Integrity In Business
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
"There is honor among thieves," says an old maxim. And, doubtless, generosity, honor, respect for each other's rights and kindred traits are not entirely crushed out of the hearts of thieves, assassins and murderers. It would be strange, indeed, if all the finer sensibilities and higher qualities of character should be utterly lost to these children of evil. But in business relations at the present time, integrity seems to have fled ; honor is a virtue to be assumed or discarded according to convenience, and the Scripture ideal of honest dealing is like one of the lost arts. True, there are honest men to-day, as there always have been ; but, speaking in general terms, the business conscience of our day is deplorably weak. The great principle, which seems to actuate business men, is to gain all you can, honestly, if that be possible and easy, unsrupulously if you must ; but gain at all hazards—gain quickly, rapidly and in large measure. No man is thought successful who does not make money fast and whose bank ac-count does not foot up among the hundred thousands. Money is now widely diffused and changes hands rapidly and in large amounts. As it has always been, so it is now, the mightiest instrument of advancement along almost any line of work. The young man, just entering a career, feels this, and becomes impatient of all slow modes of trade or business. He must reach results quickly or not be considered a good business man, according to his exalted, high-pressure view of things. The old way of honest gain and slow accumulation seems foolish to the young blood of to-day. We are too anxious to become millionaires. We rush into all sorts of speculation. Acquire capital we must, if by the most dishonorable means, and the ordinary man of affairs thinks his integrity unimpeachable so long as men do business with him and do not pronounce him a fraud. Conscience, regard for truth, sterling character, all are sacrificed in this disgraceful scramble for more money. A hundred per cent. per annum is the business ethics of half the commercial world to-day..
That word million has done, and is doing incalculable harm in this country. The majority of our people seem to think that there is no happiness in life unless they possess a million. Persons who have risen above a small competency are stretched up into embryo money kings. They long for the income of a Gould, or Sage, or Vanderbilt. Moderate expectations, therefore, are out of fashion. Our young men go into business with a million in their eye and, laboring only to that end, they are, in fifteen years, driven into their graves from overwork, or end their business career in some unlucky speculation or do what is incomparably worse, fall into the maelstrom of dishonest gain and go down in the terrible wreck of lost character.
It is certainly amazing how widely theft, falsehood, misrepresentation, abominable cheating and disregard for all honorable and right action, have permeated the business of the day. Butter being a staple of diet and in great demand, contemptible men are found to invent bogus butter and palm it off on innocent consumers as genuine. And to such an extent has this disreputable practice been carried that there is danger of driving good butter from the market altogether. Wooden nutmegs, sand for pepper, doctored coffee, glucose, oleomargarine, adulteration raised to the dignity of a fine art; cloth with the gloss of broad-cloth upon it, but made of contemptible shoddy, high-priced shoes with pasteboard soles ; all kinds of food and beverages "fixed" and seasoned, so that an inferior "brand" of goods may be sold at a superior price ! Oh, these things are a terrible commentary upon the business integrity of these days ! It does not argue well for the business of any country and those engaged in it, when the legislature is asked to bring the strong arm of the law to bear upon certain branches of industry, simply to keep men honest and to keep them from murdering their fellow creatures with drugged food and poisoned beverages. Is it theft to sell a man a shoddy coat for the price that a good one ought to cost ? If not theft, what is it ? Is it murder to put poison decoctions into the food and drink of a nation, whereby some are slain and all are injured? If not murder, what is it? Is it the work of a sneak to palm off old and shelf-worn goods upon a man who happens to be ignorant of new styles and prices ? If not, what is it ? What is this queer principle of sharp bargaining in which one man consciously and purposely deceives another into buying a very poor article at a very high price? What shall be thought of men who do these things ? What shall we call them but thieves, highwaymen and villains under other names? We believe this view of business to be wrong in principle, false in practice, and most dishonorable to any man who entertains it. Shame to our tradesmen ! Shame to . our merchants ! Shame to all who buy or sell or manufacture for the purpose of fraud, deception and theft !
The fact that the "business world" is engaged in such fraudulent practices does not make this thing right. James Russell Lowell has put it forcibly :
" In vain we call old notions fudge,