Henry Ford’s – My Life and Work…Still Pertinent Nearly 100 Years Later

Henry Ford’s penned an autobiography in 1922…My Life and Work.  But as an autobiography, it seems more about why he made the business like he did and his life’s decisions, than simply a story of his life.

Early in the work, he speaks about his business at a time when the economic growth was unbounded but the treatment of labor was inconsistent and communism was taking hold in Russia. He reflects on the already great business he has created and the importance of the business not as a generator of wealth but a system by which man can survive and thrive in a natural way.

In an early excerpt, Ford speaks of business in general and its stabilizing effect in a world in social, economic, and political turmoil. His words are as appropriate today as they were then, and we now know that the systems to which he compared American capitalism have met their predicted fates. However, we still today grapple with the role of government in social welfare that he identifies as a weakness.
When you get a whole country— as did ours— thinking that Washington is a sort of heaven and behind its clouds dwell omniscience and omnipotence, you are educating that country into a dependent state of mind which augurs ill for the future. Our help does not come from Washington, but from ourselves; our help may, however, go to Washington as a sort of central distribution point where all our efforts are coordinated for the general good.

We may help the Government; the Government cannot help us. The slogan of “less government in business and more business in government” is a very good one, not mainly on account of business or government , but on account of the people. Business is not the reason why the United States was founded. The Declaration of Independence is not a business charter, nor is the Constitution of the United States a commercial schedule. The United States— its land, people, government, and business— are but methods by which the life of the people is made worthwhile.

The Government is a servant and never should be anything but a servant. The moment the people become adjuncts to government, then the law of retribution begins to work, for such a relation is unnatural, immoral, and inhuman. We cannot live without business and we cannot live without government. Business and government are necessary as servants, like water and grain; as masters they overturn the natural order.

The welfare of the country is squarely up to us as individuals. That is where it should be and that is where it is safest. Governments can promise something for nothing but they cannot deliver. They can juggle the currencies as they did in Europe (and as bankers the world over do, as long as they can get the benefit of the juggling) with a patter of solemn nonsense.

But it is work and work alone that can continue to deliver the goods —and that, down in his heart, is what every man knows. There is little chance of an intelligent people, such as ours, ruining the fundamental processes of economic life. Most men know they cannot get something for nothing. Most men feel— even if they do not know— that money is not wealth. The ordinary theories which promise everything to everybody, and demand nothing from anybody, are promptly denied by the instincts of the ordinary man, even when he does not find reasons against them. He knows they are wrong. That is enough. The present order, always clumsy, often stupid, and in many ways imperfect, has this advantage over any other— it works.
Ford, Henry (2014-07-30). My Life and Work (Illustrated) (Kindle Location 157). Didactic Press. Kindle Edition.

Henry Ford, My Life and Work, 1922



About Tod Kerr

Tod is a senior corporate leader with 20 years of experience managing business operations in numerous functional areas, with a focus on developing and marketing business to business technology solutions to world-wide high tech markets that allow customers to operate their business more efficiently by driving out costs, improving productivity, and creating value for their clients.
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