Henry Ford Offers Advice During the Great Depression

Printed in Literary Digest, June 18, 1932.


I have always had to work, whether any one hired me or not. For the first forty years of my life, I was an employe.  When not employed by others, I employed myself.  I found very early that being out of hire was not necessarily being out of work.  The first means that your employer has not found something for you to do; the second means that you are waiting until he does.


We nowadays think of work as something that others find for us to do, call us to do, and pay us to do.  No doubt our industrial growth is largely responsible for that.  We have accustomed men to think of work that way . . .


But something entirely outside the workshops of the nation has affected this hired employment very seriously.  The word “unemployment” has become one of the most dreadful words in the language.  The condition itself has become the concern of every person in the country . . . .


I do not believe in routine charity.  I think it a shameful thing that any man should have to stoop to take it, or give it.  I do not include human helpfulness under the name of charity.  My quarrel with charity is that it is neither helpful nor human.  The charity of our cities is the most barbarous thing in our system, with the possible exception of our prisons.  What we call charity is a modern substitute for being personally kind, personally concerned and personally involved in the work of helping others in difficulty.  True charity is a much more costly effort than money-giving . . . .


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.  


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.


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 fall, but seedtime and harvest do not fail.


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.


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.