« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
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influences of supply and demand, which in reality form the focal point in every transaction, have either been repealed or gone out of fashion, and any reference to them is criticised by the "advanced" economists as behind the times.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
temporarily harmful to the community, and, in the end, usually unprofitable to the promoters. At the time of this writing it is said that the sugar trust shows signs of disintegration. It is difficult to see how any mere combination of sugar refineries, each distinct and complete in itself, and located in different places, can in any way reduce the cost of production. Such a case is in no way parallel with that of railroad consolidation, for no improved processes, no greater economy in management, result. Such combinations, having no organic and necessary compactness, will soon discover that they are bound together by a rope of sand. Trusts of this character lack the essential element of organic unity; rather they are composed of several distinct and complete units, held together by an artificial bond. In such combinations the development of disagreement and inharmony will be but a question of time. The elements of disintegration are inherent in them, and will make themselves felt without any necessity for legislative interference.
The power of syndicates and combinations for making prices is vastly overrated. It may also be assumed that, as a rule, normal (or fair) rates for production or service are the most profitable. Artificial prices almost invariably cause such a shrinkage of demand that profits are lessened. The old adage of "large sales and small profits" is still the rule by which the greatest financial success is gained. Take an illustration: Could the "monopoly " which now controls almost the entire telegraph business of the whole country afford to advance its rates because it has no competition? It is probable that any material advance would so lessen demand that profits would diminish. This principle is universal, and is a vastly greater safeguard against exorbitant rates than any legislative enactment. Attempts to regulate rates, prices, and hours by statute are not only useless, but harmful. Natural, elastic, and self-regulative principles cannot be displaced by artificial and unyielding legislative metes and bounds, without causing derangement. The true function of legislation is not in the compulsory making of new contracts, but in the enforcement of existing agreements that have been voluntarily entered into. In the final result, the behests of legislation, when they come in conflict with natural law, are not
much more successful than are similar attempts by private or corporate combinations. Rapid communication and transportation, together with universal competition, exercise a powerful leveling influence on values.
The wealthy French syndicate, or combination, which has recently been formed for the purpose of controlling the price and production of copper, has embarked in an enterprise of very doubtful success. It will be interesting to watch the progress and outcome of this wide-reaching scheme. It is a conflict between unlimited capital on the one side and natural forces on the other. If reports are to be credited, this syndicate at first had no intention of making an effort to obtain the world-wide control of this metal; but, after advancing to a certain point, they found it necessary either to retreat at a disadvantage, or else to advance with the purpose of gaining full control of the total copper product. Without doubt they have almost unlimited resources, and it must be admitted that for the present they have succeeded in establishing an artificial market value for copper. One immediate result of the abnormal price will be a great falling off in consumption. The operation of this law usually causes demand to decline in a greater ratio than prices are enhanced. The second and most marked feature will be an immense, and probably unexpected, increase of production. With the great stimulus, not only of present artificial prices, but of contracts for future delivery at high rates, copper mining in every possible locality will be pushed to the utmost, and there is every reason for believing that in less than two years the French combination will have a mountain of copper on its hands. If the corresponding reaction to abnormally low prices does not in due time follow, the case will prove a remarkable exception to the result previously experienced in all similar operations.
Whatever temporary perturbations may be produced in market values by trusts and syndicates on the one hand, and by labor unions on the other, in the long run all prices make themselves. If this fact, or at least the ever-present tendency in this direction, were better appreciated, how much antagonism, friction, anxiety, and prejudice would be prevented. The unwarranted, and usually unprofitable, efforts to crowd prices out of their
natural channel are confined to no class nor condition. Harmony with natural law tends to profit and success, but efforts to defy its power are, as a rule, worse than useless. The sequence to forced abnormal conditions is compensation in one form or another. For instance, were it possible, by universal combination, to force up the price of all wages fifty per cent., the wageworker would gain no permanent advantage, for the simple reason that everything he should purchase would be dearer in the same proportion.
The application of these general principles to the trust indicates that when such a combination is formed for the mere purpose of reducing production, and also for forcing prices to a point above the normal, its purpose is adverse to the public interest, and that the final result will prove unprofitable to itself. Such would be the tendency even were all the manufacturers of a single product gathered into the trust, which practically never is the case. It is a fact which must be admitted by all, whether of free-trade or protective proclivities, that the tariff on any article produced by a trust would have a bearing in this connection. (Artificial or extravagant prices, though of temporary duration, could be longer maintained with only domestic competition than would be possible if competition were unlimited.)
In summing up, we may observe that combinations may be divided into two general classes, one of which is useful and advantageous to the public, and the other, though in no way dangerous, is unwarranted and of temporary harmfulness. The first, where production is increased and processes cheapened, by the compacting together of elements heretofore diverse into a great organic unity, is, no matter how great, a public advantage. The second class comprises those organizations which essentially are distinct units complete in themselves, strung together by an agreement for the mere purpose of regulating prices. These last need not excite public alarm, and are not worthy of legislative attention, for they have in them the elements of inharmony and dissolution.
THE TRIAL OF POPULAR GOVERNMENT.
I PURPOSE, in this paper, to present a comparative view of the so-called equilibrium, or balance of power, in the constitutions of the United States and Great Britain. This comparison was often made by eminent Americans in our early constitutional history, to the disparagement of the federal Constitution; many of our statesmen of that period, in common with English thinkers and writers generally, looking with profound distrust upon the form of government which had then recently been put upon its trial in the United States. They questioned the sufficiency of popular intelligence for self-government. They feared, more than all things else, democracy; and being frank and honest men, they did not hesitate to express their conviction that the conservative elements of the representative republic established by our Constitution would prove insufficient to maintain the balance of the system against the flood tides of democracy which they thought would inevitably rise and beat down the weak fabric. They knew, of course, that the authors of the federal Constitution had erected a frame of government very far removed from pure democracy. Indeed they could not fail to see all through the Constitution palpable indication of the purpose of its framers to protect the people against themselves, by numerous provisions intended to obstruct, defeat, or