Henry Ford
On Self-Help
June 18, 1932

The essay below was "prepared and paid for by the Ford Motor Company as a contribution to public welfare" and appeared in the June 18, 1932, Literary Digest.

{1} My views of how people can best be helped are not new. The present period has only brought them into intensive application. Nearly twenty years ago when we established our minimum wage, which is now six dollars a day, we had the other side of the problem.

{2} It was then a problem of sudden prosperity. We tried to teach our employes how to handle their resources to the best advantage and how to evade the parasites which wait on every hand for the workers' wages. There was no criticism of our methods then; in fact, they were commended. They are the same methods now, with such improvements as experience has suggested.

{3} I said in the first of this series that being out of some one's employ need not mean being out of work. In the last analysis independence means self-dependence. Dependence on some one else for employment in busy times may too easily become dependence on some one else for support in slack times.

{4} If it is right and proper to help people to become wise managers of their own affairs in good times, it cannot be wrong to pursue the same object in dull times. Independence through self-dependence is a method which must commend itself when understood.

{5} Methods of self-help are numerous and great numbers of people have made the stimulating discovery that they need not depend on employers to find work for them-they can find work for themselves. I have more definitely in mind those who have not yet made that discovery, and I should like to express certain convictions I have tested.

{6} The land! That is where our roots are. There is the basis of our physical life. The farther we get away from the land, the greater our insecurity. From the land comes everything that supports life, everything we use for the service of physical life. The land has not collapsed or shrunk in either extent or productivity. It is there waiting to honor all the labor we are willing to invest in it, and able to tide us across any dislocation of economic conditions.

{7} No unemployment insurance can be compared to an alliance between a man and a plot of land. With one foot in industry and another foot in the land, human society is firmly balanced against most economic uncertainties. With a job to supply him with cash, and a plot of land to guarantee him support, the individual is doubly secure. Stocks may fail, but seedtime and harvest do not fail.

{8} I am not speaking of stop-gaps or temporary expedients. Let every man and every family at this season of the year cultivate a plot of land and raise a sufficient supply for themselves or others. Every city and village has vacant space whose use would be permitted.  Groups of men could rent farms for small sums and operate them on the co-operative plan. Employed men, in groups of ten, twenty or fifty, could rent farms and operate them with several unemployed families. Or, they could engage a farmer with his farm to be their farmer this year, either as employe or on shares. There are farmers who would be glad to give a decent indigent family a corner of a field on which to live and provide against next winter. Industrial concerns everywhere would gladly make it possible for their men, employed and unemployed, to find and work the land. Public-spirited citizens and institutions would most willingly assist in these efforts at self-help.

{9} I do not urge this solely or primarily on the ground of need. It is a definite step to the restoration of normal business activity. Families who adopt self-help have that amount of free money to use in the channels of trade. That in turn means a flow of goods, an increase in employment, a general benefit.

{10} When I suggested this last year and enabled our own people to make the experiment, the critics said that it would mean competition with the farmer. If that were true it would constitute a serious defect in the plan. My interest in the success and prosperity of the farmer is attested by my whole business career. The farmer is carrying in the form of heavy taxes the burden of families who cannot afford to buy his produce. Enabling them to raise their own food would not be taking a customer away from the farmer, but would be actually lifting a family off the tax-payer's back. It is argued that farm products are so cheap that it is better to buy than to grow them. This would be impressive if every one had money to spend. Farm products are cheap because purchasing power is low. And the farmer paying taxes helps to pay the difference. The course I suggest is not competition with the farmer; it deprives him of no customer; it does not affect the big market crops. Gardens never hurt the farmer. When a family lifts itself off the welfare lists or increases its free cash by raising its food, it actually helps the farmer as it does every one else, including itself. In fact, it is fundamental that no one is hurt by self-help. In the relief of tax burdens and the revival of industry the farmer would share the benefit.

{11} I do not wish to be too detailed in this suggestion. I know what we shall do in our own part of the country and with our own people. How this method is to be suited to conditions in all parts of the country must be determined. I am urging Branch Managers of the Ford Motor Company and Ford dealers everywhere to study this suggestion and find the best method of applying it to their communities.

{12} It is not a question of selling land, or of rents. Those who have the land must offer it to those who will use it. We ourselves shall farm large tracts of land, not for profit, but in experimental search for new market outlets for the farmer. We are saying to our people: "Here is the land. How much can you use?" For several years we have been running large crops of everything from sunflowers to soy beans through our chemical laboratory, in an effort to find an annual market for the farmer's produce-but that is a story I shall have to postpone until the next issue of this publication. I mention it now to show that even in these larger operations we are not entering into competition with the farmer. Our hope for agriculture is to make it the partner of industry.

Return to the Hanover College History Department.