Business is Business

Edward Holycadge, proprietor of the largest rubber eporium ia the City, had good reasons for suspense when he pondered over the mental condition of his son George. Young George had been in contact with a Socialist at the local debating society, and, being an unselfish, quickwitted lad, received with sympathy and admiration the arguments of this Socialist.

Mr. Holycadge was the teacher of a young men’s class in a Nonconformist Sunday School, and was astounded when his only son and prospective business successor plunged into the morass of heretical doctrines. They one day conversed as follows :

Pa.—Determinism ! Materialism ! Socialism ! Rubbish, my son ! When young many hold such dangerous opinions, but actual contact with the world brings on a calm, conservative and pious maturity. Bah! You talk of a bad economic environment leadng to moral and mental apathy, why, my lad, anyone worth his salt can rise above his environment, can conquer it and live a moral life, and so be an example to his fellow citizens. Your Socialist friends are frail, aspen-like creatures, men and women unfitted to survive in these stirring days ; either they are that or they are criminals dissatisfied with their well-deserved fate.

George.—But you wouldn’t say, Dad, that a business man such as yourself is not influenced in his actions by certain economic conditions ? Is not even your, er, moral tone, Pa, in danger of contamination ?

Pa.—Decidedly not ! I draw no distinction betwixt Sunday and Monday. The fact that our minister is my personal friend should be sufficient warrant for my moral calibre.

Geoege.—Oh ! But in buying and selling and contracting you cannot always tell the truth, can you ?

Pa.—Without boasting I think that you need not be ashamed of your father’s dealings.

George.—Well, I think you don’t understand. For instance, about a year ago you know that to prevent cutting the price of a well-known commodity, you and other rubber dealers “put your heads together” and signed an agreement not to sell that article below a certain figure. As a man of honour and of commercial probity you ought to have kept your word, but on the quiet you have been selling below the promised minimum. You have surreptitiously under-sold your fellow tradesmen and broken the contract. Now——

Pa.—No need to go on ! What an age we live in when a lad moralises to his own father ! How do I know that Keen, Cut & Co., my smart rivals, were not smashing all their promises ?

George.—Well, what becomes of your abstract morality which is not influenced by external conditions when you admit that fear of competitors makes you lie and act dishonourably——

Pa.—Lies ! Dishonour!

George.—Be calm, now. You know, Dad: “Sold under cost” ; “Bankruptcy stock at 50 per cent, under cost;” “Annual Sale ; goods practically given away.” Are not such statements rather exaggerations ? Statements intended to deceive——

Pa.—No sarcasm, youngster ! Say flat and plain that your father is a liar !

George.—Then also take the incident of the missionary : you were the chairman at the meeting. He was collecting for the niggers on the rubber plantations who were being ill-used by the company in which you are a large shareholder——

Pa.—Am I to be held responsible for the policy of the directors ?

George.—But the ideal brain-exercising social system ? How does it foster altruism betwixt different classes and races? You blame the directors as managers; they blame you for demanding huge dividends. On whom have we to lay the responsibility ?

Pa.—Bah ! Utopian fool and hot-headed youth, you don’t understand.

George.—And you know that Widow Jones had a small rubber store, which kept her and her family in comfort. You opened a large modern shop opposite and drove her into bankruptcy. Stop! I know you’ll say that a larger turnover is essential to your existence; that you must extend your business or fail. Your economic environment then stands condemned for your attitude toward Mrs. Jones.

Pa.—Don’t you try to put me in a dilemma. One can’t help hurting individuals sometimes. But as compensation I contribute liberally to charities and orphanages.

George-—You try to make the fall easy to the people to whom you have given a knockout blow. I am a Christian and in many respects a perverse sinner, but are not business men in danger of becoming whited sepulchres, Dad ? In my religious view a burglar is a sinner ; a successful commercial man possessing the money-sense, and with the honied words of abstract morality continually upon his lips is a whited——

Pa.—Go easy, now ! Your language worsens.

Geoege.—That’s a matter of opinion. Your assistants are “living in.” Your brutal friends, Keen, Cut & Co., defended that system because it paid them, and they said so ; you defend it on the ground of a moral supervision over young men who are miles away from home influences. Messrs. Keen, Cut were sinners, but you——

Pa.—This is unbearable.

Geprge. —Let us return to abstract morality. Suppose you were personally in attendance at your shop, and a customer enquired the worth of a certain article. We will say that your customer asked “Is this of good quality ?” Now if you knew the goods to be shoddy would you answer “No, madam, this particular article is of the flimsiest construction : we buy them merely to sell, and I should recommend you not to purchase” ? Would you not answer thus, Dad ?

Pa.—Be reasonable, George. You are aware that Keen, Cut & Co. compel me to stock low-priced, flash and rubbishy stuff. If we did not cater for this refuse we should very soon go under.

George.—But why not rise bravely above such sordid circumstances ? Why not lift up the banner of the ideal and blossom out as an honest capitalist, a man of sterling rectitude and an exemplar to your fellow citizens ?

Pa.—You are making the common error of dealing with the petty details of my business career; viewed from a proper perspective and in its entirety, my business life is in harmony with any rational interpretation of Christian doctrine, and with any reasonable view of civic virtue. Young men are apt to be dogmatic, too logical, to draw hard and fast lines, and see nothing save blacks and whites. Now an every-day compromise——

George.—I don’t agree. Take as an instance of how competition fosters lying and deceit, your latest contract for the workhouse——

Pa.—Now stop, George ! it is nearly half-past ten—we shall be late for chapel. I dislike going in late : one feels so conspicuous.


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