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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/475

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THE POLITICAL CONTROL OF RAILWAYS.

no "pool," the act did not prevent but rather conserved unreasonableness; for—since a "pool" was not a "corner," but an attempt, by co-operation and convention of railway companies, to make rates "reasonable"—a law which does not give the railways a schedule itself, and forbids them to come together to make one, simply means that each company shall make its rates without consulting anybody but themselves: must work in the dark, independent of any considerations except its own local, presumptive, or past experiences, frictions, and financial difficulties. Railways must not only make bricks without straw, but make them at their peril; for if, upon being made, these rates prove to be discriminate—that is not absolutely perfect and uniform between individuals—then the Interstate Commerce Commission (and nobody knows when it may wake up and commence operations) can send the officers to jail and hold the road in breach of law. Clearly the only safe alternative for the road is either to wind up business at once, or do business at a loss and pass a dividend to get even, thereby placing its securities at the mercy of the wrecker and the stock-jobber!

It follows from the above that the interstate commerce law operates, if operated at all, to create rather than to abolish "discrimination." But let us be a little more explicit. If all the people in the United States were shippers over one railway, a law that no one person shall be given a better or worse rate than another might possibly prevent injustice (though, unless it also provided that the volume of business or the length of the haul be taken into account, it may well enough be questioned whether it would or not). Even the non-railway intellect must absorb such self-evident propositions as that it costs as much to load, unload, or stop a car that has run two miles as one that has run two hundred; that if the car must be returned without a load, it has not earned as much as if it had found a load back; that a long haul, with but one loading and one unloading, one stoppage, and a return cargo for the car, ought reasonably to be done for less than a short haul involving quite as much handling without a return load, and that a railroad company ought in all fairness to be allowed to give the shipper the benefit of the decreased expense to the company. But the interstate commerce law peremptorily tells the railroad company that it must not give this benefit to the shipper, under the pains and penalties of fine and imprisonment, in its pleasure, for contempt of court. But let us admit, for argument's sake, that a law providing that no shipper shall be charged more per pound than any other would prevent discrimination if all the shippers of freight in the United States shipped over a single road. Clearly, if they shipped, as these shippers do, not over one, but over some five hundred different