Renan has said that truth is always rejected when it comes to a man for the first time, its evolution being as follows:
First, we say the thing is rank heresy, and contrary to the Bible.
Second, we say the matter really amounts to nothing, anyway.
Third, we declare that we always believed it.
Two hundred years ago partnerships in business were very rare. A man in business simply made things and sold them–and all the manufacturing was done by himself and his immediate family. Soon we find instances of brothers continuing the work the father had begun, as in the case of the Elzevirs and the Plantins, the great bookmakers of Holland. To meet this competition, four printers, in 1640, formed a partnership and pooled their efforts. A local writer by the name of Van Krugen denounced these four men, and made savage attacks on partnerships in general as wicked and illegal, and opposed to the best interests of the people. This view seems to have been quite general, for there was a law in Amsterdam forbidding all partnerships in business that were not licensed by the state. The legislature of the State of Missouri has recently made war on the department store in the same way, using the ancient Van Krugen argument as a reason, for there is no copyright on stupidity.
In London in the seventeenth century men who were found guilty of pooling their efforts and dividing profits, were convicted by law and punished for “contumacy, contravention and connivance,” and were given a taste of the stocks in the public square.
When corporations were formed for the first time, only a few years ago, there was a fine burst of disapproval. The corporation was declared a scheme of oppression, a hungry octopus, a grinder of the individual. And to prove the case various instances of hardship were cited; and no doubt there was much suffering, for many people are never able to adjust themselves to new conditions without experiencing pain and regret.
But we now believe that corporations came because they were required. Certain things the times demanded, and no one man, or two or three men could perform these tasks alone–hence the corporation. The rise of England as a manufacturing nation began with the plan of the stock company.
The aggregation known as the joint-stock company, everybody is willing now to admit, was absolutely necessary in order to secure the machinery, that is to say, the tools, the raw stock, the buildings, and to provide for the permanence of the venture.
The railroad system of America has built up this country–on this thing of joint-stock companies and transportation, our prosperity has hinged. “Commerce, consists in carrying things from where they are plentiful to where they are needed,” says Emerson.
There are ten combinations of capital in this country that control over six thousand miles of railroad each. These companies have taken in a large number of small lines; and many connecting lines of tracks have been built. Competition over vast sections of country has been practically obliterated, and this has been done so quietly that few people are aware of the change. Only one general result of this consolidation of management has been felt, and that it is better service at less expense. No captain of any great industrial enterprise dares now to say, “The public be damned,” even if he ever said it–which I much doubt. The pathway to success lies in serving the public, not in affronting it. In no other way is success possible, and this truth is so plain and patent that even very simple folk are able to recognize it. You can only help yourself by helping others.
Thirty years ago, when P. T. Barnum said, “The public delights in being humbugged,” he knew that it was not true, for he never attempted to put the axiom in practice. He amused the public by telling it a lie, but P. T. Barnum never tried anything so risky as deception. Even when he lied we were not deceived; truth can be stated by indirection. “When my love tells me she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies.” Barnum always gave more than he advertised; and going over and over the same territory he continued to amuse and instruct the public for nearly forty years.