The Rise and Fall of World Commerce
Part 5—Big Business Tightens Its Grip
WORLD War I was scarcely over when the perilous state of the European economy presaged further trouble. In late October 1929, disaster struck. The New York stock market plunged sharply. People panicked. In the aftermath hundreds of banks collapsed. Millions of dollars were lost by thousands of people, some of whom leaped to their death from tall buildings.
The Great Depression pitched the whole world into economic ruin and, by fueling the forces that brought on World War II, into subsequent political chaos. Professor of history René Albrecht-Carrié described the 1930’s as “punctuated by crises, played out against a background of economic disaster.”
Thus, less than 20 years after 1914, it was quite obvious that the world’s economic systems were not up to the tasks of the new century. This is significant, since according to Bible chronology and divine prophecy, God’s permission of unrestrained human rule ran out in 1914. In that pivotal year, God established the heavenly Kingdom that was to make its invisible presence known by visible developments. Some of this evidence is mentioned in Matthew chapter 24, Luke chapter 21, and Revelation chapter 6, which chapters we encourage you to read.
Another outstanding evidence of the Kingdom’s having been established is that the earth is being progressively ruined by its inhabitants. (Revelation 11:18) Faced as we are with global pollution, damage to the protective ozone layer around the earth, and the potential for ecological disaster caused by the so-called greenhouse effect, we have ample reason to conclude that this prophecy is now being fulfilled.
Big Business—Master Polluter?
The industrial revolution laid the foundation for a strange kind of progress—progress that makes it easier, faster, and cheaper to provide humans with their wants and needs but which at the same time causes acid rain, creates chemical spills, and destroys the earth’s rain forests; progress that jets tourists to the other side of the earth so that they can clutter once clean beaches and destroy the natural habitat; progress that by polluting our air, food, and water threatens us with a premature grave.
Besides developing the technology that has resulted in a ruining of the earth, big business has also provided the motivation. As Time magazine noted, “the pell-mell pursuit of profits by businesses has long been a major source of pollution.” A UN forestry economist is quoted as saying that the commercial “illegal logging [of rain forests] is anchored in greed.”
Noncapitalistic systems are equally guilty. Journalist Richard Hornik wrote in 1987 that “for nearly three decades of Communist rule, Peking maintained that it was impossible for socialist construction to result in environmental degradation.” But now the time of reckoning had come, and even China was learning “the environmental costs of economic advancement.”
Another journalist called the ravages of pollution during 40 years of devastation in Eastern Europe “communism’s dirtiest secret.” Only now is the extent of the damage becoming apparent, giving Bitterfeld, 30 miles [50 km] north of Leipzig, the dubious distinction of possibly being the most seriously polluted city in probably the most polluted region in the world.
Fruits of Ruthless Competition
Even as many of our actions and reactions are largely shaped by religion and politics, so also to a great degree are we influenced by big business. In fact, the tight grip it has on humankind may perhaps be recognized best of all in the way it molds personalities.
The very foundation upon which the world of capitalistic commerce is built, the spirit of ruthless competition, is found everywhere—at school, at work, in the entertainment and sports worlds, and sometimes even in the family. Youngsters are taught from infancy to be competitive, to be the best, to be number one. Getting ahead economically is viewed as all-important, and few restrictions are placed on how to do so. For the sake of success, men and women are encouraged to be ambitious, even aggressive if need be.
Business people are trained to be friendly and polite. But do these characteristics always portray their true personality, or do they sometimes reflect a mask they are wearing as they play a role? In 1911, Edgar Watson Howe, American journalist, gave this advice: “When a man is trying to sell you something, don’t imagine he is that polite all the time.”
Competition fosters feelings of envy, jealousy, and greed. People who excel may begin to think themselves superior, making them arrogant and overbearing. Consistent losers, on the other hand, may suffer from a lack of self-esteem, causing despondency. Faced with competitive pressures with which they cannot cope, they may choose to drop out, an attitude that helps explain the surge in suicides among young people in some countries.
By failing to provide everyone with the necessities of life equally, ineffective economic systems can warp personalities into becoming ungrateful, selfish, and callous on the one hand or bitter, self-pitying, and conniving on the other. And by elevating money and possessions to the status of virtual godship, commerce can easily rob persons of their spirituality.
The Deceptive Power of Money
Once money was introduced into society, it began permeating all of human society and thus affecting human relationships. A price system imposed monetary values on goods and services. Soon everything came to be expressed in terms of money, it being the standard against which everything could be evaluated as to importance. This obscured the truth that the song so nicely expresses, however, that “the best things in life are free.”
Even humans came to be evaluated in monetary terms, judged primarily on the basis of salary or possessions. Journalist Max Lerner recognized this in 1949, when he wrote: “In our culture we make heroes of the men who sit on top of a heap of money, and we pay attention not only to what they say in their field of competence, but to their wisdom on every other question in the world.” More recently a reporter expressed misgivings at a U.S. president’s strongly held view that wealth is the measure of the man. The reporter found it to be “symptomatic of the materialistic excess that has turned the 1980s into the ‘My decade,’ a time when by one’s possessions thou shall be known and judged.”
Overemphasizing money and the things it can buy tends to downgrade the value of human relationships. A young man from Bangladesh, after moving to capitalistic Europe, indeed had a point when he noted: “People here are interested in things; at home we are more interested in people.”
The money-centered attitude also degrades work, making it only a means to an end, a burden and no longer a pleasure. One works, not for the joy of accomplishment or for the joy of giving others the things they need, but just in order to get money. This attitude actually robs the individual of joy because “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Do You Want Big Business to Mold You?
The scientific and technological progress made possible by the discovery and application of natural laws of divine origin has often been of great benefit to mankind. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are most grateful for the development of modern printing methods and for the improved transportation and communications possibilities that permit them to fulfill their preaching commission in a way that otherwise would be impossible.—Matthew 24:14.
Still, it cannot be denied that the potential for doing good that this progress offers has been badly tarnished by people who have let their personalities be molded in an ungodly way by false religion, corrupt politics, and imperfect economic systems.
Do you want your potential for good to be nullified by a misshapen personality—your own? Are you going to permit greedy commerce to determine your set of values purely on a monetary basis? to allow it to cause love of money and possessions to triumph in your life over human relationships? to let it rob you of spirituality?
With commerce tightening its grip on mankind since 1914, is there any way to prevent it from shaping our personalities? Yes, there is! Along with showing us what this is, the final article in this series will explain how we may live to see the day when mankind will be able to sigh in relief: “Money Worries—Over at Last!”
[Box on page 24]
Big Business Helps to Identify “the Last Days”
By molding personalities, big business is helping to provide the evidence of “the last days” as found at 2 Timothy 3:1-4: But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with [including the difficulty of coping with economic anxieties] will be here. For men will be . . .
Lovers of themselves: Materialists are self-centered, an attitude encouraged by commercial advertising, which argues: ‘You deserve the best. Be good to yourself. Look out for number one’
Lovers of money: American humorist Mark Twain once said: “Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, . . . but they all worship money”
Self-assuming, haughty: A German politician said of foot-dragging chemical firms asked to stop polluting: “I find the predominating attitude quite bad. It is the arrogance of power”
Unthankful, disloyal: English writer Thomas Fuller said, “Riches rather enlarge than satisfy appetites” and, “The usual trade and commerce is cheating all round by consent”
Having no natural affection: Firms that for reasons of profit sell developing nations products outlawed elsewhere or that locate hazardous factories in lands with less stringent safety regulations show little concern for the lives of others
Not open to any agreement, slanderers: Economist Adam Smith said that “commerce, which ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity”
Without self-control, fierce: Excessive installment buying, credit-card spending sprees, and the “buy now, pay later” mentality, fostered by commerce for personal gain, betray a lack of self-control; some commercial pursuits pander to human weaknesses and make fortunes from drugs, vice, and gambling
Without love of goodness, betrayers: The newspaper The German Tribune says: “Where the colossal cost of coping with environmental pollution is concerned, moral standards can leave much to be desired.” People with no moral standards find it easy to betray others for the sake of personal gain
Headstrong: Powerful groups, such as gun and tobacco lobbies, stubbornly spend fortunes trying to dictate political policies to ensure high sales, even though their wares endanger health and public safety
Puffed up with pride: Possessions are no reason for pride, despite the claims of materialists. Greek fabulist Aesop said: “Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth”
Lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God: Commercial entertainment stresses pleasures to the exclusion of spirituality and has created a generation of hedonistic pleasure addicts
[Picture on page 23]
Big business has helped make Europe probably the most polluted continent in the world