Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quote: Mordechai Noah

"Wall-Street is a kind of commercial barometer, and I always observe the countenances of men of business in passing through this bustling street. Very lately I was stopped by a commercial quidnunc, who informed me that Mr. A, B, C, D, E and F, had failed within three days; that times were uncommonly bad and prospects very gloomy, and the result could not be foreseen. Independent of the hazards of commerce, I could account for these failures. These houses, of some ten year's standing, had commenced with small capitals, some with no capital; and instead of uniting industry, prudence, and rigid economy, a contrary course had been pursued, and the first shock overwhelmed them. Look into the houses of some of the merchants, and see them furnished with a splendour equal to that of British nobility; look at their mode of life and actual expenses, and say whether any business can bear such extravagance. Several of these broken merchants have expended for ten years past, nearly 10,000* dollars per annum, in their houses, carriages and wines; can it, therefore, be surprising, that an accumulation of such expenses should lead to ruin?

"I have long observed with regret, the wanton extravagance of our merchants and traders.  A store is rented at 1200 or 1500 dollars per annum, and a dwelling-house at 1000 or 1200 dollars; and a system of living corresponding with such establishments is adopted, which sets economy at defiance, and leads to ruin--and, by a pernicious example, attracts others into the same dangerous vortex. Why should men waste money? why should more money be expended than what may be necessary for the decent contours of life? why will families plunge themselves into ruin, merely to live a few years in luxury? Is not such a course at war with common sense, and with the duty which a man owes to society and his family? Can any business prosper under an annual domestic expenditure of 10,000 dollars, together with losses in trade?...

"If these things are not checked, we may complain of the times without producing reform, and now is the period to commence the work of regeneration, and to use firmness where persuasion fails."

-- playwright, diplomat, journalist, and sheriff of New York Mordechai Noah (1785-1851), "May 6, 1819. [Wall Street Men and Wives]," in The Selected Writings of Mordechai Noah, Michael Schuldiner and Daniel J. Kleinfeld, editors, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

*According to the Measuring Worth's website US currency calculator, in 2010 dollars $10,000 would be equal to between $177,000 and $202,000.

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