Is honest work really a virtue?

By Jim Whitt

Years ago while on a speaking tour in Asia I flew into Jakarta, Indonesia. As I exited the airport I was mobbed by cab drivers trying to underbid each other for the opportunity to drive me into the city. I held them at bay as best I could when one asked, in very good English, where I was from. I told him I was from the United States. His next question was, “Where in the United States?” I said Oklahoma. His response made me laugh, “Ah, Halliburton!”

Travel to an oil or gas field anywhere in the world and odds are Halliburton was there ahead of you. The Indonesian cab driver obviously had driven many Halliburton employees in his career and knew that Duncan, Oklahoma was the birthplace of the company. That’s where Erle P. Halliburton invented, perfected, and patented a new method of oil well cementing in 1919.

By 1946 Halliburton was doing business around the world. A copy of a letter written by Mr. Halliburton dated June 5 of that year found its way into my hands courtesy of my friend Phillip Beatty, a geophysicist who works with a client of mine in the energy industry. Although it is addressed to a John T.  Ammerman in McPherson, Kansas it appears to be a “state of the company” letter that might have been sent to all employees.

Written only a year after the end of World War II, Mr. Halliburton made this observation: “We have found that the people of Europe who attempted to gain a Utopia through a force of arms find themselves dependent upon our generosity if they are to avoid starvation. Too many people abroad have long ignored a fundamental law of nature — that man must work and produce his own individual prosperity and happiness. So many have yet to discover there is virtue in honest work.” He goes on to express his fear that there are those in the United States who may have forgotten that lesson as well: “They have shut their eyes to the fact that economic security can only be gained by production.” Mr. Halliburton goes on to devote most of his letter about how capitalism works using specific examples from his own company and workers.

Mr. Halliburton would be shocked to learn that 57 years after he wrote his letter that economic security is not gained by production but by spending money you don’t have ($3.5 trillion plus annually with a deficit of more than $1 trillion), borrowing money you can never repay (the national debt is $16.5 trillion plus) and just printing more money (the Federal Reserve is pumping an additional $85 billion a month into the economy). He’d also be surprised to discover honest work is not a virtue (the number of people receiving food stamps averaged 46,609,072 every month of last year). All of these numbers are all-time highs in history.

And yet the Dow Jones Average is at an all-time high! Why worry about an $85 billion Sequester? That’s just one month’s worth of Quantitative Easing (printing money). We’re living in Utopia!

I suppose we really shouldn’t take Mr. Halliburton’s old-time philosophy too seriously. Then again, Edward Luce made this statement in a recent article for the Financial Times: “Without the Fed’s easy money the stock market would be languishing and unemployment would be rising.”

I doubt the phrase “easy money” was ever uttered from the lips of Erle P. Halliburton. His philosophy is hopelessly outdated. A fundamental law of nature — that man must work and produce his own individual prosperity and happiness? Honest work a virtue?  No sir! It’s a new world. The laws of nature have been suspended. But then I read the last sentence of Mr. Halliburton’s letter: “Unless we are willing to assume the responsibility of citizenship we will surely lose not only our economic security but our freedom as well.”

You don’t suppose he could be right do you?

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