obtaining at a date when all government was more or less despotic (and generally more than less). Neither did a feudal system ever decree the prices at which its vassals should yield their labor. Supposing a railway company to have been in operation in the days of feudal systems, can any one imagine a law compelling it to make charges irrespective of the services it rendered? And yet, in a late session of the House of Representatives at Washington, a bill was, I am informed, introduced to forbid a railway company from carrying oil in tanks at lesser rates than it charged for carrying oil in barrels! (It is immaterial that oil in tanks can be carried with very little handling, and at an expense of labor and material very little over that required to run empty cars, while to transport it in barrels requires much handling, care, and watchfulness. Nothing in the way of detail, it appears, is material when politicians assume to legislate concerning railway companies.) Indeed, our railway companies might well clamor for and welcome a return to feudal systems, if they consulted their own convenience—to say nothing of their fixed charges! Nor would a return be such a bad thing for the anarchist or the socialist from his own standpoint. For, under feudalism, the subject was not touched by the crown-taxes—the taxes for revenue, for war-making, for internal protection. The fathers of our common law, in tracing the origin of property to "title by occupancy" to the garden of Eden (which Adam, at least until different arrangements were made, owned because he occupied it)—to the times when King Ahab, despot as he was, dared not help himself to Naboth's vineyard until, by ruse or device, he had divested Naboth's title—never denied the general proprietary title to the earth's surface which Mr. Henry George has selected as the proper one. They simply set it aside as inconvenient. But, whatever elemental title human beings may have to the use of the earth's surface as human beings, the railway company holds its title to its right of way by both alienation and use. It has purchased, but can only enjoy, so long as it serves the public. It is a public trust for a public convenience only. From the moment it ceases to serve the public and the public convenience, its franchises, its titles, its real estates lapse; and every court in Christendom has so decreed and maintained. If Mr. George's system of common proprietorship in real property were law to-day, he could not divest a railway company so long as it performed its functions. And yet it is over this industry, chartered only for the public facility—and simply because under and by reason of the immense convenience of that facility it requires enormous capitalizations and creates immense debts—that the politician squats, and the anarchist howls, and the communist grinds his teeth.
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/480
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.