Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/556

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

in these great interests will be jeopardized. The value of any investment depends entirely upon its earning capacity, or upon the benefit or increase that can be realized from it. If the present or prospective earning power of any property is impaired, then, in the same proportion, the principal invested in the enterprise will be diminished in value. Proceed but a step further, and wipe out the revenue-producing capacity, and the total value of the investment is destroyed. These points are so plain as to be almost self-evident, but yet there is danger of their being overlooked or ignored.

What will be the result if the prices for railway service and transportation are to be controlled by the uncertain and often unintelligent action of a bare majority of a popular body of legislators. If members of Congress were all intelligent and conscientious experts, and if railway legislation were free from the element of demagogism, the case would be quite different. We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that the time may be not far distant when not only the tariffs, but the veritable value of railway property will depend upon the whim and caprice of a bare majority of the ever-changing politicians who compose our national Congress. The railway interest of the country may well shrink from a near view of the logical sequence to the socialistic demagogism now so prevalent both in Congress and outside of it. An increasing number of pseudo-political economists are advocating governmental ownership of railways, among whom are found a few prominent professors and clergymen, who are distinguished for their voluminous theories, but whose ideas are destitute of any practical element. Any plan of transferring the vast railway interests of the United States, with which our general prosperity is so bound up, from business to political control, seems unworthy of candid consideration. With assets of four billions added to spoils already too great, to be fought over every four years by politicians, together with the unlimited patronage connected therewith, the result would be certain and utter corruption and demoralization. Many sentimental and visionary persons idealize the Government into a great infallible, allpowerful personality, which makes no mistakes, and which can accomplish impossible things; but the real Government is very unlike this ideal.

But let us return to the question, What are the proper limits of railway legislation? Clearly within these limits may be mentioned all such advisory powers and offices as are exercised so successfully by the Massachusetts State Commission, including the protection of the public by all proper moral, mechanical, and police restrictions and regulations. To these may properly be added regulations against discrimination, and the doing away with the abuses of the "free-pass" system. On the other hand, the domain of prices and rates is distinctly and properly outside of legislative jurisdiction, and, for the general good, should be left subject to elastic natural laws. Price-