Henry Ford started American-style capitalism. Ford was a product of the mid-west frontier, where people still respected one another as equals. Father Bruckberger (R.L. Bruckberger in Image of America) called Ford a “messiah of the machine” because Ford wanted to lift drudgery from the backs of men and put it onto steel and machines in factories, agriculture and transportation. Therefore, his Model T.
When it finally started rolling off the assembly line, Ford met with his Board of Directors. At that time wages were $2.50 for an entire 9-hour day. Ford historians recorded the event of January 1, 1914, as Ford covered the blackboard with figures. He saw that profits seemed too large compared to wages, so he kept raising the wages until they were $5.00 for an 8-hour day.
Ford commented, “This is neither charity nor wages, but profit sharing and efficiency engineering. If you pay men well, you can talk to them. ‘If you cut wages, you just cut the number of your own customers.”
Ford’s workers could live where they wanted and buy what they wanted, even his Model T., if he kept reducing the price so they could afford it.
This illustrated the difference between European- and American-style capitalism, between the European class attitude of ingrained patronage—with noblisse oblige—perhaps, but still with a condescending handed-down-from-above attitude, von oben herab—and the American attitude of respect for one’s fellow man as an equal, which was relearned on each new frontier.
Henry Ford was a product of the Midwest frontier of the 19th century, even though his ideas belonged to the 20th when his brand of American capitalism became the norm. Until then, American “robber barons” adopted Euro-style capitalism.
It was Euro-style capitalism that Karl Marx (1818–1883) rebelled against. He rebelled against his family, his religion, and his nation (Judaism and Germany). Then he took refuge in England and took support from Friedrich Engels, while he fashioned a system that extolled freedom but enslaved people as never before.
Thank you, Mr. Ford. (Even if he did become a bit eccentric in his old age.)