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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/348

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

disgust against property has been expressed in the democratic far West, where refinement unpossessed of wealth jostles with the coarse ostentation of the bonanza kings.

The conquest of the weak by the strong, which must date from the very dawn of trade as from the first morning of life, has. been more remarkable than ever within the last generation or two. The new methods of rapid or instantaneous communication bring vast commercial fields under the scrutiny of the keenest business intellects, and the local knowledge of the small trader is overborne in competition by the capital, adroitness, or unscrupulousness of his metropolitan adversary. Modern business economy favors vast organizations which absorb feeble competitors, and convert men who were independent principals into the servants of a master-will, whether controlling an individual firm or a corporation.

The danger to the public interest in the growth of great monopolizing companies is proved in the case of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which had nominally a capital of eighty million dollars a year ago, upon which it had to pay dividends. Nearly fifty-five of the eighty millions was, however, fictitious stock—water, in the language of Wall Street (see "North American Review," March, 1881). In the "Atlantic Monthly" for March, 1881, it is stated that the Standard Oil Company refines nineteen twentieths of the coal-oil of the United States, and robs the public of eight and three quarter cents per gallon by its monopolizing control. And what makes the abuses of property so difficult of legislative reform is that monopolists in their schemes avail themselves of business rules which, in their ordinary working, are legitimate, and can not be safely interfered with. If a Legislature enacts that a company shall not divide more than ten per cent annually as profit, that company is sold out to another, and both of them can pay dividends up to ten per cent. Competition is abolished by exercise of the right of purchase and sale, whereby competing railway, steamboat, or telegraph lines may be controlled by a single capitalist or syndicate; the operation being aided by banking facilities whereby stocks can be pledged as collateral security for loans equal to eighty or ninety per cent of their market value. The presidents and directors of great companies who organize such operations, and who have at all times special and early information of the influences likely to affect the value of their stocks, either directly or through agents, and the margin system, frequently add large sums to their fortunes at the expense of ignorant shareholders. The ordinary operator in Wall Street loses simply because he plays against men whose dice are loaded. The tendency to corporate and wholesale management so plain in the vast enterprises of the country is manifest in the less noticeable. In the Western States the factory-system has invaded the corn-fields: grand culture, as it is called, has come into vogue; large capital, elaborate steam-machinery, and regiments of laborers, are cultivating the