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Role of Business in Society Unchanged from 1916

Posted by Brian Gilmore on Jul 22, 2015 11:02:20 AM

Editor’s Note – Associated Industries of Massachusetts is committed to the idea that only a sound private-sector economy can guarantee prosperity. It’s hardly a new idea. Then Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, and future President of the United States Calvin Coolidge delivered a full-throated defense of the role of business in society in a speech to the AIM annual dinner on December 15,1916. Here are excerpts of that speech.

In the last fifty years we have had a material prosperity in this country the like of which was never beheld before. A prosperity which not only built up great industries, great transportation systems, great banks and a great commerce, but a prosperity under whose influence arts and sciences, education and charity flourished most abundantly.

CoolidgeAs a part of this discussion we have had many attempts at regulation of industrial activity by law. Some of it has proceeded on the theory that if those who enjoyed material prosperity used it for wrong purposes, such prosperity should be limited or abolished. That is as sound as it would be to abolish writing to prevent forgery.

We need power. Is the steam engine too strong? Is electricity too swift? Can any prosperity be too great? Can any instrument of commerce or industry ever be too powerful to serve the public needs?

We are coming to see that we are dependent upon commercial and industrial prosperity, not only for the creation of wealth, but for the solving of the great problem of the distribution of wealth.

There is just one condition on which men can secure employment and a living, nourishing, profitable wages for whatever they contribute to the enterprise, be it labor or capital, and that condition is that someone make a profit by it. That is the sound basis for the distribution of wealth and the only one.

It cannot be done by law, it cannot be done by public ownership, it cannot be done by socialism. When you deny the right to a profit you deny the right of a reward to thrift and industry.

The law that builds up the people is the law that builds up industry. What price could the millions, who have found the inestimable blessings of American citizenship around our great industrial centres, after coming here from lands of oppression, afford to pay to those who organized those industries?

Shall we not recognize the great service they have done the cause of humanity? Have we not seen what happens to industry, to transportation, to all commercial activity which we call business when profit fails? Have we not seen the suffering and misery which it entails upon the people?

Let us recognize the source of these fundamental principles and not hesitate to assert them. Let us frown upon greed and selfishness, but let us also condemn envy and uncharitableness. Let us have done with misunderstandings, let us strive to realize the dream of democracy by a prosperity of industry that shall mean the prosperity of the people, by a strengthening of our material resources that shall mean a strengthening of our character, by a merchandising that has for its end manhood, and womanhood, the ideal of American Citizenship.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts economy

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