On a more upbeat note, I just saw a fascinating article in the Globe about how all this to-do about contaminated products from China tends to forget that American capitalists did the same kind of shady things, or worse, when we were industrializing in the 19th century:
Taking a page from the British, who had pioneered many ingenious methods of adulteration a generation or two earlier, American manufacturers, distributors, and vendors of food began tampering with their products en masse — bulking out supplies with cheap filler, using dangerous additives to mask spoilage or to give foodstuffs a more appealing color.
A committee of would-be reformers who met in Boston in 1859 launched one of the first studies of American food purity, and their findings make for less-than-appetizing reading: candy was found to contain arsenic and dyed with copper chloride; conniving brewers mixed extracts of “nux vomica,” a tree that yields strychnine, to simulate the bitter taste of hops. … Sugar was blended with plaster of Paris, as was flour. Milk had been watered down, then bulked up with chalk and sheep’s brains. Hundred-pound bags of coffee labeled “Fine Old Java” turned out to consist of three-fifths dried peas, one-fifth chicory, and only one-fifth coffee.
I didn’t know it was that bad. When I was in England I heard that one of the ways Quaker businesses distinguished themselves was that people trusted they wouldn’t pull these kinds of dirty tricks. For example, the person told me, people trusted Cadbury’s to not put sawdust in the chocolate. I was surprised that people would’ve been all that worried about that back then, but now it makes sense.
How things have changed — the current (non-Quaker, tsk tsk) management of Cadbury’s recently decided not to alert the public of a salmonella contamination in their chocolate. The article quotes a business school professor as saying the company’s Quaker founders would have been appalled.
All of which brings us to the question, why are there so few Friends today in the business world? There are certainly some, but it seems to be an occupation that in some quarter is not always looked well upon, despite the fact that everyone at meeting depends on businesspeople for the wheels they got to meeting on. It’s seems related, though I’m not sure exactly how, to issues of social class among modern (liberal?) Quakers that have been talked about recently…