Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/56

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46
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

while devices to rule commerce by the suspension of competition, and to exact arbitrary profits from the masses, are the extreme of selfishness and oppression. The universal nature of this truth was perceived when the world emerged from the mediæval system of economics, but it seems in danger of being forgotten. This is illustrated by the criticism of Mr. E. P. Alexander, the most recent writer on the railway question, that those who hold competition to be the only just measure of profits in any industry are years behind the age in comprehension of the science of the railway question."

Whatever there may be beyond platitude in the above is pure invention. The element of "the least cost" as parcel of the definition of "commerce" is certainly novel, and as interesting as it is novel. And certainly, too, the remainder of the sentence—from the words "the universal nature of this truth" (which truth?—Mr. Hudson has alluded to several) onward—is an extremely remarkable statement to come from the pen of a writer who assumes to deal with economical questions and matters of social science. The allusion to Mr. Alexander is equally childish, and without bearing upon the matter which we believe Mr. Hudson claims to be discussing; unless, indeed, he thought it necessary to show, in passing, how thoroughly he had failed to comprehend the question of American railway systems, to the discussion of which Mr. Alexander has lately contributed a most admirable monograph. When Mr. Alexander used the words dragged from their context as above, he was pointing out how the question of modern industrial competition had long since ceased to involve simple problems of competition in getting business alone; how it at present includes also the element of the cost versus the price of doing business at all—that is to say, the value of the opportunity to do business at all, as against the actual outlay in cost necessary to do the business brought to the party offering to do the business at all (which element, everybody—who knows anything of the matter at all—knows to be not only a very serious and a very practical one, but actually the paramount one, under present conditions). (As others besides Mr. Hudson may be ignorant of Mr. Alexander's meaning just here, I may explain that, to the railway, the value of doing a competing business, of keeping its trains running and so perpetuating its charter, is naturally always a larger consideration than the mere question of a profit—is, in fact, the most vital consideration that could be named. Or, should the question present itself differently: a bankrupt railroad is worse than no railroad at all. It can run recklessly and cheaply, since unable to respond in damages for lives or property injured or destroyed. And yet, were competition the only rule by which