Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/661

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IT is not to government reports that a student of social science looks for warnings against the perils lurking in the enormous expenditures and the extraordinary enlargement of the duties of the state. Officials are usually so deeply impressed with the importance of their positions and so anxious to magnify the worth of their labors that they are prone to take the rosiest view of any part of the great clanking machine intrusted to their care. With the keenest pride they point to their achievements in furthering the work of human welfare. If modesty does not restrain them, they are certain to paint, with an artless faith in their own abilities, the still greater work that could be done with a slight increase of funds and a little more assistance. Not all officials, however, permit themselves to indulge in the natural vanity of bureaucrats. They refuse either to be blinded to the perpetual failure of state-made civilization, or to deceive the impoverished victims of the same costly system of modern magic. Of the very few of this class Mr. James H. Roberts, for five years Comptroller of the State of New York,[1] is perhaps the most conspicuous. Astray as he is on the question of a graded inheritance tax, and trustful as he is in the virtue of State supervision, he puts himself beyond criticism in his opposition to the policy of State socialism, now the rage at home and abroad. Indeed, no one could hold it up to graver reproach.

Whenever an observer of the signs of the times in the United States ventures to say that they offer little food for hope, he is branded as pessimistic or unpatriotic. He is told that if he had the confidence in democratic institutions of a man with a good digestion and a fair intelligence, he would know that they possess a vitality, a power of rejuvenation, that does not belong to an autocracy nor an aristocracy. If he is particularly despondent, and seeks to justify himself with fact and argument, he is denounced as a dangerous agitator, or, what is a shade more odious, as an absurd doctrinaire. But Mr. Roberts has not been consigned to any such depths of contempt. He is known as a "hard-headed business man," a title of honor that always frees the most ridiculous optimist from any suspicion of the theorist or sentimentalist. Yet, as the supervisor of the finances of a great State, he was brought in contact with a mass of phenomena that forced upon him the conviction that something is wrong, and that if it is not

  1. He was in office from January 1, 1894, to January 1, 1899.