Speaking Of Business


Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back. --Montgomery Ward & Co., catalogue, 1875 [This was the motto of the Montgomery Ward mail-order business, 1872–2001, RIP.]


Join the union, girls, and together say, “Equal pay for equal work.” —Susan B. Anthony, in The Revolution newspaper, March 18, 1869 [An early statement of a theme that remains familiar.]

The public be damned! I’m working for my stockholders. —William H. Vanderbilt, comment to a news reporter, October 2, 1882 [This impatient remark by the railroad tycoon, eldest son of the Commodore, was seized upon immediately as a summation of the attitude of the captains of industry toward the common people.]

You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.—William Jennings Bryan, “Cross of Gold” speech, Democratic National Convention, Chicago, July 8, 1896 [The convention was dominated by Midwestern and Western populists who opposed the exclusive gold standard for currency and favored free coinage of silver. Bryan’s powerful speech won him the presidential nomination on the fifth ballot. In the speech, Bryan also anticipated closely what supply-siders in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush referred to as the “trickle-down” theory of wealth distribution. In Bryan’s words: “There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, [is] that if you make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.” See also Franklin D. Roosevelt, on page 110.]

Buying and selling is essentially antisocial. —Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887, 1888 [Bellamy’s Utopian novel depicted a socialistic commonwealth in which individuals led fulfilling lives because the state had eliminated inefficiencies and waste in the production and distribution of goods. This alternative vision to the unfettered private enterprise exemplified by Commodore Vanderbilt had great appeal. The book sold millions of copies and led to the formation of many Bellamy Clubs and a Nationalist Party advocating his ideas.]

October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.—Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894 [Twain didn’t heed his own advice. He repeatedly invested in new ventures and repeatedly lost money, most notably in the case of a typesetting machine that never quite worked.]

Corporations have no souls, but they can love each other.—Henry Demarest Lloyd, Wealth Against Commonwealth, 1894 [The idea that nnrnnratinns are sniilless nredates considerably the modern era of downsizing, restructuring, and mass layoffs. Lloyd’s comment recalls Sir Edward Coke’s pronouncement in the early seventeenth century: “They (corporations) cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed nor excommunicated, for they have no souls” (from The Case of Button’s Hospital ). Another variant is the aphorism from the prolific Anonymous, “Corporations have neither bodies to be kicked, nor souls to be damned.”]


We demand that big business give people a square deal.—Theodore Roosevelt, 1901 [TR was referring to setting limits on U.S. Steel, the world’s first billiondollar corporation, assembled that year by J. P. Morgan when he bought out Andrew Carnegie’s steelworks. Right away U.S. Steel controlled 65 percent of the nation’s steel production. Roosevelt’s attitude toward businessmen continued to harden over time. After financiers blamed him for the Panic of 1907, he retaliated with a memorable line, suggesting in a speech given in Provincetown, Massachusetts, that the crisis had been brought on by “certain malefactors of great wealth,” who wished to discredit his policy of regulating the railroads.]

I believe the power to make money is a gift from God.… I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money; and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.—John D. Rockefeller, interview, 1905 [Finley Peter Dunne interpreted John D.’s divine mandate, in Mr. Dooley Says , 1910, in these terms: “He’s kind iv a society f’r the prevention of croolty to money. If he finds a man misusing his money he takes it away fr’m him an’ adopts it.”]


Nobody can live on one salary anymore.—Will Rogers, Daily Telegrams, October 18, 1929 [Note the humorist’s impeccable timing, just 11 days before the great stock market crash.]

[Wall Street:] A thoroughfare that begins in a graveyard and ends in a river.—Anonymous, traditional saying [For the benefit of non-New Yorkers: Trinity Church, with its graveyard, is at one end of Wall Street; the East River is at the other.]