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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/474

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458
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ing load at small stations, fuel, grade, volume of traffic, cost of domestic goods at terminals as against direct importations from convenient ports of entry, rates of exchange, markets, first cost of plant, location and construction of track—and a few thousand other such items (an array which tends to make the practical railroad man's head swim by the very enumeration, but which are of no consequence whatever—are but the crackling of thorns under a pot—to the politician who represents his "district" in the Legislature or in the lobby), went into the consideration of the question of division of tariff receipts before the pool commissioner, (We may pause to ask, if reasonable rates were charged the public for transportation by a pooling road, what concern was it of the public's how the rates were divided when received? If I go into Delmonico's and pay a dollar for my luncheon, and on the way out stop at the cigar-stand and pay a quarter of a dollar for a cigar, what business is it of mine how the two cashiers I have paid equate the two payments—whether they turn them in as cash or merchandise, or itemized, or as items, or as receipts?) The public were not interested in the book-keeping methods of our railway companies. They were, however, very deeply interested in the cheapening of railway tariffs; and when, on the abolition of the pool, rate wars began again and tariffs advanced until—up to the first day of July the people had paid about $60,000,000 to the companies in excess of railway tariffs of the year before the interstate commerce law began to protect them against railway despotism—the people then began to look about for a possible cause. That cause was not far to seek. The railways, unable to meet and settle their differences in convention, where each should discuss its own problems and average them with the others, were forced to prepare each its own schedules independently. These separate schedule-tariffs were enforced and collected, and the Interstate Commerce Commission was able to say triumphantly, in its first annual report, that the act had operated directly to increase railroad earnings[1] in eight months from the approval of the act.

Why should it not have so operated? It could not have operated otherwise. That a carrier's rates should be "reasonable" had and has been common law for four hundred years, and by repronouncing it the interstate commerce law added nothing to its force. But to be "reasonable" a carrier's rate must not be unfair to either party. If it is unfair to the carrier—if it demands that he perform services for less by way of remuneration than it costs him to do the work—then the rate is certainly not "reasonable." And so it comes about that, by declaring in one paragraph that rates should be "reasonable" and in another that there should be

  1. Official edition, p. 41.