket” England had on them.

When Washington became President, he laid the foundation for an open economic system where anyone could become successful. He believed in what we have come to know as capitalism

First, he was instrumental in forming the Bank of the United States — with the help of Alexander Hamilton — against the wishes of future Presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Second, Washington set the foundation of the Supreme Court to be independent of both the executive and the legislative branches by only appointing individuals of the highest caliber. Economists today identify an economically prosperous nation by the integrity of its court system.

Third, was Washington’s insistence for uniform national copyright and patent protection — something we take for granted. This was also opposed by Jefferson, who felt it would promote monopolies.

Also helping make America a great economic powerhouse was the formation of corporations. In England, corporations were for aristocrats. In America, the “corporate charters became a popular tool for the economic growth of the entire nation. The existence of the early federal patent system has been called the secret of the great success of the United States.”

Finally, Washington believed that an educated workforce was crucial to a growing economy.

Ansary also talks about something dear to my heart, Washington’s instance on a Free Press and that transparency was essential to keep corruption out of government.

Washington demonstrated how he was the “Dealmaker in Chief” in what would be one of his most significant accomplishments — the city of Washington DC.

In 1790 congress passed a resolution directing the President to build the nation’s capital. The resolution gave him no money to complete this task with a deadline of just 10 years. Congress was sure he would fail.

If you want to know how Washington succeeded —and no, he did not use any of his own money — then read the book; I recommend it.

Washington indeed was America’s first entrepreneur. At the time of his death — according to Ansary — he was worth $34.4 billion in 2017 currency.

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