This claim comes from a work of fiction but it is often repeated as true by fiscally conservative individuals who respect the author. In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a character named Francisco gives a speech on the nature of money. Francisco says (emphasis mine),
"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."
Now, a strict reading of this is demonstrably false, as this page has several instances of a verb similar to 'to make' being used in relation to money. One is cited by the OED and reads as follows,
1472 R. CALLE in Paston Lett. (1976) II. 356, I truste be Ester to make of money..at the leeste l marke
The issue with this strict of an interpretation though, is that Rand wasn't really talking about the word, but rather the way it was used. It's possible to use the verb 'to make' in relation to money in several ways. For instance,
- Accumulating a quantity of wealth (from a static or dynamic pool of wealth).
- Printing or coining it.
- Increasing the amount of wealth in the world through productive work.
I'm certain mints and counterfeiters have used the second sense for ages and I don't know how common the first sense is.
I read Rand's claim as stating Americans were the first people to use 'to make money' in the third sense. Is this historically accurate? I'm skeptical because I think the fact that wealth is produced is obvious and I doubt previous nations would have held such a drastically different view.
Note: I don't want this to turn into an argument about the merits of Objectivism. It's controversial, but your opinion on it (in favor or against) is not relevant in the context of investigating this claim.