But the pay hike was something else. By paying a wage that was significantly above what the market required, Ford was betraying his fellow business owners and putting the whole of American enterprise in jeopardy. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, then, as now, a hotbed of revanchism, sniffed: “To double the minimum wage, without regard to length of service, is to apply Biblical or spiritual principles where they do not belong.” Ford may have been seeking a place in heaven, the Journal warned, but this action would more likely consign him to hell. Ford has “in his social endeavor committed blunders, if not crimes. They may return to plague him and the industry he represents, as well as organized society.”
Of course, Ford was motivated more by self-interest than by altruism. Turnover was huge in the growing auto industry, as workers hopped from factory to factory in search of better wages. The nation was in the midst of a rising wave of labor activism that frequently turned to violence. International networks of communists, socialists, and various other types of radical syndicalists were organized and active in America’s largest cities—and occasionally tossed bombs at business owners. Raising wages proactively was clearly a way to buy some short-term labor peace.