The men whose foresight made possible the vast extension now see their property placed in jeopardy by means of their own processes, discovered at great cost, and they struggle to retain their own. Under such circumstances the importance of the golden rule is made very prominent, each side charging the other with neglect; yet, whatever may be the shortcomings of the older manufacturer, one must concede that the newcomer usually regards himself as the neighbor and therefore unfettered.
On the other hand, combinations have invaded areas regarded by others as their preserves; and here is involved the question of a man's natural right to secure a living easily at the expense of his fellows — that which is involved in the department-store problem. A corporation, under heavy fire recently, was charged with the crime of owning its retail shops, while selling its goods to retailers. Yet any self-respecting man would resent an effort to prevent him from selling his own goods according to any one of the approved methods. If a manufacturer, on large or small scale, choose to establish his own retail store or stores, no one has any right to complain — it matters not what the goods may be, cigars, shoes, oil or meats. In any event, such a method would be advantageous to the greater number by leading to division of middlemen's profits between maker and consumer.
The cry in many quarters is for unrestricted competition in trade, but recent events prove the cry to be utter hypocrisy. In one state a suit for ouster was brought against a corporation because, owing to competition, it sold its products more cheaply in some localities than in others. A similar suit was brought in another state because the company had set its prices so low for some years that no competitor could do anything in the region. Evidently the only free competition desired is that which would remain after binding the one on the ground — an open market for the newcomer. The opponent of that company is anxious to have the government enter into conspiracy with him to increase the cost of necessaries of life.
That conditions in commercial circles are not ideal is beyond question — they are far from ideal in any circles and they will never be otherwise until man has passed away and has been succeeded by a superior race of beings. But one must recognize that very much of the wickedness upon which writers descant so vehemently consists merely in so-called evasion of law. It is certain that serious dangers to the commonwealth are inherent to vast combinations of capital; and it is equally certain that imperfect legislation in the past opened the way to abuse, of which selfish men have not been slow to avail themselves. Some form of governmental control is necessary to prevent excess. All recognize that a corporation, being a creature of the law, does not possess natural rights as does an individual; but once