The Ethics Of Standard Oil -- By: G. Frederick Wright
BSac 62:247 (July 1905) p. 538
The Ethics Of Standard Oil1
The competitive system which now prevails in the industrial world will not be the system in vogue in the millennium. But the millennium has not yet come, and, until it does, business must be conducted upon the supposition, based upon the most patent of all facts, that self-interest is still the prevailing impulse to business activity, and that there is the strongest ground for distrusting both the motives and the wisdom of one’s competitors. The present competition of the business world is a system of warfare, and is to be justified, in the existing condition of things, on the same principle that we
BSac 62:247 (July 1905) p. 539
justify civilized nations in maintaining their armies and navies upon a war footing. Much as one might regret the evils of war, he would be not only a poor patriot, but a poor Christian, who should advocate the disarming of his own nation while other nations maintained their threatening preparations.
The commander of an army is not permitted to inquire too closely into the specific questions at issue in a war in which his nation is engaged. There are questions that can be settled in no other way than by brute force, and men equally honest may be marshalling those forces upon opposite sides. Grant and Lee, Rodjestvensky and Togo, may be equally conscientious in maintaining the prestige of the nations which they mutually represent upon the field of battle. Peace between England and France, and between France and Germany, has been secured by long-drawn-out and terrible military campaigns. The lamentable fact has been, and is, that France does not trust the honor of English statesmen, nor does she believe that Germany would be limited in her ambitions except by the force of necessity. And this is a condition of things which cannot be remedied until the hearts of men are completely regenerated, and all have come to have perfect confidence both in the goodness and in the wisdom of those whose interests are apparently antagonistic to their own. It is idle, therefore, to settle ethical questions of business on any other basis than that of the existing conditions of imperfection both in the virtue and the knowledge of mankind, and of the general distrust which arises from these conditions.
In the industrial world there are two classes whose interests are in perpetual conflict, namely, the producing, competitors, and the consumers, consisting of the great body of the people. It is for the apparent interest of the competing producers to secure as large a profit as possible, and therefore it
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is to be expected ...
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