Monday, February 3, 2014


I have been thinking a great deal about the corruption of the current American Business Model, and recently ran across some of the writings of Justice Louis Brandeis. His words resonate with me, and the clarity and prescience of both his prose, and his thoughts, are stunning.

They are also particularly relevant today where we seem to be dealing with many of the same challenges that he faced. I suspect that reading his works in detail will provide some answers. They certainly supply inspiration.

What an admirable man! What an intellect! What a writer!

It’s a sad thing that Corporate America—subject, as always to some notable exceptions--which has done so much to build this great nation, now seems so hell-bent on destroying it. Has Brandeis been forgotten? “…the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.” It would be hard to state the goal of this Great Nation with more accuracy—yet it has no place in the current American Business Model.

But, let me defer to Justice Brandeis.

What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty, and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.

“True Americanism” (1915).

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

As quoted by Raymond Lonergan in Mr. Justice Brandeis, Great American (1941), p. 42.

The most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen. The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.

Statement to a reporter in the Boston Record, 14 April 1903. (quoted in Alpheus Thomas Mason, Brandeis: A Free Man's Life (1946), p. 122.)

In the field of modern business, so rich in opportunity for the exercise of man's finest and most varied mental faculties and moral qualities, mere money-making cannot be regarded as the legitimate end. Neither can mere growth of bulk or power be admitted as a worthy ambition. Nor can a man nobly mindful of his serious responsibilities to society view business as a game; since with the conduct of business human happiness or misery is inextricably interwoven.

"Business — The New Profession", La Follette's Weekly Magazine, Volume 4, No. 47 (November 23, 1912), p. 7.

Real success in business is to be found in achievements comparable rather with those of the artist or the scientist, of the inventor or statesman. And the joys sought in the profession of business must be like their joys and not the mere vulgar satisfaction which is experienced in the acquisition of money, in the exercise of power or in the frivolous pleasure of mere winning.

"Business — The New Profession", La Follette's Weekly Magazine, Volume 4, No. 47 (November 23, 1912), p. 7.

Strong, responsible unions are essential to industrial fair play. Without them the labor bargain is wholly one-sided. The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized and that their organizations must be recognized by employers as a condition precedent to industrial peace.

Reported in Osmond Kessler Fraenkel, Clarence Martin Lewis, The Curse of Bigness: Miscellaneous Papers of Louis D. Brandeis (1965), p. 43.

The prevalence of the corporation in America has led men of this generation to act, at times, as if the privilege of doing business in corporate form were inherent in the citizen; and has led them to accept the evils attendant upon the free and unrestricted use of the corporate mechanism as if these evils were the inescapable price of civilized life, and, hence to be borne with resignation.

Dissent, Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517 (1933).

Through size, corporations, once merely an efficient tool employed by individuals in the conduct of private business have become an institution-an institution which has brought such concentration of economic power that so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state. The typical business corporation of the last century, owned by a small group of individuals, managed by their owners, and limited in size by their private wealth, is being supplanted by huge concerns in which the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of employees and the property of tens of hundreds of thousands of investors are subjected, through the corporate mechanism, to the control of a few men.Ownership has been separated from control; and this separation has removed many of the checks which formerly operated to curb the misuse of wealth and power. And, as ownership of the shares is becoming continually more dispersed, the power which formerly accompanied ownership is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few... [and] coincident with the growth of these giant corporations, there has occurred a marked concentration of individual wealth; and that the resulting disparity in incomes is a major cause of the existing depression.

Dissent, Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517 (1933), at 565-67.

Regarding my own life, I have to say that the following quote—given that I have a tendency to attempt the near impossibly difficult (normally with inadequate resources)—has cheered me greatly.

Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.

Louis D. Brandeis

‘Awesome’ is an overused word—but sometimes it’s no more than adequate.

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