I am currently reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and I came across an interesting paragraph related to the English language and its 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 phrase and the idea of "making money"?

  • To make money . In all likelihood this idiom has existed in many languages across many centuries of time. - quora.com/…
    – user66974
    Jul 11, 2017 at 13:42
  • I bet the Romans and Greeks made coins = money, long before the British or the Americans (1776) ever did.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 11, 2017 at 13:42
  • 1
    To make money "earn pay" is first attested mid-15c. Etymonline etymonline.com/index.php?l=m&p=42
    – user66974
    Jul 11, 2017 at 13:44
  • 1
    @Josh There is a difference between getting richer by making someone else poorer and getting richer by creating wealth that did not exist before. Put your sarcasm aside and read for example Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind where this is explained much better than I ever could. Jul 11, 2017 at 14:16
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because This question belongs on Economics SE
    – user66974
    Jul 11, 2017 at 14:20

1 Answer 1


Three things:

First, this question has already been asked and answered here with the conclusion that Americans did not, in fact, invent it and it is as least as old as Roman times.

Second, Ayn Rand did not come up with the idea that Americans invented the phrase to make money. As noted here

language watchers in the 19th century made the same claim - as an accusation, not a boast. "Making money," had it been American, would have been just the sort of crass commercial lingo Americans were thought to enjoy.

So this was kind of a Yankee Doodle moment where Rand was taking an accusation that the British had been making and turning it around, being proud of it, if it were true.

Third, even though it's not literally true, it could be argued to be metaphorically true. The book Man in the Place of the Gods: What Cities Mean states:

we can certainly say that the American attitude toward money is one of respect for the entrepreneur who thinks up a new way to create more real wealth - wealth that never existed before. Just getting money, or just moving money around, is not the same thing as creating new real wealth that didn't exist before an entrepreneur invented a new product or a new service, or a new, more efficient way of doing something.

Thus in the same way one might say the American Spirit is true and unique, then Rand's assertion is metaphorically true in that way.

  • Thank you for your analysis. I somewhat interpreted it as your 3rd point.
    – user838494
    Jul 11, 2017 at 16:05

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