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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/558

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

that no more shall be charged for a shorter than for a longer haul, under substantially the same conditions, seems, at first sight, to be perfectly fair and just. But the business of transportation is peculiar, and unlike any other in which the absolute cost of the article can be estimated. The actual cost of transporting any given quantity of freight is not a fixed, but a variable quantity, depending on a great variety of circumstances and conditions.

If we examine the nature of the expenses of the average railway, we shall find that about one half of the total amount consists of what are known as "fixed charges," which are usually made up mainly of interest on the bonded indebtedness. Of the remaining expenses, which include the cost of operating, about one half may also be regarded as fixed in its character, so that, on an average, about three quarters of the entire expenses remain the same, whether much or little business is done. This explains why certain kinds of business which are created by remarkably cheap long hauls can be profitably taken at very low rates, for it is almost so much clear gain to the road. All the necessary help, track, appliances, and machinery must be maintained, whether it is done or not. Shorter-distance rates, though higher in proportion, are yet a little cheaper than they could be in case this special cheap, long-haul business is destroyed by legislative regulation. Many of these special kinds of business have already been paralyzed or temporarily destroyed by the operation of the "long-and-short-haul clause," and can only exist under former free conditions. If they are destroyed, the quota they have heretofore paid toward railway revenue must be made up by other classes of business, and shorter rates must, therefore, necessarily be higher than before. As an instance, the long-haul business between New Orleans and New York or Boston, now being done by water, will deprive certain roads of some revenue they have formerly received, and, as a result, they will have to make its place good by higher local rates. Such an effect will be inevitable in the long run. It will be seen that the free, elastic, and ever-present operation of natural law in this, as in other kinds of business, will produce better results for all concerned than is possible from any amount of uncertain, spasmodic legislation, which at best will be artificial in its character. Such enactments in the department of rate- or price-making will only tend to hamper and embarrass traffic, obstruct commerce, and aggravate the abuses which it is vainly hoped may thereby be cured. Supply, demand, and competition are like great ocean-currents, silent, but powerful, and any attempts to set up artificial barriers will always produce friction, confusion, and loss. In any contest between the natural and the artificial, the latter must yield, and, if resistance is made, harmful results will surely follow.

This has been illustrated by "Granger" legislation, usury laws, and, in a variety of other attempts to override natural law, by a harmful excess of legislative enactment. The question of the present time