Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/631

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

far in doing harm to others without doing it to yourself. It is this fact which the insatiable legislation-monger ignores. He has an infinite faith in the mischief that will happen if things are left alone. He can not bear to think that somebody is not looking after everybody. He has no faith whatever in natural law or natural actions and reactions, and would hoot the idea of what the poet Wordsworth calls a "wise passiveness." Such people have little conception of the mischief they do, and of the good that fails of realization through their pestilent activity. The readers of Dickens will perhaps remember Mrs. Pardiggle and the admirable system of education she applied to her numerous family of children. The unhappy youngsters were under orders every hour of the day; they were marched round the country with their mother when she went on visits of charity, and compelled to contribute out of their own (nominal) pocket money to all kinds of religious and benevolent schemes. How they kicked and rebelled, and what distressing passions were roused in their youthful breasts, the great novelist has told us; and we think we may take his word for it. The fussy legislator is a Pardiggle. If he would leave things alone, opposing interests would find a modus vivendi, and practical justice would more and more assert itself. The more interference there is between parties who in the last resort are dependent on one another's good will, the less likely they are to recognize their substantial identity of interest. If the interference is wholly in the interest of one of the parties, the other is sure to be forced into an undesirable attitude; while the one whose protection is the object in view will not unnaturally take all the protection he can get, and look for something more.

What is wanted to put the relations between the railways and the public upon the most satisfactory footing possible is, in the first place, less legislative interference; and, in the second, a higher tone of business morality throughout the community. We place this second not as underrating its importance, but because we believe it would to some extent flow from the first. It is when the public transfers its right of eminent domain to a railway corporation that it should take adequate measures to protect its own interests; but how can this be done when legislation is sold—when charters are given or withheld, according to the amount of money available for purposes of persuasion? With honest legislators and honest courts there would be very little trouble between the railways and the public, and such as arose could be easily remedied. Commerce commissions are a testimony to the existence of low standards of business morality; and, unfortunately, they tend to keep them low, if not to make them lower.

The sooner we make up our minds to trust more to moral influences freely acting in the intercourse of man with man and of interest with interest, and less to legal compulsion, the better it will be for us in every department of our national life. The Thirteenth Annual Report of the Interstate Commerce Commission is a virtual confession of the failure of legislation to accomplish a purpose which was supposed to be easily within its field of action. The confession is coupled with a demand for more legislation, but, were the demand conceded, who can guarantee that more still would not be wanted? The railways are not at the end of their resources, and new laws would, we fear, be only too likely to suggest new means of evasion. No; the remedy lies elsewhere, and if Congress is wise it will give that remedy a trial by