Stewart for crushing out so many small dealers are the same parties that say the great curse of society is the number of middle-men it has to carry. If there were anything in this, then Stewart certainly operated in the right direction by getting rid of a portion of the incumbrance; and he got rid of it in the right way, for he allured the customers to his shop by giving better bargains. Something was saved to buyers when they patronized him. Each buyer carried away a little bonus when he left Stewart's store. Something better than a chromo was obtained. It was a cent a yard on cashmeres, perhaps, an eighth of a cent on calico, a shaving on tapes, and a trifle on a paper of pins—just enough to get so much of the trade of the small fellows that they must retire.
Of course it follows that, if he still made too much profit, then he ought to have sold cheaper yet, so as to have driven out another lot of traders. But when we say "ought" in such a case, we must have some rule of a practical nature by which to determine the matter. This we do not have. We know that this merchant sold goods at so little profit that he ruined hundreds of competitors, and compelled their retirement from the field. Shall we say that they ought to have sold any lower? How can we ask him to sell at a profit on which the average trader breaks and starves? Shall we say that he did so much business that he was able to do it for less? But that does not meet the point. That is only saying he should have done less, and not that he should have done it cheaper. Society had no claim on him in this regard, and would have made nothing had it tried to enforce any. Had society asked him to sell less, all the goods not sold by him must have been sold by others, and at as high or higher rates. So society would not have been relieved of its burden of parting with so much of its product as was represented in the commissions or profits taken by Stewart.
But there is another view of it that brings us to the same conclusion. Stewart was in business for about forty years, and for many years sold twenty millions of goods per year. Had he sold but fifteen millions per year at a profit of five per cent, and invested the profit with his usual sagacity, he would have been worth more than thirty millions at the end of his forty years. That he left but thirty millions proves that his profit was not over five per cent on the average. The margin for labor to gain from is, therefore, in the neighborhood of five per cent, because Stewart has proved that the ordinary man can not part with more than that and continue in business. In other words, business stops when the margin goes down much below that rate.
There are some lines of business in which the profit is at times more than five per cent, but in the long run the average can not