Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/82

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78
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

concerns, mindful perhaps of 1879 and 1880, determined that prices for manufactured products should not exceed a fixed scale, more being ruinous — and they maintained that scale in spite of greatly increased cost of pig metal. The result was almost uninterrupted prosperity until 1907, when the whirlwind of senseless attacks on corporations, as such, swept over the country. Even now the prostration is unlike that following 1873 and 1893. The great organizations, during their prosperity, laid aside a surplus for evil days. "When disaster came a year ago, there was no wild rush to dispose of accumulated stocks; there was no crash in prices; there was no wholesale reduction in wages. While there has been want in the distributing centers, the country at large has known no such wide-spread distress as that which followed former business disasters.

But the wisdom of our rulers has made consolidation or combination of competing interests unlawful. A New York judge recently decided that consolidation, even though advantageous to the public, is illegal in case it involve stoppage of competition. If two grocers on opposite corners have waged war until both are threatened with bankruptcy, their friends would advise them to reach an understanding, might advise even union and the closing of one shop, that by reducing expenses and selling at a fair profit they might gain an honest living. Yet there is reason to believe that such a course might be adjudged contrary to law, being a conspiracy to increase cost of necessaries of life. Their customers would certainly express that opinion.

This is no exaggeration. Residents of New York City were well satisfied some years ago to buy coal at $4.50 per ton, wholly indifferent to the fact that the anthracite companies were engaged in reckless and unjustifiable strife. When the contest had gone so far that bankruptcy seemed inevitable for some of the companies, the officers awoke to their responsibility to the helpless stockholders, whose interests they were to guard. An agreement was made to mine no more coal than the market demanded and to charge a price which would enable them to pay fair wages, to meet their obligations and to earn interest on their investments. At once the customers were filled with indignation, the papers denounced the oppressive "coal barons" and agitation began which eventuated in legislation so drastic that, were it sustained by the courts and fully enforced, the companies, deprived of rights guaranteed them half a century ago, would be forced into bankruptcy and millions of persons would be plunged into misery. There is a strong popular feeling that live and let live is the only true policy; but clearly the popular interpretation of this doctrine is wholly one-sided, the policy must favor the consumer alone — in forgetfulness of