Read CHAPTER I of Fundamentals of Prosperity What They Are and Whence They Come , free online book, by Roger W. Babson, on ReadCentral.com.

HONESTY OR STEEL DOORS?

While fifty-one per cent of the people have their eyes on the goal of integrity, our investments are secure; but with fifty-one per cent of them headed in the wrong direction, our investments are valueless. The first fundamental of prosperity is Integrity.

While on a recent visit to Chicago, I was taken by the president of one of the largest banks to see his new safety deposit vaults. He described these as bank presidents will as the largest and most marvellous vaults in the city. He expatiated on the heavy steel doors and the various electrical and mechanical contrivances which protect the stocks and bonds deposited in the institution.

While at the bank a person came in to rent a box. He made the arrangements for the box, and a box was handed to him. In it he deposited some stocks and bonds which he took from his pocket. Then the clerk who had charge of the vaults went to a rack on the wall and took out a key and gave it to the man who had rented the box. The man then put the box into one of the little steel compartments, shut the door and turned the key. He then went away feeling perfectly secure on account of those steel doors and various mechanical and electrical contrivances existing to protect his wealth.

I did not wish to give him a sleepless night so I said nothing; but I couldn’t help thinking how easy it would have been for that poorly-paid, humpbacked clerk to make a duplicate of that key before he delivered it to the renter of that box. With such a duplicate, the clerk could have made that man penniless within a few minutes after he had left the building. The great steel door and the electrical and mechanical contrivances would have been absolutely valueless.

Of course the point I am making is that the real security which that great bank in Chicago had to offer its clientele lay not in the massive stone columns in front of its structure; nor in the heavy steel doors; nor the electrical and mechanical contrivances. The real strength of that institution rested in the honesty, the absolute integrity of its clerks.

That afternoon I was talking about the matter with a business man. We were discussing securities, earnings and capitalization. He seemed greatly troubled by the mass of figures before him. I said to him: “Instead of pawing over these earnings and striving to select yourself the safest bond, you will do better to go to a reliable banker or bond-house and leave the decision with him.”

“Why,” he said, “I couldn’t do that.”

“Mr. Jones,” I went on, “tell me the truth! After you buy a bond or a stock certificate, do you ever take the trouble to see if it is signed and countersigned properly? Moreover, if you find it signed, is there any way by which you may know whether the signature is genuine or forged?”

“No,” he said, “there isn’t. I am absolutely dependent on the integrity of the bankers from whom I buy the securities.”

And when you think of it, there is really no value at all in the pieces of paper which one so carefully locks up in these safety deposit boxes. There is no value at all in the bank-book which we so carefully cherish. There is no value at all in those deeds and mortgages upon which we depend so completely. The value rests first, in the integrity of the lawyers, clerks and stenographers who draw up the papers; secondly, in the integrity of the officers who sign the documents; thirdly, in the integrity of the courts and judges which would enable us to enforce our claims; and finally, in the integrity of the community which would determine whether or not the orders of the court will be executed.

These things which we look upon as of great value: the stocks, bonds, bank-books, deeds, mortgages, insurance policies, etc., are merely nothing. While fifty-one per cent. of the people have their eyes on the goal of Integrity, our investments are secure; but with fifty-one per cent. of them headed in the wrong direction, our investments are valueless. So the first fundamental of prosperity is integrity. Without it there is no civilization, there is no peace, there is no security, there is no safety. Mind you also that this applies just as much to the man who is working for wages as to the capitalist and every owner of property.

Integrity, however, is very much broader than the above illustration would indicate. Integrity applies to many more things than to money. Integrity requires the seeking after, as well as the dispensing of, truth. It was this desire for truth which founded our educational institutions, our sciences and our arts. All the great professions, from medicine to engineering, rest upon this spirit of integrity. Only as they so rest, can they prosper or even survive.

Integrity is the mother of knowledge. The desire for truth is the basis of all learning, the value of all experience and the reason for all study and investigation. Without integrity as a basis, our entire educational system would fall to the ground; all newspapers and magazines would become sources of great danger and the publication of books would have to be suppressed. Our whole civilization rests upon the assumption that people are honest. With this confidence shaken, the structure falls. And it should fall, for, unless the truth be taught, the nation would be much better off without its schools, newspapers, books and professions. Better have no gun at all, than one aimed at yourself. The corner-stone of prosperity is the stone of Integrity.