Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/433

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

materially to these duties. The "new" social reformer has become convinced by his study of social science that municipalities should in every case have their own waterworks system; that they should have their own gas and electric lighting plant; that they should own and run the street cars; that they should, in a word, take from the hands of private enterprise every industry that comes under that vague and inexact designation of "natural monopolies."

If the duties already intrusted to municipalities were performed with a skill and economy that evoked universal commendation, there might perhaps be something said in favor of their extension beyond the limit that Mr. Spencer has laid down, namely, the preservation of order and the protection of life and property. But what is the case? We venture to say that if any unprejudiced observer from another planet where the philosophy of Mr. Spencer is observed, had studied the municipal contests mentioned and were to express an opinion, he would say without the slightest qualification that it would be beyond human ingenuity to discover a more absurd, wasteful, and demoralizing method of doing business than the one through politics. Why it is that a truth so obvious does not thrust itself upon every thoughtful mind with an irresistible force is a mystery that must take high rank with the devotion of many intelligent people to Kneippism and other forms of quackery.

What was the problem that the elections were expected to solve? The assertion was made repeatedly that it was a very simple one, namely, whether public affairs were to be managed in a businesslike manner or in accordance with the interests of the politicians. As thus stated it was simple; but correctly stated it was complex in the highest degree. It was to select a large number of competent men for a large number of important duties, each requiring high character and special fitness. In the case of one city having a population of one hundred and sixty thousand, which may serve as a type, there were sixty seven such men to be chosen, not to mention the twenty constables, the two members of the Assembly, county clerk, county superintendent of the poor, and judge of the Court of Appeals. We all know how difficult it is to select one competent man for an important duty. We know, too, how often we fail. Think how much more difficult it is to select sixty-seven! Think, too, how great the chances are of failure!

But what were the steps taken to solve this problem? Were they such as would commend themselves to the proprietors of a great New England cotton mill or a great Pennsylvania steel foundry? Before each alderman, school commissioner, member of the board of public works, etc., was presented to the voters for their suffrages, were his moral character and his capacity for the duty to be intrusted to him carefully investigated and pronounced to be up to the standard required to conduct public affairs in accordance with business principles? Let the shameless intriguing at the caucuses and conventions, the despotic dictation of some party boss that placed them upon the party ticket in disregard of their moral and intellectual fitness answer this question.

It should be remembered that with certain exceptions there were two sets of candidates of this character presented to the voter for choice. What were the steps taken to enable him to select the better of the two lots? Did he listen to speakers familiar with the personal and busi-