Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Romance of Commerce By Harry Selfridge 1918

The Romance of Commerce By Harry Gordon Selfridge 1918

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To write on Commerce or Trade and do the subject justice would require more volumes than any library could hold, and involve more detail than any mind could grasp. It would be a history in extense of the world's people from the beginning of time. For we are all merchants, and all races of men have been merchants in some form or another. The desire to trade seems to be inherent in man, as natural to him as the instinct of self-preservation, and from earliest recorded history we see trade and barter entering into and becoming part of the lives of men of all nations, and further, we see it as one of the most desirable objectives of the nations themselves. Ever since that moment when two individuals first lived upon this earth, one has had what the other wanted, and has been willing for a consideration to part with his possession. This is the principle underlying all trade however primitive, and all men, except the idlers, are merchants.

We give this title exclusively to the man who buys and sells merchandise, but the artist sells the work of his brush and in this he is a merchant. The writer sells to any who will buy, let his ideas be what they will. The teacher sells his knowledge of books—often in too low a market—to those who would have this knowledge passed on to the young.

The doctor must make an income to support himself and his family. He too is a merchant. His stock-intrade is his intimate knowledge of the physical man and his skill to prevent or remove disabilities. He sells a part of his experience for a given sum to whomsoever seeks his advice. The lawyer sometimes knows the laws of the land and sometimes does not, but he sells his legal language, often accompanied by common sense, to the multitude who have not yet learned that a contentious nature may squander quite as successfully as the spendthrift. The statesman sells his knowledge of men and affairs, and the spoken or written exposition of his principles of Government; and he receives in return the satisfaction of doing what he can for his nation, and occasionally wins as well a niche in its temple of fame.

The man possessing many lands, he especially would be a merchant in fact, and sell, but his is a merchandise which too often nowadays waits in vain for the buyer. The preacher, the lecturer, the actor, the estate agent, the farmer, the employee, all, all are merchants, all have something to dispose of at a profit to themselves, and the dignity of the business is decided by the manner in which they conduct the sale.

To work is elevating. To accomplish is superb. To fill one's time with profitable enterprise is to leap forward in the world's race and to place beside one's name the credit mark of effort. It has always been so since civilization began, and all effort has always had for its object a gain of some kind, while the amount of effort is usually determined by the value of the hoped-for gain, plus the temperament, ambitions and inclinations of the doer.

The first efforts were made in the direction of bodily protection. Food, clothing and shelter, these, in some degree, must be possessed by every individual. And the steps from these crudest beginnings of trade up to the science of Commerce of the twentieth century are as interesting to study as the pages of the wildest romance. Wealth with its accompanying power has been since earliest time the goal that no honest effort can be too great to reach; and the goal it must always remain for peoples who have the red blood of progress in their veins. And without Commerce there is no wealth. Adam Smith wrote one hundred and fifty years ago: "All original wealth comes from the soil; but while the soil so amply repays labour expended upon it, the owner of the crops looks to the alchemist, Commerce, to turn his golden harvests into golden coin.

Commerce creates wealth, and is the foundation of the great state. Armies are raised and paid for to win, or to protect the countries' trade, or commerce. Ships are constructed, colonies established, inventions encouraged, governments built up, or pulled down, for Commerce. Commerce cuts the way, and all professions, all arts follow. If Commerce is necessary to wealth, no Commerce means no wealth, and our statesman soon finds himself out of employment. Where wealth again is greatest, everything else being fairly equal, arts thrive the most.

A thousand departments of mental and physical activity foster and in turn are fostered by its achievement. People must be governed, and there must be those who govern. Laws must be made, and there must be those who study, and those who execute these laws. People must be taught, and there must be teachers. All these and the Church, the newspaper, the theatre, the fine arts are essential to the completeness of the State, to the happiness and safety of its people; but Commerce is the main stem, or trunk, where they are all branches, supplied with the sap of its far-reaching wealth. It is as necessary to the existence of any nation as blood to the physical man. That country in which trade flourishes is accounted happy, while that in which Commerce droops provokes shaking of heads and prophecies of downfall.

Just as in a beautiful tapestry there must be the groundwork, the foundation upon which the design is woven, so has Commerce acted as the underlying warp and woof in the development of civilization. It gives both strength and substance, and more than this, for it gives colour as well. Its threads are so closely interwoven with the rest as to be almost indistinguishable from them. Or to change the simile, Commerce is the foundation upon which nations are built; but it is also the superstructure, and provides the bands of steel which support every part of the national edifice.

Commerce is the mother of the arts, the sciences, the professions, and in this twentieth century has itself become an art, a science, a profession. As it plays with a fine touch on the strings of human nature the world over, and makes happier by its fairness the youth of to-day and the man of to-morrow, it is an art.

As it strives for the new and discards the old, when the old has been superseded by the better, as it invents and thinks out methods, ideas, even fundamental principles, and as its laboratory is always occupied by men who are searching for the causes of its depression and experimenting upon its possibilities of progress, so it becomes a very catholic science.

And as it studies and digs deeper into the wishes and wants of the people; as it urges and proclaims its determination to force a higher and better standard of living throughout the realm of its activity; as it hates the wrong, the deceitful, and holds up the fair and straightforward; as it stands for greater accomplishment, greater power, greater happiness to its own workers and to the entire community as well, then it may truly be ranked as a profession, and one whose sphere of work is broader, whose almost uncountable ramifications are infinitely more far-reaching than those of any other profession.

Great is Commerce, and great is its field of work, of thought, of development.

It is to the writer an almost incredible thing that any Government could ever be so suicidally short-sighted as to discourage trade; yet history is full of the restrictions placed upon it by the very men who would have profited by making its path easier. Commerce has developed too often in spite of legislation rather than by its help. This has almost always been so, and is very true to-day, for as far as we can see there has been very little progress made by law-makers towards encouraging Commerce. How rarely indeed are laws passed to encourage anything. They restrict, they limit, they prohibit from this and that; and as regards the man of Commerce their whole purpose seems to be too often to hamper and annoy.

However, it is folly to waste ink on this subject. It has always been so, and, for all that we can see, always will be. Some day, perhaps, some Solomon may rise and create a form of government which will please everyone; and if this new Solomon comes from the same race as his distinguished predecessor we may be sure he will see to it that in his government business shall find a true friend.

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