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Business Ethics

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THE CALL on me by your School to make this talk implies that I have special knowledge of the assigned subject. When in the past I have been required to qualify in court as an expert, I have answered and deposed that my qualifications were thus and so. Following that precedent, I now depose that I am nearly sixty-four years of age; and that I have had a business experience of more than fifty-two years. Further, that when I was twelve years old I went into public utility service as a very junior employe of an old country steam railway; and that from that time on I have been continuously in public utility business of one sort or another. My responsibility for business ethics was naturally small during those early years. I began to share in that responsibility about forty years ago. For the last thirty years I have been answerable more than any other one person for the ethics of a certain public service corporation which from small beginnings has become one of the largest of its kind in this country. At the present time it has business relations with some 450,000 customers, some 15,000 stockholders, and some 6,000 employes.

I have made certain excursions into other business fields. But my training and major experience, and consequently the point of view from which I view business ethics, are those of a public utility manager.. It follows that this discussion will be colored or limited by this special character of my own experience.

Definition

The assigned subject is Business Ethics. My library dictionary gives me an option of several definitions of business. That which I select is

"Any occupation connected with the operations or de-tails of trade or industry; also commercial affairs; as, the banking business, the business of the country."

My selection from among the offered definitions of ethics is—"The science or doctrine of the sources, principles, sanctions, and ideals of human conduct and character."

I am inclined to question the definition of ethics as a science. It implies the logical arrangement of precise observations into a rational unity. And while no science denies that observations must be modified according to time and locality, yet each science assumes that it has basic principles not subject to modifications, and that it builds on these as on a permanent foundation. The principles of human conduct, on the contrary, vary not only from age to age and from locality to locality, but with each variation of the personalities involved, with each variation of the environment, and with each variation of the immediate circumstances, and they vary most of all with the varying expectations and desires of the surrounding and observant society.

To determine whether ethics is properly a science, or is solely a doctrine—that is to say, a teaching—would require, as a be-ginning, a stipulation as to the reason for man's existence on earth. I was taught in my childhood that "man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Those of you who are Presbyterians by profession or heredity, although you may have been spared (or may have evaded) the study of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, will recognize the quotation. In my latter years I have favored a different assumption—namely, that man's purpose on earth is to find such happiness as is available on earth, provided that in so doing he shall not detract unfairly from the happiness of others. I have reduced this assumption to a formula which requires me to so conduct myself that the sum total of human happiness may (if possible) be increased by my conduct and that in no case shall it be reduced. That is a pretty rule, and it is even better than it looks, because it places upon the individual who accepts it the duty of considering whether any proposed action will or will not, in the present or in the future, add to or reduce the sum total of human happiness. Like any rule which admits the implication of free will, it requires for its successful operation the capacity to make a right choice; and such capacity is not given to all men at any time, nor to any man at all times. I am not offering either the Westminster Catechism nor my own tentative formula as an adequate answer to the question. The Presbyterian teaching does not accept the utter fatalism taught by the orthodox Mohammedan doctors. It evades rather than denies that sequence. Neither does my formula admit a hedonistic or self-seeking rule of conduct. On the one hand, I am not willing to admit that we are absolutely the creatures of fore-ordination or the playthings of Fate. Neither do I believe that we are free to follow our own desires. The true answer to the whyness of man lies somewhere between these two limits and probably at a considerable distance from either of them.

Will those of you who are Episcopalians by training or practice consider some day the full meaning of a certain phrase in the general confession which is recited by each Episcopal congregation in morning and evening prayer—the phrase wherein we who kneel there, on occasion, humbly confess that we have followed too much the desires and devices of our own hearts? I hold that the words which I have accented—the words, too much—have in them a great lesson. They are, in effect, a denial of the subsequent phrase in the same confession, which recites that we have no health in us. We doubtless fall short of the Glory of God. We even fall short of the perfection which is possible in our own finite imaginings. But if there were no health in us we would not be kneeling there making confession of our shortcomings. I ask you to notice now that it is not the following of our own devices and desires of which we profess repentance. It is the following of them too much.

Mutability

It is in order here to consider the collateral question of mutability. Once upon a time, being provoked thereto by certain under-graduates of our University who were, I fancy, intent on getting out of me some material for themes to be submitted to Dr. Wenley, I tried to put into a few words my understanding of the inevitable mutability of law. I said law, not ethics; but law should be ethics codified. I stole a phrase from some other philosopher to whom I now apologize, first for the theft and second for my grave lack of courtesy in failing to remember his name. That phrase I expanded into this expression

"A law may be a generalization of phenomena or it may be an imposed rule of conduct; but in neither case can it persist when it is found inconsistent with the observed facts of life."

To that expression I added a quotation from St. Paul—"Prove all things—hold fast that which is good."

And recently I have added a quotation from Dean Inge of St. Paul's in London-

"The eating of the tree of knowledge always drives us out of some paradise or other."

The Gloomy Dean's aphorism is a clever briefing of a very old law which I formulate as follows—once more stealing from an unremembered source

"Imperfect knowledge invalidates conclusions. Perfect knowledge, forever impossible to human beings, is necessary to the end that conclusions shall be absolute; and new knowledge always imposes upon us disturbing re-adjustments of pre-existing theories or rules."

I do not think the Dean meant that each addition to our knowledge reduces our happiness. I think his meaning is that it demands of us new adjustments and thereby should stimulate our development. A paradise of inadequate knowledge is but a fool's paradise.

Ethics concerns itself with the obligations of one human being to another. It does not concern itself with the salvation of the egotistic soul (which may not be worth saving, anyhow). It pre-scribes no conduct for the acquirement of merit in the abstract. It lays down no duty to a Creator.

These considerations add force to my preliminary insistence that ethics is not an exact science, but is a doctrine necessarily influx—a doctrine of dynamics and not of statics; a doctrine which seeks to make human conduct concord itself with the observed facts of life, promptly and sufficiently, to the end that the sum of human happiness may be preserved and increased. ,

Somewhat inconsistently my personal philosophy (which is pragmatic) requires that I shall have a personal code of business ethics of a few articles, so well proven and so long held fast that I might grave them on tablets of stone as commandments—as personal commandments binding me alone. I do not presume to impose these few commandments upon the conscience or conduct of any other person. I do not seek to teach them, which may indicate that I lack the missionary spirit. Missionaries are inclined to be intrusive creatures, anyhow. In brief: There are a few things that I feel bound to do when the particular circumstances under which these things should be done shall confront me; and there are a few things done in business which I must needs refuse to do so long as strength and will shall remain with me. What these few positive or negative requirements may be, is my affair. I permit myself to be a missionary only to the extent of saying, on an occasion like this, that each man should have his own personal code, of as few articles as possible, by which he has chosen to live; and that this code to govern his personal conduct, needs no sanction other than his personal decision to hold fast to that which seems to him to be good.

Differences

What is the difference between business ethics and personal ethics, or ethics in general? I fancy that if each of us were able to formulate with meticulous accuracy of expression his concept of personal ethics and were allowed 250 words, there would be as many divergent expressions as there are people in this hall. But we certainly would not diverge so widely in our formulation of the action which would be ethically required of us in any stated set of circumstances. In dealing with a problem which has been narrowed down from the expression of a philosophical concept, to a simple decision as to what can or cannot properly be done in any case of common experience, each national or local group of human beings has an acquired ability to arrive by compromise at an acceptable course of action which is by it regarded as ethical. Where men have ever-lastingly disagreed, is in answering questions speculative or subjective: Wherefore it is well that modern civilization denies the permissibility of inquisition into opinions or beliefs.

The characteristic which first, and most markedly, differentiates business ethics from personal ethics is that in business each ethical concept is a group concept, arrived at by compromise, supported by experience, and accepted by the individual as the working rule of his group but not necessarily as his ultimate personal code. For instance, my group (which is practically your group) approves the buying of land for which the purchaser has no use, but intends only to hold until he shall be offered a price for it sufficiently greater than that which he paid for it; in which case he will sell the land at a profit. There is much to be said in favor of a free market for land, and much can be and has been said against it. I accept as entirely ethical for other people the unhindered freedom of purchase and sale of land. But I do not buy any land on my own ac-count for which I have not an effective and early purpose of use. I do not imply any ethical superiority—my rule is merely my rule for myself.

We may express another distinction by saying that such differences as we shall find between the ethics of business and the personal sort, are differences arising from the occupation of a different viewpoint. In its integrity truth is one, always, and unchangeable. The individual may choose his viewpoint, or may shift from one viewpoint to a better, and thus possibly see all sides of a truth. But in business we must picture the truth as we see it from the group viewpoint, and our picture must be accepted as good by those who stand there with us and are potentially our critics. It is this acceptance that validates the picture—not its accuracy.

Let us consider jestingly, but as a useful illustration, the ethical advisability of filing letters. To file a particular letter received from a correspondent whose memory may be unreliable, for the sole purpose of protecting oneself against a possible future charge of inconsistency, is to perform a permissible act for a motive which is wise although somewhat cowardly. To file every business letter received, and to hold it in file for a reasonable time, so that there may be a quick ending to differences of remembrance or to disputes arising therefrom, is to perform the same action from a motive which is highly ethical. That motive—that there may be an avoidance of disputes or a quick ending of disputes—is one which is given a maximum value in business ethics, and laudably so.

Now to consider the question of filing letters from another standpoint—the standpoint of the recipient of a love letter—do we or do we not file love letters? Whatever the answer, what is our motive? If it is to protect ourselves from a possible breach of promise suit, we are again harboring the fear motive. At the least, we are harboring suspicion, which is unethical. If it is that we may, for a few times, try to bring back the joy that was ours in the first reading of the letter, our motive (being the desire for a personal happiness) must be balanced against the altruistic impulse to pre-vent possibility of embarrassment to the loved one, by burning the letter lest it perchance should get out of our custody, or lest the relationship between the two of us should change. These comparisons lend force to the aphorism that one should always burn a love letter and burn it promptly, but should never burn a business letter. I do not offer that aphorism as advice to you, but, having been for at least one year in love and having been for many years in business, I allow myself to say that it has merit. I even suggest that you look for merit in the shorter aphorism—"In business, always put it in writing. In love, never." The difference between business ethics and personal ethics is thereby illustrated.

Business As a Game

If we could assume that business is always a game to which the players sat down with knowledge of the rules, and with financial ability to pay and lose their stakes, the weighing and measuring of ethical decisions would be much simplified. We could say that the table was always the play; that we wanted Hoyle's Rules and the rigor of the game. But how about the innocents who butt into business and should not be there? Using the analogy of the game, we at once say that the ethical rule which we should apply to a bunch of players hunting up a roulette wheel at Palm Beach or nearer home, or speculating in stocks in the big market, or sitting into a friendly game of penny ante (if such a thing still persists) would be entirely different from that which we would apply to the country-man challenged to risk his money on a crooked wheel at a carnival, or the widow coaxed to speculate in oil stocks, or the ocean tourist invited to sit into a sharper's game in the smoking room of a liner. In the first group of cases, the rule is applicable which was drilled into me in my childhood, that being a gentleman I had no right to gamble unless the game was a gentleman's game and unless I could afford to lose my stakes; and (by implication) that if and when I gambled under these conditions it was at my own risk. In the other cases, I am reminded of the Western decision in which a tenderfoot brought before the local squire was acquitted of taking part in a game of chance when it was shown that he had sat in at stud poker with Yuma Bill, and therefore never had a ghost of a chance.

To translate my parable into an everyday business tale; it may be ethical for the salesman of a clothing manufacturer to sell to the buyer of a big department store in Detroit or New York, every suit and every size of suit which the buyer will stand for, and that the credit man will O. K. But it is absolutely unethical for the salesman to apply the same tactics to the little new trader who is putting his entire capital into business in a small town or on a side street. Here the possession of his superior knowledge of business requires that the salesman shall sell to the storekeeper only those goods which the salesman knows to be suitable for the local market and these in such quantities as the storekeeper can reasonably expect to dispose of during the approaching season.

Caveat Emptor

Let us look now at the old rule which bids the buyer beware. As a motto of business practice it means that the man who purchases must exercise all the caution. Let us see what it means in ethics. I think it implies that the buyer must know the rules and customs of the business in which he is engaged, or if he does not know these, he must declare his lack of knowledge and announce his reliance upon the representations of the vendor. Please consider a case of horse trading at a country fair, or at a four corners on a Saturday afternoon. I do not suggest at the moment that the American farmer would be so irreligious as to trade horses on a Sunday. Are we to assume that two shrewd traders, ready to swap horses and each meaning to get the greatest possible boot, have the slightest expectation of a guarantee of any quality of either horse? The unwritten custom of such trades is that each man shall rely on his own judgment, and an intimation to either of the two David Harums that he should accept as truthful the representations of the other would be resented as implying that he needed a guardian. Horse swapping is business, of course. There are rules for the carrying on of the business, or rather there are customs; but none of these call upon either vendor to declare his knowledge, any more than he would be called upon to declare the value of a poker hand before the show-down.

But the ethical case is altered when another man not knowing nor professing to know anything about horse flesh asks one of the traders to sell him a horse which will be sound in wind, limb and temper. In that case business ethics requires the most complete disclosure of any item in which the offered animal falls short of the desired qualities. And it is very likely indeed that the man who acknowledges his ignorance can accept at full value the representations of the horse trader who sells him his first mount.

Let us shift from horse trading to another form of gambling—namely, speculation in the stock market. Please notice that I have said speculation. The stock market has its legitimate uses and moreover it has its code, easily learned and strictly enforced. Such a code is a necessity where business in millions of dollars is transacted on each business day by word of mouth. Although each transaction is ultimately reduced to writing and record, is not its actual trading an exception to the quoted aphorism which says, "In business always put it in writing; in love never" ? I am not considering the professional buyer or seller who has securities on hand for sale, or who wishes to buy and hold for sale other securities. Neither am I considering the careful speculator who buys without intent to hold permanently, because he thinks the purchased property is selling at the moment below its true value—the man who habitually buys when things are cheap and sells when things are dear. Nor, the man who (conversely) sells in the expectation of a falling market. It is difficult to say where such a one ceases to be a speculator and be-comes a gambler. But it is perfectly clear that he and his kind, whose operations are based upon studies of intrinsic value, perform a useful economic function and tend to stabilize the market. Let me diverge from my presentation of the case of the gambler to point out that there will forever be occasions where some holder of securities is under the necessity of turning these securities into money. It would be a pity if it were necessary to match his exact need for money against the exact desire for those same securities of some other person, unknown. The fashion of business is that his order to sell goes into a market which contains a number of observers whose opinion of the present value of those particular securities is an expert opinion, and who will buy if the securities are offered at a less figure than that opinion. Conversely, there is always in the market a speculative ownership of any active stock, ready to sell when an offer is made of a point or two above their own opinion of the present value of the stock. That sort of speculation is not only useful but is ethical. The gambler whom I have in mind for the moment is the man who chooses to gamble on the stock market which is open and available, instead of the roulette table which is usually unavailable, or the race course which he distrusts. The gambler wants to gamble. We will assume that he observes the gambler's code—that he does not bet anything that he cannot pay. The difference between the three possibilities is that the roulette wheel is presumably honest, and the chance that he takes can be calculated under the law of probabilities. The race course is probably 60 per cent crooked, and the information which is available to the gambler is probably 90 per cent crooked. On the stock market the information which is at the call of the gambler is probably 90 per cent truthful and would be 100 per cent truthful if the market were able to anticipate and correct every omission. The gambler in stocks, therefore, goes into the game with his eyes wide open. Is the market or is the individual stock broker required to look into the motives back of his statement that he desires to buy (or it may be to sell) a certain number of shares of certain stock? Do the ethics of business require that the broker, before acting as agent for the gambler to buy or to sell, shall assure himself that his client is either an investor in the narrowest sense, or a competent and reasonably well-informed speculator? I cannot see that there is any such ethical requirement. Caveat Emptor holds absolutely in this case.

But when a broker or an investment banker offers for sale on his own account any lot of securities, it is his duty under the ethics of the stock market, to use all reasonable endeavors to inform himself as to the legality of the issue of the securities, the value against which they are issued, their probable earning capacity, and any other facts that may be pertinent; and he is required by the ethics of the market not only to inform his customers of his findings but to be assured that a record of the information which he has given his cutomer is on file with the stock exchange for future reference. In this case the customer has the right to rely upon the statements made by the broker; and the broker is, in fact, subject to be disciplined or expelled from the market if he is negligent or untruthful in his advertisement.

It would seem that the rule of Caveat Emptor is ethical where by proof or by reasonable assumption the buyer is assumed to have adequate knowledge of the goods which he is purchasing and where the custom of the business releases the vendor from any duty to warrant the goods. It would seem that anyone coming into a given market to buy or sell should be presumed to know the, rules or customs of the market, unless he expressly professes ignorance thereof and asks that his ignorance be protected. It would seem to me that herein is shown a basic difference between business ethics and personal ethics—in that, business ethics require from a man such conduct as is due to the other party, in the particular transaction and under the circumstances thereof; whereas, personal ethics requires such conduct by a man as is due by him to his own ideal of himself.

Labor

Let us look for a little at our labor relationships. It is immaterial for this discussion whether the part which we take, or shall take therein, be that of employer or employe. It is written that the laborer is worthy of his hire. That was written in days when the laborer needed the protection of religious teaching. Times have changed somewhat, and it is more often an open question whether the laborer is worthy of the hire which he demands and which he collects. It is sometimes paid to him only as a choice of evils—a choice between letting the work go undone entirely, or paying extortionately for the doing of it. How far is it ethical to bring back the old time condition by letting economic pressure do its utmost to compel the laborer to exertion? Collaterally, let us ask how far it is ethical to burden the ultimate consumer with excessive labor costs loaded upon his necessities. Business ethics promise a free market for labor and a fair price willingly paid for it. How far shall the market be made unfree by lockouts or by strikes regardless of (or it may be in the interest of) that innocent third party, the ultimate consumer? I am afraid that in this very immediate question we are driven to the conclusion that each such case must be disposed of on its own merits. In terms: That the permutations of ethical considerations will be too numerous to allow the setting up of a general answer, and that need for the ending of contention may submerge the merit of the individual laborer or employer in the demerit of one group or the other.

But in dealings with the unorganized and perhaps necessitous laborer, whose employer has knowledge of the necessity, no rule of business ethics can permissibly differ from the old rule of personal ethics, that one should deal by another as he would himself be dealt by. In that case, business ethics will see to it that the laborer liberally dealt with is given full opportunity to earn his hire—that his tools and place of work are so arranged and his work so facilitated as to secure to him that best of all feelings—the feeling that something attempted and something done has earned not only a night's repose but the full hire which has been paid, and that there has been no acceptance of patronage. In my own experience I do not know of any ethical concept which works better than this one. Neither do I know any departure from ethics that works more evil than an effort to obtain labor at the minimum wage with which the dependent laborer can perpetuate his existence.

Let us turn back again to the case where large groups of business men, organized employers and organized labor, come to a public clash with one another. Ethically, one must acknowledge that employer or employe has alike the right to terminate the employment. Ethically, that right is not altered because the action of many individuals is simultaneous—is group action, so-called. Ethically, but from the point of view of the third party, which is the dependent public, neither group is excusable for a quarrel which prevents the public being served with a necessity, or places an undue burden upon those who are served, in carrying both labor and capital 'during a period of wilful idleness. From this standpoint, business ethics will recognize that the ending of contention is to be desired more than any exact adjustment of equities between the parties, and business ethics will in some cases require that the third party—the purchasing public—shall intervene through its constituted agents and apply persuasion toward a compromise, or accept part of the cost of compromise. But it will be equally ethical to let the con-tenders fight it out until each of them has learned by experience the bitter lesson that freedom of contract necessarily includes freedom to play the fool. To quote a modern instance (the anthracite strike was ended in February), I think it would be well if the American Nation would decide to do without anthracite coal until operators and workmen, and all the habitual darkeners of good council who find profit or seek fame during the early stages of such disputes, shall be alike starved into sanity. It is written that there are some devils that come forth only by fasting and prayer. Prayer is out of fashion and we seem to have lost the ancient art of exorcism—but fasting retains its efficacy.

I have had occasions or excuse in course of this talk to note differences between my personal ethics and the group ethics which I conform to in business practice. It is inevitable that a man shall judge his business environment by his personal conception of what that environment might be. It is inevitable that he shall by example, if not by precept, endeavor to remold that environment nearer to his heart's desire. But is he called upon, as a preliminary to the remolding, to shatter to earth the sorry scheme of things which he finds functioning and which is accepted—let us say, tolerated—by the other members of his group? So far as the business scheme of things is concerned, I say, "No-most emphatically no."

My belief is that each line of business and each industry should rectify its own peculiar faults, and that business as a whole should put and keep its own house in order. And to that end, that business men who desire the acceptance of higher ideals—in other words, those who desire the greater acceptance of their personal ethics as business ethics—should consider and preferably employ the means available within business, especially seeking to readjust economic pressures in such fashion that evil practices may cease to be profitable. Further, that the application of force, or of moral pressure backed by a show or threat of force, should be a last resort permissible only when the fault or default of business ethics is shown to be detrimental to the total happiness of society at large. I believe that there is inherent in civilized business not only the power to enforce but the will to adopt such betterments of ethics as will keep business in line with, or in advance of, the ethical progress of the age. Further, I observe that efforts to force business into conformity with a moral or religious code which has an altruistic foundation but not a pragmatic justification, have always failed. The motives of business are egotistic, not altruistic. If the egotistic motive is impaired, business stops, or goes underground into a worse environment. Let us look at some illustrations.

In ancient days the bankrupt and his family became slaves, being taken by the creditors, or sold, in part satisfaction of the debt. That a bankrupt should be enslaved was within the ethical scope of the era; and the highest contrary concept was that slaves who had been born free should not remain in bondage forever, but be released on the coming of a year of Jubilee. It would be interesting to trace the business history of slavery and see to what extent its amelioration and termination might be credited to business ethics. But I started to talk about bankruptcy.

In quite recent times there was no distinction made between the involuntary bankrupt, whose judgment may have been at fault but not his intentions, and the fraudulent debtor whose bankruptcy was a concealment of assets. Imprisonment for non-fraudulent debt existed in civilized countries in the early years of my own business experience. The betterment of bankruptcy laws was certainly helped by external social forces, but the reduction of these laws to the present simple code was obtained by the application of business ethics. Business still demands that the fraudulent debtor shall pro-duce his concealed assets and that he shall be punished for concealment; but it recognizes that the sum total of human happiness is best maintained when the affairs of each bankrupt are promptly considered by his creditors; when his personal honesty as well as his business ability are included in the same consideration; and when a settlement is made quickly which need not strip his wife and children. Thereafter the incident is closed.

If in a later venture the bankrupt is more fortunate, and chooses to make good the losses of his earlier creditors, business recognizes his action as evidence of a personal code higher than the minimum which business requires, and business usually responds as it ethically should. A good name may not be consistently better than riches, but it helps a lot toward a credit rating.

A recent illustration of ethical betterment following the readjustment of economic pressures is found in the better relations now obtaining between the railroads of the United States and their employes. The case of the railroad employe was not so long ago a distinctly hard case. Efforts to better it without relieving the economic stresses upon and within the industry led to strikes, to riots, to popular movements and antagonisms, and to foolish legislation of which the apex was the Adamson law. All of these worked to set up among the managers an unethical temper opposing any compromise whatever, and among the men an unethical will to do the least work that would hold the job.

The betterment now growing within the industry has its roots in the allowance to the railroads of a return on capital which is sufficient to attract capital (or is becoming sufficient to do so), together with a so-called Recapture Clause which requires the more fortunate railroads to share with the others, through the government, any larger return which may come to be earned. The reflex effect of the Recapture Clause is a more liberal wage scale to employes, who are thereby encouraged to the more efficient performance of their duties, which in turn will give value for the more liberal wage. The process is cumulative. If it is allowed to work itself out for a decade or more, our railroads will once again be attracting to their service as good help (including professional help) as is to be had in the country; they will be obtaining the capital for necessary extensions; and, because of greater total efficiency, railroad rates will be relatively low.

I had a mind to say something about the incidence of business ethics on the state regulation of public utilities. But that is a long story, and on reading over my notes made for this talk I have concluded that the telling of the long story would not be worth the time, and that the illustrations are enough which I have intentionally chosen from other fields of business.

Conclusions

The foundation of business ethics is expediency, which is well expressed in the maxim that "honesty is the best policy." The sanction of business ethics is acceptance by the business group. No other sanction is demanded. The individual in business may, if his personal code is more altruistic than the code of the group, reason-ably be guided by the personal code. If his personal code be less altruistic, its persistent application will result in his exclusion from the group. In this sense, business ethics may be said to have an irreducible minimum of altruism. Judged by the ultimate test of survival, that minimum is always adequate, if not ample.

The betterment of business ethics is slow but persistent. Betterment may have its origin in the higher personal ideal of individual members of the group or of new members. Or the origin may be in an appreciation of the maxim which advises casting bread upon the waters. In either case the acceptance and persistence of better ethics will depend upon how well the betterment works.

As between business ethics and personal ethics, other salient differences are

(a) The basic assumption of business ethics is that the other party knows what he is doing, and may be expected to take care of himself.

(b) Group harmony is preferred to individual perfection.

(c) The avoidance of contention or the quick ending of contention is held to be more important than the execution of exact equity.

(d) The supreme ideal of business ethics is fairness—not generosity.

The acceptance or practice of business ethics does not require the lowering of a high personal ideal to the average ideal of the group. Conversely, it is not ethically required that a higher personal standard shall be intrusively pressed upon the group. Example is better than precept. Furthermore, it is well to remember that the prophet who gave us the most concise of all written rules of conduct, bade us do justly and love mercy. He did not bid us love justice and do mercy. And he bade us walk humbly; which is, alike in business and out of it, the most helpful precept ever given to humanity.



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