Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/251

This page has been validated.
239
EDITOR'S TABLE.

cussion, and, equally of course, much loose talk.

The obvious fact that many of the men who have been chosen, or have assumed, to take care of the savings of the frugal have proved to be wholly unworthy shows, it is often argued, an alarming decadence in the moral tone of the community, which is variously ascribed according to political or religious bias. There are not wanting those who assert that the whole social organism is unprecedentedly corrupt, and that the facts which have transpired are but a faint precursor of what is to come. But it is by no means clear that any such doleful view of the situation is warranted. The morals of trade may be loose enough, but it is not readily to be admitted that they are deteriorating.

It is true that the early history of savings-banks in this country shows no such dark picture. Previous to 1862, failures were rare; the banks were, as a rule, safely managed by fit men. A high order of financial or executive ability is not required for the management of a savings-bank, but integrity and common-sense are; the right paths are straight and well beaten—what is needed is a steadiness of purpose to resist the temptations that lead away from them. During the last fifteen years the number of these institutions has largely increased, and the process of natural selection does not seem to have developed safe officials as fast as they were wanted.

Nor is it alone that it has been necessary to put many new and untried men in places of trust. A higher degree of rectitude has been needed to bear the strain imposed by the speculation and recklessness of a period of inflation than was sufficient in the less trying days which preceded this era—this has not always been found. The prudence of any given man or class is not a fixed quantity, it is subject to fluctuations; it is weakened by the spirit of confidence and rashness that always marks a period of rising prices, and strengthened by the heroic treatment of adversity which is sure to come in with the reaction.

Of the details of the mismanagement which has led to disaster, and of the rules for properly conducting such institutions, it is not our present purpose to speak; but there is one idea which seems to be fundamental in all the remedies proposed that deserves attention.

State control in some form is the sole corrective which, in the opinion of those whose views find expression, is available; and there is something sublime in the faith apparently felt in government management, even by those who are loudest in their denunciations of office-holders—the only agents through whom a state can do its work.

The recommendations all assume one of two forms:

1. That a system of post-office savings-banks, similar to those now operating in England, be established; or—

2. That more thorough state inspection be instituted with a view to maintaining and purifying the present system.

Opinion is still divided in England as to the ultimate success of the scheme for post-office banks, but it has, so far, worked too well to permit unqualified condemnation. This success, however, has been wrought under conditions that do not obtain in the United States.

In the first place is the wide difference in the Civil Service of the two countries. Without going into comparisons it is safe to say that, until our much-talked-of reform shall have made some progress, it may be as well to go slow in committing savings-deposits to the custody of an irresponsible, ever-shifting set of officials, chosen without any reference to their natural fitness or training for the discharge of such a trust. "We already hear much of their delinquencies, and it is certain that the pro-