MY LIFE AND WORK
MY LIFE AND WORK
In Collaboration With Samuel Crowther
INTRODUCTION--WHAT IS THE IDEA?
I. THE BEGINNING
II. WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT BUSINESS
III. STARTING THE REAL BUSINESS
IV. THE SECRET OF MANUFACTURING AND SERVING
V. GETTING INTO PRODUCTION
VI. MACHINES AND MEN
VII. THE TERROR OF THE MACHINE.
IX. WHY NOT ALWAYS HAVE GOOD BUSINESS?
X. HOW CHEAPLY CAN THINGS BE MADE?
XI. MONEY AND GOODS
XII. MONEY--MASTER OR SERVANT?
XIII. WHY BE POOR?
XIV. THE TRACTOR AND POWER FARMING
XV. WHY CHARITY?
XVI. THE RAILROADS
XVII. THINGS IN GENERAL
XVIII. DEMOCRACY AND INDUSTRY
XIX. WHAT WE MAY EXPECT.
WHAT IS THE IDEA?
We have only started on our development of our country--we have not as
yet with all our talk of wonderful progress done more than scratch the
surface. The progress has been wonderful enough--but when we compare
what we have done with what there is to do then our past
accomplishments are as nothing. When we consider that more power is used
merely in ploughing the soil than is used in all the industrial
establishments of the country put together an inkling comes of how much
opportunity there is ahead. And now with so many countries of the world
in ferment and with so much unrest every where is an excellent time to
suggest something of the things that may be done in the light of what
has been done.
When one speaks of increasing power machinery and industry there comes
up a picture of a cold metallic sort of world in which great factories
will drive away the trees the flowers the birds and the green fields.
And that then we shall have a world composed of metal machines and human
machines. With all of that I do not agree. I think that unless we know
more about machines and their use unless we better understand the
mechanical portion of life we cannot have the time to enjoy the trees
and the birds and the flowers and the green fields.
I think that we have already done too much toward banishing the pleasant
things from life by thinking that there is some opposition between
living and providing the means of living. We waste so much time and
energy that we have little left over in which to enjoy ourselves.
Power and machinery money and goods are useful only as they set us
free to live. They are but means to an end. For instance I do not
consider the machines which bear my name simply as machines. If that was
all there was to it I would do something else. I take them as concrete
evidence of the working out of a theory of business which I hope is
something more than a theory of business--a theory that looks toward
making this world a better place in which to live. The fact that the
commercial success of the Ford Motor Company has been most unusual is
important only because it serves to demonstrate in a way which no one
can fail to understand that the theory to date is right. Considered
solely in this light I can criticize the prevailing system of industry
and the organization of money and society from the standpoint of one who
has not been beaten by them. As things are now organized I could were
I thinking only selfishly ask for no change. If I merely want money the
present system is all right; it gives money in plenty to me. But I am
thinking of service. The present system does not permit of the best
service because it encourages every kind of waste--it keeps many men
from getting the full return from service. And it is going nowhere. It
is all a matter of better planning and adjustment.
I have no quarrel with the general attitude of scoffing at new ideas. It
is better to be skeptical of all new ideas and to insist upon being
shown rather than to rush around in a continuous brainstorm after every
new idea. Skepticism if by that we mean cautiousness is the balance
wheel of civilization. Most of the present acute troubles of the world
arise out of taking on new ideas without first carefully investigating
to discover if they are good ideas. An idea is not necessarily good
because it is old or necessarily bad because it is new but if an old
idea works then the weight of the evidence is all in its favor. Ideas
are of themselves extraordinarily valuable but an idea is just an idea.
Almost any one can think up an idea. The thing that counts is developing
it into a practical product.
I am now most interested in fully demonstrating that the ideas we have
put into practice are capable of the largest application--that they have
nothing peculiarly to do with motor cars or tractors but form something
in the nature of a universal code. I am quite certain that it is the
natural code and I want to demonstrate it so thoroughly that it will be
accepted not as a new idea but as a natural code.
The natural thing to do is to work--to recognize that prosperity and
happiness can be obtained only through honest effort. Human ills flow
largely from attempting to escape from this natural course. I have no
suggestion which goes beyond accepting in its fullest this principle of
nature. I take it for granted that we must work. All that we have done
comes as the result of a certain insistence that since we must work it
is better to work intelligently and forehandedly; that the better we do
our work the better off we shall be. All of which I conceive to be
merely elemental common sense.
I am not a reformer. I think there is entirely too much attempt at
reforming in the world and that we pay too much attention to reformers.
We have two kinds of reformers. Both are nuisances. The man who calls
himself a reformer wants to smash things. He is the sort of man who
would tear up a whole shirt because the collar button did not fit the
buttonhole. It would never occur to him to enlarge the buttonhole. This
sort of reformer never under any circumstances knows what he is doing.
Experience and reform do not go together. A reformer cannot keep his
zeal at white heat in the presence of a fact. He must discard all facts.
Since 1914 a great many persons have received brand-new intellectual
outfits. Many are beginning to think for the first time. They opened
their eyes and realized that they were in the world. Then with a thrill
of independence they realized that they could look at the world
critically. They did so and found it faulty. The intoxication of
assuming the masterful position of a critic of the social system--which
it is every man's right to assume--is unbalancing at first. The very
young critic is very much unbalanced. He is strongly in favor of wiping
out the old order and starting a new one. They actually managed to start
a new world in Russia. It is there that the work of the world makers can
best be studied. We learn from Russia that it is the minority and not
the majority who determine destructive action. We learn also that while
men may decree social laws in conflict with natural laws Nature vetoes
those laws more ruthlessly than did the Czars. Nature has vetoed the
whole Soviet Republic. For it sought to deny nature. It denied above all
else the right to the fruits of labour. Some people say "Russia will
have to go to work" but that does not describe the case. The fact is
that poor Russia is at work but her work counts for nothing. It is not
free work. In the United States a workman works eight hours a day; in
Russia he works twelve to fourteen. In the United States if a workman
wishes to lay off a day or a week and is able to afford it there is
nothing to prevent him. In Russia under Sovietism the workman goes to
work whether he wants to or not. The freedom of the citizen has
disappeared in the discipline of a prison-like monotony in which all are
treated alike. That is slavery. Freedom is the right to work a decent
length of time and to get a decent living for doing so; to be able to
arrange the little personal details of one's own life. It is the
aggregate of these and many other items of freedom which makes up the
great idealistic Freedom. The minor forms of Freedom lubricate the
everyday life of all of us.
Russia could not get along without intelligence and experience. As soon
as she began to run her factories by committees they went to rack and
ruin; there was more debate than production. As soon as they threw out
the skilled man thousands of tons of precious materials were spoiled.
The fanatics talked the people into starvation. The Soviets are now
offering the engineers the administrators the foremen and
superintendents whom at first they drove out large sums of money if
only they will come back. Bolshevism is now crying for the brains and
experience which it yesterday treated so ruthlessly. All that "reform"
did to Russia was to block production.
There is in this country a sinister element that desires to creep in
between the men who work with their hands and the men who think and plan
for the men who work with their hands. The same influence that drove the
brains experience and ability out of Russia is busily engaged in
raising prejudice here. We must not suffer the stranger the destroyer
the hater of happy humanity to divide our people. In unity is American
strength--and freedom. On the other hand we have a different kind of
reformer who never calls himself one. He is singularly like the radical
reformer. The radical has had no experience and does not want it. The
other class of reformer has had plenty of experience but it does him no
good. I refer to the reactionary--who will be surprised to find himself
put in exactly the same class as the Bolshevist. He wants to go back to
some previous condition not because it was the best condition but
because he thinks he knows about that condition.
The one crowd wants to smash up the whole world in order to make a
better one. The other holds the world as so good that it might well be
let stand as it is--and decay. The second notion arises as does the
first--out of not using the eyes to see with. It is perfectly possible
to smash this world but it is not possible to build a new one. It is
possible to prevent the world from going forward but it is not possible
then to prevent it from going back--from decaying. It is foolish to
expect that if everything be overturned everyone will thereby get
three meals a day. Or should everything be petrified that thereby six
per cent interest may be paid. The trouble is that reformers and
reactionaries alike get away from the realities--from the primary
One of the counsels of caution is to be very certain that we do not
mistake a reactionary turn for a return of common sense. We have passed
through a period of fireworks of every description and the making of a
great many idealistic maps of progress. We did not get anywhere. It was
a convention not a march. Lovely things were said but when we got home
we found the furnace out. Reactionaries have frequently taken advantage
of the recoil from such a period and they have promised "the good old
times"--which usually means the bad old abuses--and because they are
perfectly void of vision they are sometimes regarded as "practical men."
Their return to power is often hailed as the return of common sense.
The primary functions are agriculture manufacture and transportation.
Community life is impossible without them. They hold the world together.
Raising things making things and earning things are as primitive as
human need and yet as modern as anything can be. They are of the essence
of physical life. When they cease community life ceases. Things do get
out of shape in this present world under the present system but we may
hope for a betterment if the foundations stand sure. The great delusion
is that one may change the foundation--usurp the part of destiny in the
social process. The foundations of society are the men and means to
_grow_ things to _make_ things and to _carry_ things. As long as
agriculture manufacture and transportation survive the world can
survive any economic or social change. As we serve our jobs we serve the
There is plenty of work to do. Business is merely work. Speculation in
things already produced--that is not business. It is just more or less
respectable graft. But it cannot be legislated out of existence. Laws
can do very little. Law never does anything constructive. It can never
be more than a policeman and so it is a waste of time to look to our
state capitals or to Washington to do that which law was not designed to
do. As long as we look to legislation to cure poverty or to abolish
special privilege we are going to see poverty spread and special
privilege grow. We have had enough of looking to Washington and we have
had enough of legislators--not so much however in this as in other
countries--promising laws to do that which laws cannot do.
When you get a whole country--as did ours--thinking that Washington is a
sort of heaven and behind its clouds dwell omniscience and omnipotence
you are educating that country into a dependent state of mind which
augurs ill for the future. Our help does not come from Washington but
from ourselves; our help may however go to Washington as a sort of
central distribution point where all our efforts are coordinated for the
general good. We may help the Government; the Government cannot help us.
The slogan of "less government in business and more business in
government" is a very good one not mainly on account of business or
government but on account of the people. Business is not the reason why
the United States was founded. The Declaration of Independence is not a
business charter nor is the Constitution of the United States a
commercial schedule. The United States--its land people government
and business--are but methods by which the life of the people is made
worth while. The Government is a servant and never should be anything
but a servant. The moment the people become adjuncts to government then
the law of retribution begins to work for such a relation is unnatural
immoral and inhuman. We cannot live without business and we cannot live
without government. Business and government are necessary as servants
like water and grain; as masters they overturn the natural order.
The welfare of the country is squarely up to us as individuals. That is
where it should be and that is where it is safest. Governments can
promise something for nothing but they cannot deliver. They can juggle
the currencies as they did in Europe (and as bankers the world over do
as long as they can get the benefit of the juggling) with a patter of
solemn nonsense. But it is work and work alone that can continue to
deliver the goods--and that down in his heart is what every man knows.
There is little chance of an intelligent people such as ours ruining
the fundamental processes of economic life. Most men know they cannot
get something for nothing. Most men feel--even if they do not know--that
money is not wealth. The ordinary theories which promise everything to
everybody and demand nothing from anybody are promptly denied by the
instincts of the ordinary man even when he does not find reasons
against them. He _knows_ they are wrong. That is enough. The present
order always clumsy often stupid and in many ways imperfect has this
advantage over any other--it works.
Doubtless our order will merge by degrees into another and the new one
will also work--but not so much by reason of what it is as by reason of
what men will bring into it. The reason why Bolshevism did not work and
cannot work is not economic. It does not matter whether industry is
privately managed or socially controlled; it does not matter whether you
call the workers' share "wages" or "dividends"; it does not matter
whether you regimentalize the people as to food clothing and shelter
or whether you allow them to eat dress and live as they like. Those
are mere matters of detail. The incapacity of the Bolshevist leaders is
indicated by the fuss they made over such details. Bolshevism failed
because it was both unnatural and immoral. Our system stands. Is it
wrong? Of course it is wrong at a thousand points! Is it clumsy? Of
course it is clumsy. By all right and reason it ought to break down. But
it does not--because it is instinct with certain economic and moral
The economic fundamental is labour. Labour is the human element which
makes the fruitful seasons of the earth useful to men. It is men's
labour that makes the harvest what it is. That is the economic
fundamental: every one of us is working with material which we did not
and could not create but which was presented to us by Nature.
The moral fundamental is man's right in his labour. This is variously
stated. It is sometimes called "the right of property." It is sometimes
masked in the command "Thou shalt not steal." It is the other man's
right in his property that makes stealing a crime. When a man has earned
his bread he has a right to that bread. If another steals it he does
more than steal bread; he invades a sacred human right. If we cannot
produce we cannot have--but some say if we produce it is only for the
capitalists. Capitalists who become such because they provide better
means of production are of the foundation of society. They have really
nothing of their own. They merely manage property for the benefit of
others. Capitalists who become such through trading in money are a
temporarily necessary evil. They may not be evil at all if their money
goes to production. If their money goes to complicating distribution--to
raising barriers between the producer and the consumer--then they are
evil capitalists and they will pass away when money is better adjusted
to work; and money will become better adjusted to work when it is fully
realized that through work and work alone may health wealth and
happiness inevitably be secured.
There is no reason why a man who is willing to work should not be able
to work and to receive the full value of his work. There is equally no
reason why a man who can but will not work should not receive the full
value of his services to the community. He should most certainly be
permitted to take away from the community an equivalent of what he
contributes to it. If he contributes nothing he should take away
nothing. He should have the freedom of starvation. We are not getting
anywhere when we insist that every man ought to have more than he
deserves to have--just because some do get more than they deserve to
There can be no greater absurdity and no greater disservice to humanity
in general than to insist that all men are equal. Most certainly all men
are not equal and any democratic conception which strives to make men
equal is only an effort to block progress. Men cannot be of equal
service. The men of larger ability are less numerous than the men of
smaller ability; it is possible for a mass of the smaller men to pull
the larger ones down--but in so doing they pull themselves down. It is
the larger men who give the leadership to the community and enable the
smaller men to live with less effort.
The conception of democracy which names a leveling-down of ability makes
for waste. No two things in nature are alike. We build our cars
absolutely interchangeable. All parts are as nearly alike as chemical
analysis the finest machinery and the finest workmanship can make
them. No fitting of any kind is required and it would certainly seem
that two Fords standing side by side looking exactly alike and made so
exactly alike that any part could be taken out of one and put into the
other would be alike. But they are not. They will have different road
habits. We have men who have driven hundreds and in some cases
thousands of Fords and they say that no two ever act precisely the
same--that if they should drive a new car for an hour or even less and
then the car were mixed with a bunch of other new ones also each driven
for a single hour and under the same conditions that although they
could not recognize the car they had been driving merely by looking at
it they could do so by driving it.
I have been speaking in general terms. Let us be more concrete. A man
ought to be able to live on a scale commensurate with the service that
he renders. This is rather a good time to talk about this point for we
have recently been through a period when the rendering of service was
the last thing that most people thought of. We were getting to a place
where no one cared about costs or service. Orders came without effort.
Whereas once it was the customer who favored the merchant by dealing
with him conditions changed until it was the merchant who favored the
customer by selling to him. That is bad for business. Monopoly is bad
for business. Profiteering is bad for business. The lack of necessity to
hustle is bad for business. Business is never as healthy as when like a
chicken it must do a certain amount of scratching for what it gets.
Things were coming too easily. There was a let-down of the principle
that an honest relation ought to obtain between values and prices. The
public no longer had to be "catered to." There was even a "public be
damned" attitude in many places. It was intensely bad for business. Some
men called that abnormal condition "prosperity." It was not prosperity--
it was just a needless money chase. Money chasing is not business.
It is very easy unless one keeps a plan thoroughly in mind to get
burdened with money and then in an effort to make more money to forget
all about selling to the people what they want. Business on a
money-making basis is most insecure. It is a touch-and-go affair moving
irregularly and rarely over a term of years amounting to much. It is the
function of business to produce for consumption and not for money or
speculation. Producing for consumption implies that the quality of the
article produced will be high and that the price will be low--that the
article be one which serves the people and not merely the producer. If
the money feature is twisted out of its proper perspective then the
production will be twisted to serve the producer.
The producer depends for his prosperity upon serving the people. He may
get by for a while serving himself but if he does it will be purely
accidental and when the people wake up to the fact that they are not
being served the end of that producer is in sight. During the boom
period the larger effort of production was to serve itself and hence
the moment the people woke up many producers went to smash. They said
that they had entered into a "period of depression." Really they had
not. They were simply trying to pit nonsense against sense which is
something that cannot successfully be done. Being greedy for money is
the surest way not to get it but when one serves for the sake of
service--for the satisfaction of doing that which one believes to be
right--then money abundantly takes care of itself.
Money comes naturally as the result of service. And it is absolutely
necessary to have money. But we do not want to forget that the end of
money is not ease but the opportunity to perform more service. In my
mind nothing is more abhorrent than a life of ease. None of us has any
right to ease. There is no place in civilization for the idler. Any
scheme looking to abolishing money is only making affairs more complex
for we must have a measure. That our present system of money is a
satisfactory basis for exchange is a matter of grave doubt. That is a
question which I shall talk of in a subsequent chapter. The gist of my
objection to the present monetary system is that it tends to become a
thing of itself and to block instead of facilitate production.
My effort is in the direction of simplicity. People in general have so
little and it costs so much to buy even the barest necessities (let
alone that share of the luxuries to which I think everyone is entitled)
because nearly everything that we make is much more complex than it
needs to be. Our clothing our food our household furnishings--all
could be much simpler than they now are and at the same time be better
looking. Things in past ages were made in certain ways and makers since
then have just followed.
I do not mean that we should adopt freak styles. There is no necessity
for that Clothing need not be a bag with a hole cut in it. That might be
easy to make but it would be inconvenient to wear. A blanket does not
require much tailoring but none of us could get much work done if we
went around Indian-fashion in blankets. Real simplicity means that which
gives the very best service and is the most convenient in use. The
trouble with drastic reforms is they always insist that a man be made
over in order to use certain designed articles. I think that dress
reform for women--which seems to mean ugly clothes--must always
originate with plain women who want to make everyone else look plain.
That is not the right process. Start with an article that suits and then
study to find some way of eliminating the entirely useless parts. This
applies to everything--a shoe a dress a house a piece of machinery a