A Merchant's Horizon

by A. Lincoln Filene, in collaboration with Burton Kline. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1924. 8vo. vi+266 pp. $2.50.
PESSIMISTS who believe that our civilization is declining toward its sunset shadows; that the dusk of its decadence already darkens Russia, casts obscurity over Europe, and hovers on America’s horizon, though perhaps fewer to-day than a year or two ago, still constitute a numerous school. Its members conceive social evolution as a process culminating in catastrophic cycles, of which the next — now imminent —will be dominated by class war. To those who dissent from this philosophy and dispute its predictions the present book should be heartening. Its thesis is ‘that the humanizing of all the devices of industry, mechanical, financial, and managerial, is going forward on a scale so large as to constitute the outstanding industrial advance of our time.’ Added to this is the corollary, ever present though not so explicitly brought out in the argument, that ‘ the making of money and the making of citizens not only can, but must, go on together.’ That is, political democracy and industrial democracy are interrelated and inseparably associated; and both exhibit a robustly dynamic phase in America to-day.
This conclusion is offered as the garnered experience of an active business career, enriched by contacts with other fields of practical economic and social endeavor.
So much for the general philosophy of the book; but it is much more concrete in detail than this stress upon its keynote might imply. In fact its chief interest for business executives, social workers, and most people of enlightened civic sympathies will lie in its description of the successive stages by which a growing retail store, now employing three thousand people, evolved as part and parcel of its expanding organization a system of employee participation in many managerial functions; and indeed, of employee control in some of them. The reader is conducted over the establishment and is shown, with occasional conversational digressions into its local history and other themes, how the workers, from the humblest to the highest, are fitted into the larger organism as personalities and not merely mechanical parts. The Filene Coöperative Association with its manifold functions, and the Arbitration Board with its final jurisdiction, are made to Carry on before his eyes. Constitution and by-laws, where pertinent, are quoted that we may see this organism’s framework; but with the caution that framework and functioning organs are very different things.
Achievements are related modestly, failures and half successes as well as successes are described, the narrative is couched in the terms of a progress-report rather than a bulletin of victory. Here and there the lay reader is given a glimpse into the complexity in practice of applications of policy that seem quite simple to the inexperienced theorist. Profit-sharing is one of these. Upon this point illustrative material is presented from the records of other firms besides the Filene establishment.
This is a book which deals with questions that concern us all. It may well be read by the man of public affairs as well as the man of private business, and by the citizen in an independent career as well as by the intelligent wage-earner.
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