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TODAY AND TOMORROW
WE ARE BEING BORN INTO OPPORTUNITY
WE ARE BEING BORN INTO OPPORTUNITY
For hundreds of years men have been talking about the lack of opportunity and the pressing need of dividing up things already in existence. Yet each year has seen some new idea brought forth and developed, and with it a whole new series of opportunities, until today we already have enough tested ideas which, put into practice, would take the world out of its sloughs and banish poverty by providing livings for all who will work. Only the old, outworn notions stand in the way of these new ideas. The world shackles itself, blinds its eyes, and then wonders why it cannot run.
Take just one idea - a little idea in itself - an idea that any one might have had, but which fell to me to develop -that of making a small, strong, simple automobile, to make it cheaply, and pay high wages in its making. On October 1, 1908, we made the first of our present type of small cars. On June 4, 1924, we made the ten millionth. Now, in 1926, we are in our thirteenth million.
Henry Ford and his 1924 ten-millionth automobile next to his very first model from 1896.
That is interesting but perhaps not important. What is important is that, from a mere handful of men employed in a shop, we have grown into a large industry directly employing more than two hundred thousand men, not one of whom receives less than six dollars a day. Our dealers and service stations employ another two hundred thousand men. But by no means do we manufacture all that we use. Roughly, we buy twice as much as we manufacture, and it is safe to say that two hundred thousand men are employed on our work in outside factories. This gives a rough total of six hundred thousand employees, direct and indirect, which means that about three million men, women, and children get their livings out of a single idea put into effect only eighteen years ago. And this does not take into account the great number of people who in some way or other assist in the distribution or the maintenance of these cars. And this one idea is only in its infancy.
These figures are given not with any thought of boastfulness. I am not talking about a specific person or business. I am talking about ideas. And these figures do show something of what a single idea can accomplish. These people require food, clothing, shoes, houses, and so on. If they and their families were brought together in one place and those needed to supply their wants gathered around them, we should have a city larger than New York. All this has matured in less time than a child matures. What nonsense it is to think or speak of lack of opportunity! We do not know what opportunity is.
There are always two kinds of people in the world: those who pioneer and those who plod. The plodders always attack the pioneers. They say that the pioneers have gobbled up all the opportunity, when, as a plain matter of fact, the plodders would have nowhere to plod had not the pioneers first cleared the way.
Think about your work in the world. Did you make your place or did someone make it for you? Did you start the work you are in or did someone else? Have you ever found or made an opportunity for yourself or are you the beneficiary of opportunity which others have found or made?
We have seen the rise of a temper which does not want opportunities. It wants the full fruits of opportunity handed to it on a platter. This temper is not American. It is imported from lands and by races that have never been able to see or use opportunity - that have existed on what was given them.
Now the fact is that a generation ago there were a thousand men to every opportunity while today there are a thousand opportunities for every man. Affairs in this country have changed just that much.
However, when industry was growing up, opportunities were limited. Men saw along one track and all of them wanted to get on that one track. Naturally, some of them were shoved off; there were more men than opportunities. That is why we had so much fierceness and cruelty of competition in the old days. There were not enough of the big opportunities to go around.
But, with the maturing of industry, a whole new world of opportunity opened up. Think how many doors of creative activity every industrial advance has opened. It has turned out, through all the fierce competitive fights, that no man could succeed in his own opportunity without creating many times more opportunities than he could begin to grasp.
It is almost impossible to understand the rise of industry without recognizing the former scarcity of opportunity. Some forms of business seem to have gone onward, but our accounts of them mostly come from those who were beaten.
But there is enough of fact to indicate that, when industry was being evolved under the pressure of the people’s needs (and that is the only force that brought it into being), some men had large vision while others had limited vision. The men of larger vision naturally bested the others. Their methods were sometimes immoral, but it was not their immoral methods that accounted for their success - it was their larger vision of needs, and ways and means to fulfill them. There must be a tremendous amount of right vision in anything if it is to survive dishonest or cruel methods. To attribute success to dishonesty is a common fallacy. We hear of men “too honest to succeed.” That may be a comforting reflection to them, but it is never the reason for their failure.
Dishonest men do sometimes succeed. But only when they give a service which exceeds their dishonesty. Honest men sometimes fail because they lack other essential qualities to go with their honesty. It is safe to say that in the success of men who are dishonest, all that is touched by dishonesty sloughs off.
Those who do not believe in opportunity will still find places within the opportunities that others have created; those who cannot direct their work successfully will always find it possible to be directed by others.
But are we moving too fast - not merely in the making of automobiles, but in life generally? One hears a deal about the worker being ground down by hard labor, of what is called progress being made at the expense of something or other, and that efficiency is wrecking all the finer things of life.
It is quite true that life is out of balance - and always has been. Until lately, most people have had no leisure to use and, of course, they do not now know how to use it.
One of our large problems is to find some balance between work and play, between sleep and food, and eventually to discover why men grow ill and die. Of this more later.
Certainly we are moving faster than before. Or, more correctly, we are being moved faster. But is twenty minutes in a motor car easier or harder than four hours’ solid trudging down a dirt road? Which mode of travel leaves the pilgrim fresher at the end? Which leaves him more time and more mental energy? And soon we shall be making in an hour by air what were days’ journeys by motor. Shall we all then be nervous wrecks?
But does this state of nervous wreckage to which we are all said to be coming exist in life or in books? One hears of the workers’ nervous exhaustion in books, but does one hear of it from the workers?
Go to the people who are working with the actual things of the world, from the laborer travelling to his work on the street car to the young man who hops across a continent in a day. You will find quite a different attitude. Instead of cringing away from what has come, they are looking with eager expectancy toward what is coming. Always they are willing to scrap today in favor of tomorrow. That is the blessedness of the active man, the man who is not sitting alone in a library trying to fit the new world into the old molds. Go to the laborer in the street car. He will tell you that just a few years ago he came home so late and so tired that he had no time to change his clothes, just got his supper and went to bed. Now he changes his clothes at the shop, goes home by daylight, has an early supper, and takes the family out for a drive. He will tell you that the killing pressure has let up. A man may have to be a little more businesslike on the job than formerly, but the old endless, exhausting drive has quit.
The men at the top, the men who are changing all these things, will tell you the same. They are not breaking down. They are marching the way progress is going and find it easier to go along with progress than to try to hold things back.
And just there is the secret: those who get headaches are trying to hold the world back, trying to wrap it up again in their small definitions. It cannot be done.
The very word “efficiency” is hated because so much that is not efficiency has masqueraded as such. Efficiency is merely the doing of work in the best way you know rather than in the worst way. It is the taking of a trunk up a hill on a truck rather than on one’s back. It is the training of the worker and the giving to him of power so that he may earn more and have more and live more comfortably. The Chinese coolie (as some ethnic hard laborers of the day were often called) working through long hours for a few cents a day is not happier than the American workman with his own home and automobile. The one is a slave, the other is a free man.
In the organization of the Ford work we are continually reaching out for more and more developed power. We go to the coalfields, to the streams, and to the rivers, always seeking some cheap and convenient source of power which we can...