These tables of statistics are periodically furnished by the Government, not only for purposes of contemplated legislation, but independently of all thought of immediate use. The fallacious use to which purely numerical facts can be put, with only too seductive a show of plausibility, is beginning to be fully acknowledged and guarded against. But the assurance that the registered number of births, deaths, and marriages, within a given period and area, as well as the periodical records of crime and disease, and, even more obviously, the tabulated increase or decrease of commerce, shipping, and manufactures of different sorts, may serve to point to the presence of general laws—that is, of permanent sequences of cause and effect—is a sufficient justification of the labor and expense involved in obtaining the severally relevant statistics. The comparison between the numerical results obtained at one time and place and another, and between those presented in different countries, is becoming a political method increasing in prevalence and repute. In many quarters, indeed, the value of purely numerical estimates has been much exaggerated, and its peculiar liability to error, when made a basis of political reasoning, has been too much ignored. But when its limits of application are duly recognized, and care is taken to distinguish legal and political causes from those which are purely ethical or sociological, the study and use of statistics must be regarded as a most valuable ally, and an unmistakable proof of the scientific character of political studies.
Akin to the token which the enlarged use of statistics affords of the growing recognition of Politics as a true science, is the ever-increasing disposition, at the present day, to await, at any political crisis, whether legislative or administrative, the result of a patient examination of evidence as to the state of the facts and the previous history of the question.
It is now the practice in the more advanced countries to take, in the path of serious political change, no step which seems to be other than the next step onward in a course which has become habitual, without first nominating, by one process or another, competent persons to conduct a critical examination and to deliberate and report upon the matter. The most searching powers are often intrusted to this body of persons to enable them to inform themselves not only as to all the interests, in their several proportions, to be affected by the new policy, but as to the history of the general policy pursued in the past, and occasionally even as to the practice in other countries.
It often, indeed, happens that after a laborious investigation, lasting for months or even for years, the popular interest in the once advocated policy is found to be exhausted, or diverted into new directions, and the thought of new legislation is abandoned, and a voluminous, costly, and invaluable report cast on one side. Such are among the inevitable accidents which retard the progress of Government.