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price list or base line. Suppose that not only all of the competitors of the so-called trusts or consolidations, and also each of the constituent companies which form the consolidation, were making their own prices, with absolutely nothing to guide them except the very imperfect data which some of them formerly kept. I have not a particle of hesitation in saying that in my opinion, in the next three years half of them would go out of business, and that is just what would have happened in 1898-99 with thousands of manufacturing companies if consolidation had not saved them.
There were thousands of manufacturing plants taken into consolidations which were thus saved from bankruptcy, and the business then being put upon an intelligent basis, thousands of other plants which were not taken into the consolidations, were given a new lease of life, new conditions being created which made it possible for them to live.
That is the steadying power of the large corporation and the independent manufacturer shares in the gain of this stability which the consolidation creates, and some of the competitors of the large corporation who talk loudest about fighting "the octopus" are in business today simply because the large corporation uses brains in the conduct of its business, and thus the ignorant manufacturer, following the lead of the larger corporation, is saved from himself.
I could name, in my own business today (and they can be named in every business), a half-dozen men who, without the steadying influence of consolidation to control them under such business conditions as have obtained for the past six months, would, at the first sign of that depression, have demoralized the industry by cutting prices, standards for quality and wages. These conditions, duplicated in all lines of industry, would have produced a panic, the result of which would have been financial ruin for thousands.
The United States Steel and other consolidations which might be named, stand, and from the beginning, have stood for stable prices and market conditions. During this period of prosperity
which we have been having, they could have forced prices up beyond all reason, but consolidations intelligently managed, did nothing of the kind and that is what would have been done without the steady influence of consolidation. They have exerted a steady influence against excessive advances, not from philanthropic motives, but because it was good business.
Now, on the other hand, when the time arrives that prices ought to be reduced the consolidation will exercise a steady influence against violent and extreme reductions so that the adjustment to meet new conditions will not be a rout but an intelligent and well-ordered retreat.
Now permit me to suggest how the large corporation acts as a steadying power in the intersts of the workingman. The fact has been developed that in almost every consolidation the firms or corporations consolidated were successful prior to the consolidation just in proportion as they adhered to a fixed standard for their goods, giving to their trade exactly what they agreed to give. In other words, the firms which made the best goods, who did business with a 36 inch yard and a 16 ounce pound had the most satisfactory trade, paid their help the highest wages and made the most money; and those who made the poorest goods paid their help the lowest wages and made the least money.
The poorest goods always have to meet the hardest competition. The same economic law is in operation here that operates on the untrained and inefficient workman who has to meet the competition of the crowd. The fact is abundantly proved that firms and corporations managed without intelligence invariably pay the lowest wages, and there is a reason for it which is not hard to discover. They produce the poorest goods; their product is usually sold at cut prices, often without regard to cost, for more often than otherwise they do not know what their costs are.
The business being conducted without system, at the close of the year may have shown a loss, or at least did not show the margin of profit expected. The management cannot see their way clear to advance their prices :—that is the last thing a corporation conducted on the basis suggested considers. But the cost must be reduced,—where and how? Then begins a species of hap-hazzard figuring on very incomplete data. Where can savings be effected? Some costs are definitely fixed; those cannot be changed. Interest, insurance, rent, power, heat, light and taxes must be paid. There is no opportunity to scale those down. Towering high above all these items of cost combined stands the pay roll. A cut of 10 per cent here means a profit of $20,000 or $50,000. The cut in wages is made and the workman in the shop pays the deficit created by the lack of proper system and accounting intelligence in the office, and they start out to carry on for another season the same abominable business methods and force other manufacturers, who know the cost of their goods and who want to pay good wages, to cut down their operatives in order to meet that kind of competition.
Consolidation managers are not guessing,—they know that the lowest cost labor almost invariably produces the highest unit of cost of production, and I have no hesitation whatever in saying that no consolidation that has ever yet been organized, has tried or even thought of, reducing the wages of its workmen to the level of the poorest paid. The burden of consolidation manage
. ment is to bring the efficiency of the poorer branches or divisions up to the level of the more efficient and with that higher degrees of efficiency there goes a corresponding increase in wages.
Character is a child of slow growth, and in our thought we give to the word "character” a narrow and contracted meaning, applying it generally only to man, but we must broaden our conception of what that word stands for, and apply it in the years to come to that creation of modern industrial conditions, which unthinking men are wont to call "the soulless corporation." If it is to stand, and I believe it is, it must, maintain a reputation which has for its foundation, character. The consolidated corporation starts with a severe handicap; it labors under suspicion, it has an unsavory reputation, and in the mind of the general public it has no reputation whatever. This is largely on account of the doings of the promoter and those who, with him, worked a gold brick bunco game, which in some cases would have made a vender of green goods on the Bowery blush, by unloading upon the consolidated company dead and dying concerns, some of which were acquired on a basis away beyond their actual value or their earning capacity. How often we hear the expression, "the soulless corporation," and too often it has deserved to be called “soulless,” but the individual in the conduct of his private business can be and often is more arbitrary, dictatorial and dishonest than the so-called "soulless corporation.” The burden of the coming years will be to give to these great aggregations of capital which are to be the mighty servants of mankind, a soul, inspired with righteousness and a spirit of divine service.
The Captains of Industry of the future who are to control these great corporations, must have more than simply leadership of organization. They must also have a leadership of ideals; they must learn the great principles of business and to that word "principles" must be given its largest and best meaning. They will not reach the highest rungs of the ladder by short cuts in climbing; it will be one rung at a time,-up, up into the clearer air, where, if a man will keep his hands clean and his head clear, he will have an ever widening horizon, and as he climbs higher he must remember that more people can see him and his acts must bear the scrutiny of the crowd. We have had some captains of industry to whose record we do not point with pride.
In those strenuous days a man should not make the mistake of making business the whole aim in life; he should not measure everything by the standard of the dollar. He ought to remember that “life consisteth not in the abundance of things which a man possesseth” and that a man's true value consists, not in what he has but in what he is. He ought to remember that the man who reaches the end of life with only money is poor indeed, and in the getting of which he can part company with all his friendships which are the finest assets of life. He ought to remember that "unto him to whom much is given, of him much will be required.” Too often in our thoughts we limit that quotation to mean money, but in the years to come I am persuaded that it will be given its larger and truer meaning,—that of service, and may we, whose privilege it is to command a large or a small unit in the great industrial army on the firing line of advance, inside the zone of fire and smoke, where the atmosphere is not always clear and where personal interests sometimes obscure real conditions, may we see our duty plain and be able to say in the language of the great Apostle Paul, before Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision."
The PRESIDENT. We have time for one more paper before the hour of closing. The next paper will be read by a gentleman who is not only a noted woolen manufacturer, the proprietor of the Weybosset Mills, but also is well known as the industrial historian of New England, a profound scholar. I have the pleasure of introducing Mr. WILLIAM B. WEEDEN of Providence, R. I. [Applause).