Ed Driscoll

Henry Luce has Left the Building

After co-founding Time magazine in the 1920s, publisher Henry Luce set to work designing his next magazine, Fortune, which debuted in 1930. As Alan Brinkley wrote in his 2010 biography, The Publisher, Luce had lofty goals for his publication devoted to the business world, and the man who made it work:

Fortune did not set out to be a cheerleader for businessmen. But it did intend to elevate the importance of business in the minds of its readers. “Accurately, vividly and concretely to describe Modern Business is the greatest journalistic assignment in history,” Luce’s prospectus announced. Even years later Fortune described itself as “a magazine with a mission. That mission is to assist in the successful development of American Business Enterprise at home and abroad.” But the real story of business, Luce insisted, was not simply industry and financial markets. It was “the daily activity of millions of men throughout the country and throughout the world.” Fortune would look beyond the obvious stories of great corporations and their leaders and search for opportunities to illuminate the workings of economic life. In a sense, therefore, Fortune’s charge was nearly without limits. It would be “the log-book, the critical history, the … record of Twentieth Century industrial civilization.” It would also, Luce insisted, be without ideological boundaries. “Not always flattering will be these descriptions,” the prospectus announced (in high Time style), for Fortune “is neither puffer or booster. Both of ships and of men, Fortune will attempt to write critically, appraisingly … with unbridled curiosity.” Reading Fortune, moreover, “may be one of the keenest pleasures in the life of every subscriber.”

And those men would be needed to build The American Century, whose manifesto Brinkley quotes Luce writing a decade later:

The creation of an American century would require great vision. It would mean a commitment to “an economic order compatible with freedom and progress.” It would mean a willingness to “send out through the world [America’s] technical and artistic skills. Engineers, scientists, doctors, movie men, makers of entertainment, developers of airlines, builders of roads, teachers, educators.” It would mean becoming “the Good Samaritan of the entire world,” with a duty “to feed all the people of the world who … are hungry and destitute.”

So what of the modern businessman seeking his fortune today? The current incarnation of Time magazine has rather harsh words. “Got Money? Then You Might Lack Compassion,” a recent article claims. “Are the rich really the unfeeling boors they’re made out to be? Studies suggest that the richer people are, the less compassion they show:”

Pity the poor plutocrat. Politicians want to tax them, Occupy Wall Streeters mock them, 99% of their fellow citizens are mad at them (even if they secretly want to be one of them). Now comes word from the University of California, Berkeley, that is not likely to send their approval ratings any higher: a new study has confirmed that the richer you are the less compassionate you are — and don’t gloat, you upper-middle classers, that includes you too.

According to Forbes, “58 year old Jeffrey L Bewkes has been CEO of Time Warner for 3 years,” and earns a little over $15 million a year. Why does his magazine hate him so?

To be fair, the 21st century incarnation of Time isn’t too crazy about most of its potential readers, let alone its publisher. No wonder the majority of Americans have increasingly returned the favor.