Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/20

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10
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

power to secure publicity; it is perhaps the most encouraging example in recent history of the power of government by public opinion.

Whether a national commission could work successfully in this way is very doubtful. The public opinion of the nation as a whole is not so easily brought to bear in any one direction as is that of a single State. The national railroad system is too vast, the interests of different sections too conflicting. It is desirable that a national commission should be charged with the enforcement of certain specific provisions against discrimination. It would be a herculean task; but it is one which needs to be done, and one which we may feel reasonably sure that the courts could not even attempt to do.

On the other hand, it is desirable that the commission should not be a mere prosecuting body, but should depend for its force upon the influence of public opinion behind it. In this respect, the bill now before the United States Senate is a good one. It avoids alike the error of those who would give the commission no definite authority, and those who would charge it with doing what is actually impossible. The bill, as reported, rigidly prohibits personal discrimination, and generally prohibits local discrimination; but under this latter head it empowers the commission to make exceptions. It says nothing about pools; and, if this discreet silence is maintained, such a commission might readily use pools as a means of protecting the shipper against discrimination, instead of allowing them to be used solely for the purposes of the railroad investors and managers.

The great danger is, that the bill is too moderate to pass. In spite of all that has been said and written on railroad questions, the great majority of men are extremists on this subject. Some want an absolute let-alone policy; some want an energetic attempt at control which would really defeat its own ends. Both of these classes are opposed to a bill of this kind. The advocates of the let-alone policy are afraid that it would be enforced. The advocates of vigorous control are afraid that it would stand in the way of more decisive action. They feel—and not altogether without reason that the prolonged absence of national control may ultimately bring the question of government ownership in the foreground.

It must be remembered that a very considerable portion of the community believes in government railroad ownership, at least as an ideal. They perhaps exaggerate the evils of the present system, and certainly have the most unreasonable expectations of the good to be obtained from a change. It has been seriously argued with much show of figures, in a reputable working-men's paper, that it is possible to carry passengers from New York to San Francisco at a dollar apiece and make money on it, and that everything above this represents sheer extortion, which would be avoided by government ownership! Now, as long as these things are believed, their absurdity makes them none the less dangerous. In forecasting the future, we must reckon with