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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/641

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COMPETITION AND THE TRUSTS.

effects good and evil. While it brings the latest products of metropolitan taste and skill to the remotest and smallest settlements, its services, when ignorantly and chancefully directed, as in the case of the Adirondack village, result in waste and loss. An agent of shrewdness and fidelity can exercise a very valuable watchfulness over his principal's debtors, yet a system which tends to make a "connection" the property of an agent, transferable to a new employer, is not one to diminish the liabilities and cares of business management. But the chief evil of the over-solicitation which is so common is the undue cheapening of credit. While it continues to be as difficult as ever for a merchant to borrow money, there is nothing easier than his getting credit for money's worth in the form of goods. Whereas an old-time shop-keeper, in his face-to-face transactions with a wholesale merchant or manufacturer, explained why he deserved credit when he wanted it, nowadays persuading people to take credit, even for what they do not want and may not pay for, has become a fine art; while the investigation of the creditability of firms is the function of immense "commercial agencies." A step in the direction of sound business organization has been taken by the employment of commercial travelers to ascertain a demand before it is supplied. A manufacturer of hats or straw-goods designs a variety of styles for an approaching season's trade, and turns out the quantities ordered and no more. By similar methods many importers avoid carrying large stocks of goods, and are becoming more and more commission-merchants, or brokers, unburdened by the rent of extensive premises and the losses incidental to buying for chance sale.

In Great Britain, every year, more than a hundred million dollars' worth of goods are distributed at retail at a gross cost little exceeding five per cent. In New England the experimental imitations of British co-operation have transacted business at an expense one half more, 7ยท7 per cent. Retail distribution in America probably costs twenty per cent of the prices consumers pay, and, because of their utter absence of organization, the outlays for solicitation constantly grow. Conspicuous premises are leased at enormous rents to attract chance buyers. Windows are decked by artists whose skill is a specialty, invoking the aid of scene-painter and stage-mechanic. Newspapers are filled with adroit and reiterated allurements. Circulars repeat them; hoardings re-echo them. At home the bell-ringing army of hawkers and canvassers consume time which is money, and patience, which is more. Minor articles of use or beauty are gratuitously distributed, to remind us at every turn of the merits of some pill, soap, or insurance company. Who shall measure the cost of all this to the solicited, in distraction and annoyance? One of the most promising fields