Chapter 19: What We May Expect
We are--unless I do not read the signs aright--in the midst of a change. It is going on all about us, slowly and scarcely observed, but with a firm surety. We are gradually learning to relate cause and effect. A great deal of that which we call disturbance--a great deal of the upset in what have seemed to be established institutions--is really but the surface indication of something approaching a regeneration. The public point of view is changing, and we really need only a somewhat different point of view to make the very bad system of the past into a very good system of the future. We are displacing that peculiar virtue which used to be admired as hard-headedness, and which was really only wooden-headedness, with intelligence, and also we are getting rid of mushy sentimentalism. The first confused hardness with progress; the second confused softness with progress. We are getting a better view of the realities and are beginning to know that we have already in the world all things needful for the fullest kind of a life and that we shall use them better once we learn what they are and what they mean.
Whatever is wrong--and we all know that much is wrong--can be righted by a clear definition of the wrongness. We have been looking so much at one another, at what one has and another lacks, that we have made a personal affair out of something that is too big for personalities. To be sure, human nature enters largely into our economic problems. Selfishness exists, and doubtless it colours all the competitive activities of life. If selfishness were the characteristic of any one class it might be easily dealt with, but it is in human fibre everywhere. And greed exists. And envy exists. And jealousy exists.
But as the struggle for mere existence grows less--and it is less than it used to be, although the sense of uncertainty may have increased--we have an opportunity to release some of the finer motives. We think less of the frills of civilization as we grow used to them. Progress, as the world has thus far known it, is accompanied by a great increase in the things of life. There is more gear, more wrought material, in the average American backyard than in the whole domain of an African king. The average American boy has more paraphernalia around him than a whole Eskimo community. The utensils of kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and coal cellar make a list that would have staggered the most luxurious potentate of five hundred years ago. The increase in the impedimenta of life only marks a stage. We are like the Indian who comes into town with all his money and buys everything he sees. There is no adequate realization of the large proportion of the labour and material of industry that is used in furnishing the world with its trumpery and trinkets, which are made only to be sold, and are bought merely to be owned--that perform no service in the world and are at last mere rubbish as at first they were mere waste. Humanity is advancing out of its trinket-making stage, and industry is coming down to meet the world's needs, and thus we may expect further advancement toward that life which many now see, but which the present "good enough" stage hinders our attaining.
And we are growing out of this worship of material possessions. It is no longer a distinction to be rich. As a matter of fact, to be rich is no longer a common ambition. People do not care for money as money, as they once did. Certainly they do not stand in awe of it, nor of him who possesses it. What we accumulate by way of useless surplus does us no honour.
It takes only a moment's thought to see that as far as individual personal advantage is concerned, vast accumulations of money mean nothing. A human being is a human being and is nourished by the same amount and quality of food, is warmed by the same weight of clothing, whether he be rich or poor. And no one can inhabit more than one room at a time.
But if one has visions of service, if one has vast plans which no ordinary resources could possibly realize, if one has a life ambition to make the industrial desert bloom like the rose, and the work-a-day life suddenly blossom into fresh and enthusiastic human motives of higher character and efficiency, then one sees in large sums of money what the farmer sees in his seed corn--the beginning of new and richer harvests whose benefits can no more be selfishly confined than can the sun's rays.
There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world's ills will be cured. They are both on the wrong track. They might as well try to corner all the checkers or all the dominoes of the world under the delusion that they are thereby cornering great quantities of skill. Some of the most successful money-makers of our times have never added one pennyworth to the wealth of men. Does a card player add to the wealth of the world?
If we all created wealth up to the limits, the easy limits, of our creative capacity, then it would simply be a case of there being enough for everybody, and everybody getting enough. Any real scarcity of the necessaries of life in the world--not a fictitious scarcity caused by the lack of clinking metallic disks in one's purse--is due only to lack of production. And lack of production is due only too often to lack of knowledge of how and what to produce.
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This much we must believe as a starting point:
That the earth produces, or is capable of producing, enough to give decent sustenance to everyone--not of food alone, but of everything else we need. For everything is produced from the earth.
That it is possible for labour, production, distribution, and reward to be so organized as to make certain that those who contribute shall receive shares determined by an exact justice.
That regardless of the frailties of human nature, our economic system can be so adjusted that selfishness, although perhaps not abolished, can be robbed of power to work serious economic injustice.
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The business of life is easy or hard according to the skill or the lack of skill displayed in production and distribution. It has been thought that business existed for profit. That is wrong. Business exists for service. It is a profession, and must have recognized professional ethics, to violate which declasses a man. Business needs more of the professional spirit. The professional spirit seeks professional integrity, from pride, not from compulsion. The professional spirit detects its own violations and penalizes them. Business will some day become clean. A machine that stops every little while is an imperfect machine, and its imperfection is within itself. A body that falls sick every little while is a diseased body, and its disease is within itself. So with business. Its faults, many of them purely the faults of the moral constitution of business, clog its progress and make it sick every little while. Some day the ethics of business will be universally recognized, and in that day business will be seen to be the oldest and most useful of all the professions.
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All that the Ford industries have done--all that I have done--is to endeavour to evidence by works that service comes before profit and that the sort of business which makes the world better for its presence is a noble profession. Often it has come to me that what is regarded as the somewhat remarkable progression of our enterprises--I will not say "success," for that word is an epitaph, and we are just starting--is due to some accident; and that the methods which we have used, while well enough in their way, fit only the making of our particular products and would not do at all in any other line of business or indeed for any products or personalities other than our own.
It used to be taken for granted that our theories and our methods were fundamentally unsound. That is because they were not understood. Events have killed that kind of comment, but there remains a wholly sincere belief that what we have done could not be done by any other company--that we have been touched by a wand, that neither we nor any one else could make shoes, or hats, or sewing machines, or watches, or typewriters, or any other necessity after the manner in which we make automobiles and tractors. And that if only we ventured into other fields we should right quickly discover our errors. I do not agree with any of this. Nothing has come out of the air. The foregoing pages should prove that. We have nothing that others might not have. We have had no good fortune except that which always attends any one who puts his best into his work. There was nothing that could be called "favorable" about our beginning. We began with almost nothing. What we have, we earned, and we earned it by unremitting labour and faith in a principle. We took what was a luxury and turned it into a necessity and without trick or subterfuge. When we began to make our present motor car the country had few good roads, gasoline was scarce, and the idea was firmly implanted in the public mind that an automobile was at the best a rich man's toy. Our only advantage was lack of precedent.
We began to manufacture according to a creed--a creed which was at that time unknown in business. The new is always thought odd, and some of us are so constituted that we can never get over thinking that anything which is new must be odd and probably queer. The mechanical working out of our creed is constantly changing. We are continually finding new and better ways of putting it into practice, but we have not found it necessary to alter the principles, and I cannot imagine how it might ever be necessary to alter them, because I hold that they are absolutely universal and must lead to a better and wider life for all.
If I did not think so I would not keep working--for the money that I make is inconsequent. Money is useful only as it serves to forward by practical example the principle that business is justified only as it serves, that it must always give more to the community than it takes away, and that unless everybody benefits by the existence of a business then that business should not exist. I have proved this with automobiles and tractors. I intend to prove it with railways and public-service corporations--not for my personal satisfaction and not for the money that may be earned. (It is perfectly impossible, applying these principles, to avoid making a much larger profit than if profit were the main object.) I want to prove it so that all of us may have more, and that all of us may live better by increasing the service rendered by all businesses. Poverty cannot be abolished by formula; it can be abolished only by hard and intelligent work. We are, in effect, an experimental station to prove a principle. That we do make money is only further proof that we are right. For that is a species of argument that establishes itself without words.
In the first chapter was set forth the creed. Let me repeat it in the light of the work that has been done under it--for it is at the basis of all our work:
- (1) An absence of fear of the future or of veneration for the past. One
- who fears the future, who fears failure, limits his activities. Failure
- is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. There is no
- disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail. What
- is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means for progress.
- (2) A disregard of competition. Whoever does a thing best ought to be
- the one to do it. It is criminal to try to get business away from
- another man--criminal because one is then trying to lower for personal
- gain the condition of one's fellow-men, to rule by force instead of by
- (3) The putting of service before profit. Without a profit, business
- cannot extend. There is nothing inherently wrong about making a profit.
- Well-conducted business enterprises cannot fail to return a profit but
- profit must and inevitably will come as a reward for good service. It
- cannot be the basis--it must be the result of service.
- (4) Manufacturing is not buying low and selling high. It is the process
- of buying materials fairly and, with the smallest possible addition of
- cost, transforming those materials into a consumable product and
- distributing it to the consumer. Gambling, speculating, and sharp
- dealing tend only to clog this progression.
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We must have production, but it is the spirit behind it that counts most. That kind of production which is a service inevitably follows a real desire to be of service. The various wholly artificial rules set up for finance and industry and which pass as "laws" break down with such frequency as to prove that they are not even good guesses. The basis of all economic reasoning is the earth and its products. To make the yield of the earth, in all its forms, large enough and dependable enough to serve as the basis for real life--the life which is more than eating and sleeping--is the highest service. That is the real foundation for an economic system. We can make things--the problem of production has been solved brilliantly. We can make any number of different sort of things by the millions. The material mode of our life is splendidly provided for. There are enough processes and improvements now pigeonholed and awaiting application to bring the physical side of life to almost millennial completeness. But we are too wrapped up in the things we are doing--we are not enough concerned with the reasons why we do them. Our whole competitive system, our whole creative expression, all the play of our faculties seem to be centred around material production and its by-products of success and wealth.
There is, for instance, a feeling that personal or group benefit can be had at the expense of other persons or groups. There is nothing to be gained by crushing any one. If the farmer's bloc should crush the manufacturers would the farmers be better off? If the manufacturer's bloc should crush the farmers, would the manufacturers be better off? Could Capital gain by crushing Labour? Or Labour by crushing Capital? Or does a man in business gain by crushing a competitor? No, destructive competition benefits no one. The kind of competition which results in the defeat of the many and the overlordship of the ruthless few must go. Destructive competition lacks the qualities out of which progress comes. Progress comes from a generous form of rivalry. Bad competition is personal. It works for the aggrandizement of some individual or group. It is a sort of warfare. It is inspired by a desire to "get" someone. It is wholly selfish. That is to say, its motive is not pride in the product, nor a desire to excel in service, nor yet a wholesome ambition to approach to scientific methods of production. It is moved simply by the desire to crowd out others and monopolize the market for the sake of the money returns. That being accomplished, it always substitutes a product of inferior quality.
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Freeing ourselves from the petty sort of destructive competition frees us from many set notions. We are too closely tied to old methods and single, one-way uses. We need more mobility. We have been using certain things just one way, we have been sending certain goods through only one channel--and when that use is slack, or that channel is stopped, business stops, too, and all the sorry consequences of "depression" set in. Take corn, for example. There are millions upon millions of bushels of corn stored in the United States with no visible outlet. A certain amount of corn is used as food for man and beast, but not all of it. In pre-Prohibition days a certain amount of corn went into the making of liquor, which was not a very good use for good corn. But through a long course of years corn followed those two channels, and when one of them stopped the stocks of corn began to pile up. It is the money fiction that usually retards the movement of stocks, but even if money were plentiful we could not possibly consume the stores of food which we sometimes possess.
If foodstuffs become too plentiful to be consumed as food, why not find other uses for them? Why use corn only for hogs and distilleries? Why sit down and bemoan the terrible disaster that has befallen the corn market? Is there no use for corn besides the making of pork or the making of whisky? Surely there must be. There should be so many uses for corn that only the important uses could ever be fully served; there ought always be enough channels open to permit corn to be used without waste.
Once upon a time the farmers burned corn as fuel--corn was plentiful and coal was scarce. That was a crude way to dispose of corn, but it contained the germ of an idea. There is fuel in corn; oil and fuel alcohol are obtainable from corn, and it is high time that someone was opening up this new use so that the stored-up corn crops may be moved. Why have only one string to our bow? Why not two? If one breaks, there is the other. If the hog business slackens, why should not the farmer turn his corn into tractor fuel?
We need more diversity all round. The four-track system everywhere would not be a bad idea. We have a single-track money system. It is a mighty fine system for those who own it. It is a perfect system for the interest-collecting, credit-controlling financiers who literally own the commodity called Money and who literally own the machinery by which money is made and used. Let them keep their system if they like it. But the people are finding out that it is a poor system for what we call "hard times" because it ties up the line and stops traffic. If there are special protections for the interests, there ought also to be special protections for the plain people. Diversity of outlet, of use, and of financial enablement, are the strongest defenses we can have against economic emergencies.
It is likewise with Labour. There surely ought to be flying squadrons of young men who would be available for emergency conditions in harvest field, mine, shop, or railroad. If the fires of a hundred industries threaten to go out for lack of coal, and one million men are menaced by unemployment, it would seem both good business and good humanity for a sufficient number of men to volunteer for the mines and the railroads. There is always something to be done in this world, and only ourselves to do it. The whole world may be idle, and in the factory sense there may be "nothing to do." There may be nothing to do in this place or that, but there is always something to do. It is this fact which should urge us to such an organization of ourselves that this "something to be done" may get done, and unemployment reduced to a minimum.
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Every advance begins in a small way and with the individual. The mass can be no better than the sum of the individuals. Advancement begins within the man himself; when he advances from half-interest to strength of purpose; when he advances from hesitancy to decisive directness; when he advances from immaturity to maturity of judgment; when he advances from apprenticeship to mastery; when he advances from a mere dilettante at labour to a worker who finds a genuine joy in work; when he advances from an eye-server to one who can be entrusted to do his work without oversight and without prodding--why, then the world advances! The advance is not easy. We live in flabby times when men are being taught that everything ought to be easy. Work that amounts to anything will never be easy. And the higher you go in the scale of responsibility, the harder becomes the job. Ease has its place, of course. Every man who works ought to have sufficient leisure. The man who works hard should have his easy chair, his comfortable fireside, his pleasant surroundings. These are his by right. But no one deserves ease until after his work is done. It will never be possible to put upholstered ease into work. Some work is needlessly hard. It can be lightened by proper management. Every device ought to be employed to leave a man free to do a man's work. Flesh and blood should not be made to bear burdens that steel can bear. But even when the best is done, work still remains work, and any man who puts himself into his job will feel that it is work.
And there cannot be much picking and choosing. The appointed task may be less than was expected. A man's real work is not always what he would have chosen to do. A man's real work is what he is chosen to do. Just now there are more menial jobs than there will be in the future; and as long as there are menial jobs, someone will have to do them; but there is no reason why a man should be penalized because his job is menial. There is one thing that can be said about menial jobs that cannot be said about a great many so-called more responsible jobs, and that is, they are useful and they are respectable and they are honest.
The time has come when drudgery must be taken out of labour. It is not work that men object to, but the element of drudgery. We must drive out drudgery wherever we find it. We shall never be wholly civilized until we remove the treadmill from the daily job. Invention is doing this in some degree now. We have succeeded to a very great extent in relieving men of the heavier and more onerous jobs that used to sap their strength, but even when lightening the heavier labour we have not yet succeeded in removing monotony. That is another field that beckons us--the abolition of monotony, and in trying to accomplish that we shall doubtless discover other changes that will have to be made in our system.
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The opportunity to work is now greater than ever it was. The opportunity to advance is greater. It is true that the young man who enters industry to-day enters a very different system from that in which the young man of twenty-five years ago began his career. The system has been tightened up; there is less play or friction in it; fewer matters are left to the haphazard will of the individual; the modern worker finds himself part of an organization which apparently leaves him little initiative. Yet, with all this, it is not true that "men are mere machines." It is not true that opportunity has been lost in organization. If the young man will liberate himself from these ideas and regard the system as it is, he will find that what he thought was a barrier is really an aid.
Factory organization is not a device to prevent the expansion of ability, but a device to reduce the waste and losses due to mediocrity. It is not a device to hinder the ambitious, clear-headed man from doing his best, but a device to prevent the don't-care sort of individual from doing his worst. That is to say, when laziness, carelessness, slothfulness, and lack-interest are allowed to have their own way, everybody suffers. The factory cannot prosper and therefore cannot pay living wages. When an organization makes it necessary for the don't-care class to do better than they naturally would, it is for their benefit--they are better physically, mentally, and financially. What wages should we be able to pay if we trusted a large don't-care class to their own methods and gait of production?
If the factory system which brought mediocrity up to a higher standard operated also to keep ability down to a lower standard--it would be a very bad system, a very bad system indeed. But a system, even a perfect one, must have able individuals to operate it. No system operates itself. And the modern system needs more brains for its operation than did the old. More brains are needed to-day than ever before, although perhaps they are not needed in the same place as they once were. It is just like power: formerly every machine was run by foot power; the power was right at the machine. But nowadays we have moved the power back--concentrated it in the power-house. Thus also we have made it unnecessary for the highest types of mental ability to be engaged in every operation in the factory. The better brains are in the mental power-plant.
Every business that is growing is at the same time creating new places for capable men. It cannot help but do so. This does not mean that new openings come every day and in groups. Not at all. They come only after hard work; it is the fellow who can stand the gaff of routine and still keep himself alive and alert who finally gets into direction. It is not sensational brilliance that one seeks in business, but sound, substantial dependability. Big enterprises of necessity move slowly and cautiously. The young man with ambition ought to take a long look ahead and leave an ample margin of time for things to happen.
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A great many things are going to change. We shall learn to be masters rather than servants of Nature. With all our fancied skill we still depend largely on natural resources and think that they cannot be displaced. We dig coal and ore and cut down trees. We use the coal and the ore and they are gone; the trees cannot be replaced within a lifetime. We shall some day harness the heat that is all about us and no longer depend on coal--we may now create heat through electricity generated by water power. We shall improve on that method. As chemistry advances I feel quite certain that a method will be found to transform growing things into substances that will endure better than the metals--we have scarcely touched the uses of cotton. Better wood can be made than is grown. The spirit of true service will create for us. We have only each of us to do our parts sincerely.
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Everything is possible ... "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
THE BOOK ENDS