THE DOLLAR VALUE OF MORAL FIBER IN BUSINESS (Apr, 1917)

“The mother of one was a divorcee. That of another kept a Pomeranian poodle.”

Finally, someone that makes sense! Now maybe others will believe me when I say that the financial meltdown was actually a secret plot by devious, amoral Pomeranians and not those poor, honest bankers.

THE DOLLAR VALUE OF MORAL FIBER IN BUSINESS

by George H. Cushing

THE biggest thing in American life today is that children are not being disciplined. They are not given moral training. Every man notes the result but only a few the cause.

The first visible result is lack of respect for the parent and wholesale disobedience. This comes to seed in impudence to older persons generally and disregard for the rights of others.

The second expression of the same thing is the absence of any sense of responsibility. This is the root of the lack of application which is almost universal in the younger generation.

The third expression of the same thing is the feverish demand for excitement and extravagant amusement. In this respect, the younger generation is abnormal. It cuts loose from all forms of restraint.

The three things combined tell why the younger generation is wholly unfitted for business and why business men are complaining everywhere that they cannot get dependable helpers. The fact is that the American youth lacks stamina. He cannot and will not stick to anything, merely because he has no moral strength.

The adage is that “as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.” If the business men complain about the present-day youth, they must think they were trained differently. If they were, it would show in their present conduct.

To get an idea whether their dissatisfaction is justified, I selected for study fifteen men in several businesses. Of these, two were merchants; three were railroaders; and ten were owners of factories. I put them all to this acid test of business morality. Do the same ethical standards govern when business is bad, is good, and is excellent? That is, in hard times, would they “cut a competitor’s throat?” In excellent times would they disregard contracts and use the stolen merchandise to gouge the public? In a word, had they the stamina to take a severe financial loss and yet keep their word?

For example, I knew that the hard times of 1914 would bring out the worst or the best in all of them. My record shows that of the two merchants, one stood by his policy. He gave consistent quality and paid his bills. The other announced frequent bargain sales and sold shoddy goods at big prices over the bargain counters. I bought from his store “a $5.00 Blank hat” for $2.90. When I got it home, it turned out to be an ordinary $2.00 hat.

Of the three railroad men, one maintained his road in excellent condition and paid for the repairs out of earnings. To do so, he had to cut two per cent off his dividends. The other two robbed their roads and paid big dividends to attract Wall Street.

Of the ten manufacturers, eight maintained the quality of their product at the old standard and went without profit. Two didn’t. One put composition soles on his shoes and sold them for leather. The other made tools of highly polished soft metal and sold them as steel tools.

After that, came the boom times of 1916 when nearly anything would “go”. The one merchant admitted that dyes were hard to get but guaranteed his colors just the same and then charged moderate prices. The other sold “English all wool clothing” that was made of Carolina cotton and Texas wool, woven into cloth in New England. He even advanced the price sharply, saying: “England has advanced the price on cloth because Australian wool is hard to get; labor is scarce in England, and taxes there are high.”

During this boom one railroad man served all patrons alike, giving to each shipper his share of the few cars available. The other two moved only those goods which paid the highest rates and told the other shippers that a shortage of cars kept them from doing any better.

The record of the ten manufacturers shows that eight filled contracts to the last letter of the last syllable. The other two stole goods from contract customers and sold them on the “open market” at fancy prices.

The cash value of this business morality is not buried. It does not have to be exhumed for measurement and identification. For example, the railroad that was, in 1914, maintained in good condition, had the most facilities to hire out to shippers in 1916 when the car shortage struck. It earned money proportionately.

The merchant who in 1914 guaranteed the colors in his fabrics had the bulk of the business in 1916. And, the manufacturers who have filled all their contracts since July 1, 1916, already have signed contracts which assure them the cream of the business for 1917. It was not, therefore, a case of casting bread on the water promiscuously in hope that it might come back.

If it is true that “as the twig is bent so will the tree incline”, we may say that, of fifteen men, five evidently had been bent to the side of unmoral conduct when young. Ten had been trained carefully and patiently to do the right thing. But, in such an important matter, I could not assume. I must know. So I put a direct question squarely to one of them, and he said: “When I was a boy my father used to gather us children around him on Sunday afternoon and teach us the Bible. Every morning we had family prayers. At every meal, grace was said. We had such a steady diet of religion and morals, I grew tired of it. At times, it seemed that rebellion and flight were the only things left. Several times I started to run away from home. I am no coward now. I was not then. But I didn’t run away because I couldn’t. The drill had been too thorough. I could no more run away than a German soldier can turn coward and desert.

“Today, I can’t play truant from any business obligation. Often, if I consulted my wishes, I would quit midway in a big campaign. The burden seems too heavy compared with the returns. When I think of it, the duty I owe to my men and the other stockholders demands my attention. So, I don’t run away. I suppose it is because I was trained not to quit.”

To get the cash value of this program to this man, I went over his business record. Ten years ago his capital was $15,-000. Today, it is $5,000,000.

With his statement and record in mind, I questioned and investigated the other fourteen men. My record shows that seven of them had been drilled about the same as had been the first one. Their drill had not been so severe but still it was thorough. Two more had been drilled by parents or friends in the works of the great philosophers. Thus 100 per cent of those who had stuck by their guns in a business sense said they did so because they had been trained in morality and could not desert the way they had been “brought up.”

And, 100 per cent of them had scored a financial success. They all said their success was due to the fact that they had played the business game cleanly.

From that, I went into a study of the moral and financial record of the five who had quit—sold out when trouble came. I found that not one of them had had any Serious moral training. Two said they were members of a church, but they smiled and winked when they said it. The only thing about it which seemed worthy of mention was that the minister was “liberal”.

The other three laughed at the very idea of morality in business. One said a man had to decide between principles and profit. The second said that Roosevelt preached morality in business but did not dare try to practice it. The third said that religion is now obsolete and he had no time for dead issues.

Then, I studied the business record of those five men. This showed that they were the ones who had abandoned their own business policy and their regular customers the instant trouble or hope of a large but unmoral profit appeared. Also, of the five two headed properties which had no standing. One had passed through a fire of suspicious origin and had become a bankrupt when no one believed he had failed. One was prosperous because he had a clean organization behind him. The fifth was, admittedly, a great success. Of him it was said: “He is the cleverest man in his line.

He has to be clever to keep out of jail.”

In October, 1916, a woman at the head of a department of a big school at Evanston, Illinois, announced to the students one morning that the floor of the chapel had been refinished and waxed that dances might be held there in future. One of the students exclaimed, when he heard the announcement: “Gee, wouldn’t the old Methodists, who started this school, turn over in their graves if they could hear that?”

The woman who made that announcement hastened to explain to the reporters : “Times have changed, you know, since this school was founded. Young people are going to dance; there is no use trying to prevent them, for everyone is dancing now. If they must learn, I prefer it should be here under proper influences.”

The astounding thing about this inci- dent is not the fact of departure from the “blue laws” of stricter days but the admission by the school’s principal that efforts to control students now are hopeless and hence had been abandoned. The incident, as I said, is but a bit of flotsam, but the principle involved drops like a plumb line into the center of the modern system of child control. It implies that the student shall be allowed to dictate what he wants to learn regardless of whether or not it is best for him. The whole idea is to please the youth and amuse him, this being’ in contrast with the old notion of improving him without reference to his personal feelings or desires for amusement.

My personal opinion is that you can’t build a Sandow on skimmed soup and French pastry. And, you can’t develop an Abraham Lincoln, a John Hay, or a Theodore Roosevelt in a dance hall and a moving-picture house with sex stories and plays filling the gaps.

While the logic of these circumstances seems irresistible, I know that the Evans-ton experiment is not exactly new, although it is a most striking example. America has been trying it for almost a generation. It started perhaps—I make no claim to being a historian— with the introduction of the institutional church. This was to religion what homeopathic medicine was to a world drugged by the allopathic method. It put a sugar coating on moral training and tried to fill its pews and Sunday School classes on the Sabbath by teaching pool and bowling during the days of the week.

To find what influence this new idea has, I have studied for a few years five young men in Chicago. They were, when I first knew them, about seventeen or eighteen years old. Now they are past twenty-two. When I first began to observe them, they were typical of the new order of things. The mother of one was a divorcee. That of another kept a Pomeranian poodle. The parents of a third gave him money and left him to his own devices while they went to the picture show.

Soon I noticed something truly significant. These same boys were always at the picture shows when I went there. I learned they went nearly every day. On those nights when some vulgar slapstick farce was to be seen, they were sure to be on hand. And, when any glaringly sentimental thing was offered on the bills, the managers could count on them as patrons.

Also, they were to be seen playing pool in the neighborhood barber shop whenever I went out for an evening walk. In nearly five years, I never have seen one of them read anything but a newspaper. Even then it was some crime, the sporting section, or the page of comics, which attracted—never an article or even a fiction story that one, by any stretch of the imagination, could consider worth while.

These five boys were getting energy from their food. But, instead of using it to any purpose, they were playing it out. Not one, in youth, was going through the drill that would make of him a man who could stand the gaff in business. I saw the truth of this when the time arrived when these boys tried to go to work. One of them has had inconsequential jobs intermittently; mostly he has been idle—at his employer’s suggestion. A second one went into an office. His employer tells me he lacks application ; has in six months about reached the limit of his capacity to grow; and, is a clock watcher. The third thinks he is clever because he has learned a way of getting money without working for it. On two occasions he has sought a job in a commercial house during its dull season. When he got it, he was assumed to be learning the business and the stock. Having been paid for doing no work for several months, he deserted when the rush season came and when the work became hard.

The fourth boy came to me one day to ask a question. It was rather an intelligent question and I was delighted because it indicated that I had misjudged him. I began to answer. He listened for a few moments and then broke in with: “I hope you are enjoying yourself. It doesn’t even amuse me.”

He then turned on his heel and walked away.

The fifth of these boys presents a peculiarly striking example of my point. His father met a misfortune in business some time ago, and, for months, was terribly “hard up”. Although the boy is now of age, he displayed not the slightest indication that he felt any responsibility for helping to keep the family together. Assuming obligations was clearly not in his line. But he did complain bitterly because the home table was not supplied with the delicacies which he enjoyed.

These five boys have had no such training as will develop any strength of character or build for financial success. I am wondering what they will do when forced to get into business to support themselves. I am wondering how they will stand the gaff when subjected to the ordeal where success can be won only by close application and by taking hard knocks. I wonder whether they will stand by those principles which alone can win, as did the ten men, or whether they will turn out as did the other five—unprincipled, unreliable, and without any real success to their credit.

As I see this great business game, success comes at the end of an enduring contest. To endure, however, one must have strength, but the essence of strength is stamina and the life of stamina is moral training. Because it is the first requisite of business success, I say that moral training is the most valuable of all training. I say further that the youth of the present generation are being taught to be business failures because they are getting no moral education at all. Instead, by precept and example, they are drilled to be mentally dissolute and easy going—life from the start is satiated with sensuous luxury. And, we cannot build character and hence business success on that.

I am no stickler for church-going, although I regard it highly. I do say, however, that every penny’s worth of strict morality that is added to a young man’s capital before he reaches the age of twenty-one is bound to bring him a dollar’s worth of business success. The moral prostitute can make only a prostitute’s hire; that always is a miserable pittance, and exacts an agony of discontent in later years far greater than its worth. The unmoral may prosper in exceptional cases; they doubtless would prosper immeasurably better if they had a working capital of sterling honesty to fall back upon. Usually—and you and I cannot think of ourselves as exceptions— the straight man, the man with strict moral training, is the big business success.

10 comments
  1. Hirudinea says: June 29, 201110:24 am

    The same article, with minor alterations, could be written today (except I dare you to find any moral man on Wall Street), so I have to wonder have we been in moral decline for so long, are things better than we think or are we just declining on a sliding scale?

  2. Eamonn says: June 29, 20111:29 pm

    Hirudinea, I’d say we’re still moving away from the rather absurd morality of evangelical Victorians where everything not work or Bible related was somehow immoral. Victorian mores were a backlash against how “morally lax” the era before was. Besides, moral decline is only relative. Would you find someone who watched moving pictures every day or played pool sinful?

    This article is nothing but a list of activities the author disapproves of and how young people don’t care that he knows whats best for them. He even complains that the young men were reading the newspaper, but not the articles he likes.

  3. Don F says: June 29, 20111:49 pm

    EVERY generation says things like this about their youth. I’ve seen very similar writings that came from ancient times, decrying how the morals of the next generation have declined from those of the previous generation . . . .

  4. John says: June 29, 20112:49 pm

    Eamonn » Your characterization of Victorian morality doesn’t fit the facts. Dismissing an entire society’s morals with a single sentence is beneath you.

  5. Eamonn says: June 29, 20117:25 pm

    John, not Victorian morality as a whole, but the type of person who looks to the past and sees every change as an assault on society. Narrow-minded and unwilling to accept that the world was not the same place as when they were young and that new doesn’t mean bad. But I suppose you are right. It’s not the era that’s to blame but the person and there are always those people.

    Besides I was more referring to things like the Blue laws that the author mentions which, where I live, only went away in the past ten years or so. Fifteen years ago I couldn’t go to the supermarket on Sunday because someone thought it was immoral.

  6. John says: June 29, 20117:52 pm

    Eamonn » Blue laws are stupid. I live in Georgia where we still have them.
    But as to the Victorians its too easy to believe the stereotypes from TV and such. And its always more complicated than something that can be dismissed in a few words. While during Victoria’s reign, the Royal Navy patrolled the Atlantic Ocean, stopping any ships that it suspected of trading African slaves to the Americas and freeing any slaves found. Meanwhile it could be argued that the working conditions in a lot of English factories was worse than plantation life for an American slave.
    Like I said, based on your previous contributions I knew you could do better.

  7. Eamonn says: June 29, 201110:51 pm

    I know all about that and you’re right. What I was getting at is that the stern morality of the 1800′s especially the evangelical/revival movement that led to things like the Blue laws was partly a reaction to the perceived debauchery and unreligiousness of American society of the 1700′s. Not every generation believes they are undergoing a decline and the Second Great Awakening movement and the increasingly stern view of morality of the 19th century is a perfect example. I’d make the argument that “morality” doesn’t just deline but goes in cycles from high to low and back again, although I was clearly making it very poorly. It wouldn’t suprise me if in a century or so we began a transition back towards the harshness of the Victorian era.

    Anyway, I was really just complaining because the author sounds like a terrible person. The type of guy who keeps baseballs that land in his yard just to teach kids a lesson.

  8. Charlene says: June 30, 201110:01 am

    Eamonn, it had little to do with American society. “Victorian” prudishness began in England, as did 18th century licentiousness for that matter. At this point in time most American cultural mores were imported; Americans of the time both scorned England and, perhaps unwittingly, copied it.

    The prudishness was in part a backlash against earlier licentiousness among the ruling classes, but it was also tied into the need of the new self-improving middle and lower-middle classes to differentiate themselves from the poor working classes, who were seen as drunks, criminals, and yokels. This also fueled in part the rise of Methodism and other dissenting faiths (although Methodism also arose due to abuses by and failures in the Church of England and the US Episcopalian community).

  9. John says: June 30, 20112:31 pm

    Eamonn » Well said.

  10. whoozle whaazle says: September 5, 20114:38 pm

    We need to use the University of Minnesota Spankological Protocol more often …

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