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as it is in the very nature of the system to generate reck. less speculation, the fabric of lies is almost certain ulti mately to fall; and, in falling, to ruin or embarrass many others besides those who had given credit.
Nor does the evil end with the direct penalties from time to time inflicted on honest traders. There is also a grave indirect penalty which they suffer from the system. These forgers of credit are habitually instrumental in lowering prices below their natural level. To meet emergencies, they are obliged every now and then to sell goods at a loss: the alternative being immediate stoppage. Though with each such concern, this is but an occasional occurrence, yet, taking the whole number of them connected with any one business, it results that there are at all times some who are making sacrifices—at all times some who are unnaturally depressing the market. In short, the capital fraudulently obtained from some traders, is, in part, dissipated in rendering the business of other traders deficiently remunerative: often to their serious embarrassment.
If, however, the whole truth must be said, the condemnation visited on these commercial vampires is not to be confined wholly to them; but is in some degree deserved by a much more numerous class. Between the penniless schemer who obtains the use of capital by false pretences, and the upright trader who never contracts greater liabilities than his estate will liquidate, there lie all gradations. From businesses carried on entirely with other people's capital obtained by forgery, we pass to businesses in which there is a real capital of one-tenth, and a credit capital of nine-tenths; to other businesses in which the ratio of real to fictitious capital is somewhat greater; and 80 on until we reach the very extensive class of inen who trade but a little beyond their means. By insensible steps we advance from the one extreme to the other; and
GRADATIONS OF DISDONESTY.
these most venial transgressors cannot be wholly absolved from the criminality which so clearly attaches to the rest.
To get more credit than would be given were the state of the business fully known, is in all cases the aim; and the cases in which this credit is partially unwarranted, differ only in degree from those in which it is wholly unwarranted. As most are beginning to see, the prevalence of this indirect dishonesty has not a little to do with our commercial disasters. Speaking broadly, the tendency is for every trader to hypothecate the capital of other trad. ers, as well as his own. And when A has borrowed on the strength of B's credit; B on the strength of C's; and C on the strength of A's—when, throughout the trading world, each has made engagements which he can meet only by direct or indirect aid—when everybody is wanting help from some one else, to save him from falling; a crash is certain. The punishment of a general unconscientiousness may be postponed; but it is sure to come eventually.
The average commercial morality cannot, of course, be accurately depicted in so brief a space.
On the one hand, we have been able to give but a few typical instances of the mal-practices by which trade is disgraced. On the other hand, we have been obliged to present these alone; unqualified by the large amount of honest dealing throughout which they are dispersed. While, by accumulating such evidences, the indictment might be made much heavier; by diluting them with the immense mass of equitable transactions daily carried on, the verdict would be greatly mitigated. After making all allowances, how. ever, we fear that the state of things is very bad. And our impression on this point is due less to the particu. lar facts above given, than to the general opinion ex
pressed by our informants. On all sides we have found the result of long personal experience, to be the conviction that trade is essentially corrupt. In tones of disgust or discouragement, reprehension or derision, according to their several natures, men in business have one after another expressed or implied this belief. Omitting the highest mercantile classes, a few of the less common trades, and those exceptional cases where an entire command of the market has been obtained, the uniform testimony of competent judges is, that success is incompatible with strict integrity. To live in the commercial world it appears necessary to adopt its ethical code: neither exceeding nor falling short of it-neither being less honest nor more honest. Those who sink below its standard are expelled; while those who rise above it are either pulled down to it or ruined. As, in self-defence, the civilized man becomes savage among savages; so, it seems that in self-defence, the scrupulous trader is obliged to become as little scrupulous as his competitors. It has been said that the law of the animal creation is—“Eat and be eaten; and of our trading community it may be similarly said that its law is-Cheat and be cheated. A system of keen competition, carried on, as it is, without adequate moral restraint, is very much a system of commercial cannibalism. Its alternatives are-Use the same weapons as your antagonists, or be conquered and devoured.
Of questions suggested by these facts, one of the most obvious is—Are not the prejudices that have ever been entertained against trade and traders, thus fully justified ? do not these meannesses and dishonesties, and the moral degradation they imply, warrant the disrespect shown to men in business ? A prompt affirmative answer will probably be looked for; but we very much doubt whether it should be given. We are rather of opinion that these delinquencies are products of the average English charac
THE TRADERS RECRIMINATIONS.
ter placed under special conditions. There is no good reason for assuming that the trading classes are intrinsically worse than other classes. Men taken at random from higher and lower ranks, would, most likely, if similarly circumstanced, do much the same. Indeed the mercantile world might readily recriminate. Is it a solicitor who comments on their misdoings? They may quickly silence him by referring to the countless dark stains on the reputation of his fraternity. Is it a barrister? His frequent practice of putting in pleas which he knows are not valid; and his established habit of taking fees for work that he does not perform; make his criticism somewhat suicidal. Does the condemnation come through the press ? The condemned may remind those who write, of the fact that it is not quite honest to utter a positive verdict on a book merely glanced through, or to pen-glowing eulogies on the inediocre work of a friend while slighting the good one of an enemy; and may further ask whether those who, at the dictation of an employer, write what they disbelieve, are not guilty of the serious offence of adulterating public opinion.
Moreover, traders might contend that many of their delinquencies are thrust on them by the injustice of their customers. They, and especially drapers, might point to the fact that the habitual demand for an abatement of price, is made in utter disregard of their reasonable profits; and that to protect themselves against attempts to gain by their loss, they are obliged to name prices greater than those they intend to take. They might also urge that the strait to which they are often brought by the non-payment of accounts due from their wealthier customers, is itself a cause of their mal-practices: obliging them, as it does, to use all means, illegitimate as well as legitimate, for getting the wherewith to meet their engagements. In proof of the wrongs inflicted on them by the non-trading classes, they might instance the well-known cases of large shopkeepers in the West-end, who have been either ruined by the unpunctuality of their customers, or have been obliged periodically to stop payment, as the only way of getting their bills settled. And then, after proving that those without excuse show this disregard of other men's claims, traders might ask whether they, who have the excuse of having to contend with a merciless competition, are alone to be blamed if they display a like disregard in other forms.
Nay, even to the guardians of social rectitude-members of the legislature—they might use the tu quoque argument: asking whether bribery of a customer's servant, is any worse than bribery of an elector? or whether the gaining of suffrages by clap-trap hustings-speeches, containing insincere professions adapted to the taste of the constituency, is not as bad as getting an order for goods by delusive representations respecting their quality ? No; it seems probable that close inquiry would show few if any
classes to be free from immoralities that are as great, relatively to the temptations, as these which we have been exposing. Of course they will not be so petty or so gross where the circumstances do not prompt petti ness or grossness; nor so constant and organized where the class-conditions have not tended to make them habitual. But, taken with these qualifications, we think that much might be said for the proposition that the trading classes, neither better nor worse intrinsically than other classes, are betrayed into their flagitious habits by exter. nal causes.
Another question, here naturally arising, is—Are not these evils growing worse? Many of the facts we have cited seem to imply that they are. And yet there are many other facts which point as distinctly the other way. In weighing the evidence, we must bear in mind,