Commercial Integrity

The moralist who cares to lecture society upon its shortcomings may find much scope for scathing invective in the revelations of the inner life of commercial society with which the newspapers of the day are teeming.

Implementing Freemasonry’s peculiar system of morality in our day to day business affairs was the topic of this article, Commercial Integrity, first published in The Freemason’s Chronicle – 8 May 1875

He might tell us, if homilies were not out of fashion, that middle class people are rapidly falling away from the old standard of integrity which was reverenced by our grandfathers, and he might rail to his heart’s content against the eager seeking for wealth which is the characteristic of the age, against the frivolity of society generally, and against the manifest disregard for good faith and truth which prevails so largely amongst commercial men.

Perhaps he would not be listened to if he were to preach from so trite a text as that which heads this article.

Or if he were to compel attention, by eccentricity of manner, or the mere force of unadorned eloquence, ho might fairly surmise that his moralising would be forgotten or ignored by the time the sun rose upon the next business day.

An impatience of mere lecturing, as well as a contempt for the so-called humdrum ethics of the past, is a common failing of the men of the day, who affect to think that success justifies any policy, and will condone any breach of the moral code.

We do not intend to set ourselves up as the correctors of the errors of our time, nor are we willing to assume the part of a priggish censor of failings which have grown with the nation’s growth, and which, if not corrected, may sap, at no distant day, those broad principles upon which society stands.

Yet while disclaiming the role of the moralist, we would venture to direct attention to the fact that integrity, in its worldly sense, is the key-stone of the structure of a nation’s commercial greatness, and we may hint that there are signs abroad which would appear to show that the time is approaching when no man’s word will be taken as his bond.

Let us say what we will, or disguise the facts to which we allude as we may, it is patent to every observer of the signs of the times that a respect for truth, for its own sake, is not among the crowning virtues of some of the business men of this or any other city in the kingdom.

Men are compelled to give in their adhesion to scientific truths, and no more think of questioning the facts which the chemist or the astronomer brings to light than they would think of questioning the validity of the laws of gravitation.

But, moral truth, in all its wide ramifications, appears to be losing its hold upon the minds of all classes.

If men do not actually lie, in the vulgar acceptation of the word, they do not scruple, in business matters at least, to indulge in interested exaggerations which they know do not fairly characterise the transactions in which they are engaged.

And if a qualm of conscience ever comes over them they are ready enough to console themselves with the plausible fallacies of a commercial casuistry, which in its way is worse than any thing ever invented by the schoolmen or the Jesuits.

A man will defend a statement which appears very like a falsehood, on the plea that exaggeration, puffing, and the other arts of the shop or the ware- house are necessary in business.

He will tell you that he might as well close his shop at once if ho were to tell the honest truth to his customers ; and he will go to church on Sunday, after a wreak spent in pushing worthless goods, with no conception that tricks of this kind are incompatible with maintenance of any religious principles.

A trade falsehood is regarded as no greater moral enormity than the conventional “not at home ” of a person who is too busily engaged to receive a friend.

It is forgotten that in the wise cited no one is deceived by the subterfuge.

We all understand that the phrase really means that the party is engaged, and cannot be seen, but it is quite impossible to understand the reckless statements which a man feels justified in making when he is selling his goods.

If he passes off an article of inferior quality for one of the very best, we have no means of detecting the fraud.

If he tells us his profit is a farthing a yard or a dozen, or that he loses by the transaction, we have no means of testing his accuracy, and his statements, if contrary to fact, are, to all intents and purposes, if judged by our old-fashioned standard of morality, falsehoods.

It would, however, be a monstrous injustice to hold up the retail trader as the chief transgressor against the moral code.

A section of the mercantile classes in the City is utterly reckless as to the truth of the statements which are put forth for the purpose of floating a company or getting up a foreign loan.

Recent revelations have opened the eyes of the public to the sort of morality which rules the minus of “eminently respectable men,” and the knowledge we have gained is by no means edifying.

It is a shock to some of us to find that some at least of the men who are respected and looked up to in the City are not ashamed to put their names to prospectuses which are mere baits to catch the unwary, and have no misgivings when widows and orphans, who have been caught by the specious promises, have been brought to the verge of ruin.

The getting up of bubble companies has actually developed into a profession, and there are persons in our midst who are famed for the skill with which they can prove to the public that an exhausted copper mine, for example, may, by judicious management, be made to pay a splendid dividend upon the capital invested in it.

It is no justification of this sort of thing to say that the public are to blame for trusting too much to specious promises, and an array of respectable names.

The public, or at least that section of it to which the bait is thrown, is usually utterly ignorant of the merest rudiment s of business.

Thousands of people who might learn much from the recent revelations in the press, are no wiser and will never be wiser, simply because they do not study the events of the day with sufficient attention.

It is no easy thing, for example, to discover whether a foreign State, competing in the English market for a loan, is solvent or not.

Nine-tenths of the non-commercial classes, and many of those who are engaged in business, are ready to believe that an investment must be good if a dividend is guaranteed by the responsible ministers of a government.

Some knowledge of history, and of past and contemporary politics, is necessary before an investor can form a sound opinion upon a question of this kind.

But how few possess this knowledge ; public writers, who may be supposed to be well informed, are restrained by the law of libel from telling the world what they know.

Investors of a certain class are at the mercy of the projectors of loans and bubble companies, and wo are not sanguine that any legislation will however be of any utility in restraining the poetic fervour of some of the men of this stamp.

It is, however, in the power of society to place its ban upon the persons who venture, for mere gain, to palter with truth.

If we merely smile at the sharp practice of those who stake their brains against the cash in the pockets of ” gullible ” capitalists, we are encouraging the misdeeds which ought to be frowned down.
Society should sternly set its face against the tricks of trade and commerce which are now so common.

Every honest man should be interested in stamping out a lie -whenever he meets with one.

Until the public conscience be awakened, preaching will be useless.

If an English merchant’s word is to go forth to the ends of the earth as the very seal and stamp of truth, we must resolutely punish, with all the severities of social outlawry, those whose evil practices are rapidly lowering the good name and fame of the nation in the eyes of the world.

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