Изображения страниц

school of experience, in which, under certain circumstances, the intensity of perception may be made to approach those exalted hypnotic states in which the senses as well as the other faculties become capable of performing what seem to be miracles. And this sharpening of the human faculties may as well take place in the direction of perceiving utilities in the objects and phenomena of nature as in the narrower fields above mentioned. The lumberman, the savage, the horse, the dog, and the wild animal observe those things, and no others, that are, from the standpoint of each, practical, and this sense of the practical constitutes a school in which these acute perceptions are trained. It is not radically different with the trained scientific specialist. He simply has an expanded conception of the practical, which in all cases is that which satisfies the demands of a being, whether those demands be low and simple or high and complex.

To those who can rise to the contemplation of society as a conscious organism of the highest and most complex character, and who understand what its progress consists in, as above defined, it must be obvious that the most eminently practical of all things is the subjugation of nature to man. Thus far this has been accomplished empirically, at hap-hazard, and, as it were, by accident. The educational training of the mind and hand together on a grand scale in the public schools, through the conscious action of nationalities throughout the civilized world, is the first effort ever made by society to lift the work of civilization out of the empirical groove and place it upon the high plane of systematic science. And if the movement continues, as there is every reason to believe it will continue, there is no cause to doubt that we shall see, upon a scale commensurate with civilization itself, all the difference which has ever attended the transfer of any human art from the stage of raw empiricism. to that of organized science.



THE most prominent economic development now engaging public attention is, undoubtedly, the rapid multiplication of "trusts." The use of the word trust in its present popular significance is of recent date. A trust may be defined as a more or less intimate combination of business corporations or manufacturers for supposed mutual advantage. These different interests unite and agree upon a proportionate representation for each member, and also upon an amount of aggregate capitalization, and certificates of stock are then issued in due proportion to each of the various component organizations. Proper officers and an executive board are elected, who have full powers of management, including the purchase of raw material, the regulation of production, and the supervision of selling prices, terms, and conditions. A trust usually embraces only companies or individuals engaged in producing a single article of merchandise, or a class of such articles, although in a few cases, like the unusually compact Standard Oil Trust, a much wider variety of business is transacted. (The rapid formation and growth of these gigantic combinations is popularly looked upon with apprehension, for it is believed that their object is to destroy or greatly lessen the forces of competition, to consolidate, monopolize, and often to restrict, production, and thereby to enhance prices beyond what would be possible under the free and elastic natural law of supply and demand. Such an extensive and novel economic development is well calculated to cause alarm, and the question as to its possible extension and its possibilities for mischief is one of general interest. Can a trust be so planned as virtually to destroy competition, or are there in the business world natural laws and inherent limitations that will bind this "strong man" and make him comparatively harmless? The general investigation of this system now going on in both national and State legislative

bodies, through special committees, is an index of the interest. taken in this subject by citizens of every class. It is, however, a fact that such legislative investigations are often prompted by a mixture of motives, the desire for information being frequently tempered by considerations of party or personal political advantage, and even by demagogism pure and simple. Such motives often are so apparent in political investigations that their results. are not always above suspicion, and are usually discounted by the most enlightened public opinion. From the nature of the case the average legislator cannot be an economic expert, and he often forms his conclusions from temporary symptoms and surface indications, rather than from an intelligent appreciation of underlying principles. In order that the truth may be evolvedx and just conclusions reached, it is necessary that an impartial examination of the principles of the trust system be made, and their relation to the rules of a sound political economy determined.

In order to give this subject fair treatment, we must avoid falling into the popular habit of condemning every organization that is great, without regard to its inherent character. Wex ought also to examine any system on its merits, rather than mainly on its possible abuses. All human institutions, even X when meritorious in themselves, have their quota of abuses. Their magnitude is a question of expediency and economy, and not of ethical quality. Our complex and highly organized civilization could not exist were it not for the potency of great organic units, the component parts of which have been fitted together from dissimilar elements. There is much greater economy, and less relative friction, in the movement of one great wheel than of several small ones. Where are the true limitations of such productive force and of such economy to be found? If trusts are to be condemned, it must be on some other ground than that of mere magnitude. There has been, in some respects, a great X change in the consensus of opinion of the best economic authorities during the last two decades. When the movement first commenced for the consolidation of independent railroads into great trunk lines and systems, it was regarded as very objectionable, and as likely to produce undue concentration of power. It

has since been generally admitted that, by this means, not only has the service rendered to the public been greatly cheapened, but that its convenience, rapidity, and comfort also have been wonderfully enhanced. It is a case of the "survival of the fittest," and of a development of the lower into the higher; and all this has taken place not by chance, or because of any local or temporary reasons, but in obedience to the pressure and behest of unvarying natural law. In no other way could such a degree of perfection in appliances, rapidity, and safety have been secured. Modern convenience, comfort, and luxury are the results of the law of combination and consolidation. A great railroad system can render to the public a service immeasurably superior in luxury, cheapness, speed, and safety to that which would be pos sible with the distinct corporations before consolidation. Many other examples might be noted to show the beneficent working of this law. The popular prejudice against its operation is unpractical and illogical, and is due to the prevalence of an unwholesome sentimentalism.

Does the trust system promise any such measure of utility as that just noted in the case of railroad consolidations, or are the principles involved quite dissimilar? While the possible harm. ful power of trusts is vastly overrated, we shall find, upon further study, that the trust system has in it no such possible advantages as those which characterize railroad and other more closely compacted organizations. Only a short time will be required to develop its weak points, and, notwithstanding popu lar apprehension, it will be found that such combinations cannot rise superior to supply and demand, action and reaction, worldwide competition, and all the natural forces which, though silent, are sovereign and continuous. There are penalties for the violation of natural laws, and, though often apparently slow, they are sure, because inherent in the nature of things. Indirect reg ulative influences and unexpected compensations make their presence felt, and finally assert their supremacy over all artificial combinations. The power of a great combination to restrict production, and to advance prices of product to a point above the normal standard, may temporarily prevail, just as a weight can be lifted by artificial means, and made to overcome, for the time

being, the law of gravitation. The economic no less than the X physical law remains operative, however, and, sooner or later, the artificial obstructions are overcome, and the specific gravity of values finds its natural adjustment. The radical defect in the current social and political economy is the disregard of irreversible natural forces, and the substitution for them of temporary and superficial expedients. There is a prevalent impression that the omnipresent influences of supply and demand, which in reality form the focal point in every transaction, have either been repealed or gone out of fashion, and any reference to them is criticised by the "advanced" economists as behind the times. Such fallacious opinions are also found to be almost universal among manual laborers. They seek by combination to overcome natural law, and to make artificial values for their labor, and also to restrict its supply by a compulsory diminution of hours. In the vain hope of the accomplishment of this result, they voluntarily put themselves under a tyranny, and fight to overcome a supposed foe in the shape of capital, when in reality their conflict is with the law of supply and demand. Action is always followed by reaction. As sure as daylight is followed by darkness, or as air rushes in to fill a vacuum, so surely are abnormally high prices followed by prices correspondingly low. If values are artificially forced above the normal business level at one time, a drop to a point below it will follow, and the higher the flight the more rapid and the greater will be the descent.

In simple justice to the promoters of trusts it must be admitted that, in many cases, there have been other objects sought than the enhancement of values. A greater regularity of production and steadiness of prices, a more uniform system of credits, the prevention of an unhealthful and losing competition; all these objects have been among the motives that have prompted their formation. Such objects seem quite creditable, but it will probably be found that so cumbersome a remedy will prove inadequate, and possibly in its effects worse than the evils for which the cure is sought. As a general rule, any consolidation which reduces the cost of production is legitimate, and contributes to the public welfare. On the other hand, any combination whose primary object is the forcing of abnormal prices is

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »