The Story of a Great Monopoly

"America has the proud satisfaction of having furnished the world with the greatest, wisest, and meanest monopoly known to history."
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Only two important Western roads east of the Mississippi do not belong to it, the Rock Island and the Northwestern, but they are both in the Gould-Vanderbilt system, and are operated in substantial harmony with the pool. Ex-Governor Seymour, of New York, in an interview at Utica with a special correspondent of the New York World, held that national regulation of the railroads ought to be opposed by New Yorkers, because it would take away from New York its advantage of position in the struggle with Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore for the business of the West. Governor Seymour is apparently not aware that the Fink pool have already done this. One of their main regulations is that rates from common Western points of shipment, like Chicago to Europe, shall be the same whether made through New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or Baltimore. Of this latest pool Mr. Albert Fink is the executive, periodical meetings of the representatives of the roads form its legislature, and a Board of Arbitration, composed of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., John A. Wright, and David A. Wells, is its judiciary. It has lasted a little over a year, and its members are bound to keep the peace till 1884.

It is a stronger union than any the roads have yet made, and is the most powerful, the richest, and the ablest trades union that has yet confronted any government or people. Its managers claim to have abolished all special rates. All shippers, Commissioner Fink said at the meeting of the pool legislature at Chicago in December, are treated alike in the territory of the combination. There must have been a big mental reservation as to the Standard Oil Company and its competitors in Mr. Fink's statement. He also says, rates are now fixed on a reasonable basis and a permanent one. As to the reasonableness, it must be remembered that the increase in rates last winter excited a great deal of indignation in the West, and was everywhere claimed to be unreasonable in that part of the country. As to the permanence, it is too soon to speak. Mr. Fink dreams of taking into the pool all the railroads between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and the Southern system, and so forming a great national federation of railroads.

There must be one universal pool, or no pool. To make these pools binding, he plans to ask Congress to enforce contracts between railroads, so that if a road violates its agreement not to compete, it can be brought to terms in the courts. Whatever merits it may have, the Fink pool is secret, irresponsible, and voluntary only. Reporters—that is, the public—were excluded from the annual meeting at Chicago. The pool is not of the people, for the people. Its judiciary arbitrate between the roads, not between the roads and the people. These pools must be either dispersed, as the Reagan bill proposed, or controlled, as Charles Francis Adams, Jr., would do, by legalizing the federation. The cat must be killed or belled. In either case, it must be confronted by a power greater than itself. There is but one such power.

Our experience in the riots of 1877, in the countless cases of excessive and unfair railroad taxation fairly represented by the case of the Standard Oil Company, and in pools, which have culminated in the Great Trunk Line Executive Committee, makes it clear that an adequate power must be called in to secure these things:—

(1.) Railroad charges must be public. Publicity is the great moral disinfectant.

(2.) They must be stable. In transportation, as in currency, taxation, and the law, it is indispensable that the citizen know what to count on.

(3.) They must be reasonable. They must be based on the cost of the service, not on what people will stand. The community will not be taxed to pay dividends and interest on the $54,507,000 of water in the New York Central, the $63,963,881 in the Erie, the $13,000,000 in the New York Elevated roads, and so on through the list, or to fatten corrupt railroad officials, like the secret stockholders in the Acme Oil Company.

(4.) They must be equal; for similar services, similar rates. If the absolute equality of the post-office, which sells stamps at the same price by one or one million, is not practicable, and there must be wholesale and retail rates, let the additional charge—as in the case of the single harvester of the small farmer along the Northern Pacific—in no case exceed the actual additional cost of handling and hauling.

(5.) Railroads and railroad men must exercise their public functions. No road shall voluntarily stop running, as several roads did in July, 1877, and no railroad man or multiple of him shall desert his post or interfere with the operation of any road.

(6.) There must be a national board to hear the complaints of citizens and railroads, with power to take testimony, to investigate abuses, to publish the results, and to call upon the legal officers of the government to prosecute where prosecution is needed.

(7.) Under the constitutional right of Congress to pass laws and levy taxes, "to establish justice," there must be such amendment of the law and its processes that all violations of the duties of common carriers, "in commerce among the States," can be prosecuted by civil or criminal proceedings promptly and cheaply.

The costliness, the delays, and the technicalities of our law amount to a denial of justice that is eating deep into the hearts of the people. Only the rich can get justice; only the poor cannot escape it.

In less than the ordinary span of a life-time, our railroads have brought upon us the worst labor disturbance, the greatest of monopolies, and the most formidable combination of money and brains that ever overshadowed a state. The time has come to face the fact that the forces of capital and industry have outgrown the forces of our government. The corporation and the trades-union have forgotten that they are the creatures of the state. Our strong men are engaged in a headlong fight for fortune, power, precedence, success. Americans as they are, they ride over the people like Juggernaut to gain their ends. The moralists have preached to them since the world began, and have failed. The common people, the nation, must take them in hand. The people can be successful only when they are right. When monopolies succeed, the people fail; when a rich criminal escapes justice, the people are punished; when a legislature is bribed, the people are cheated. There is nobody richer than Vanderbilt except the body of citizens; no corporation more powerful than the transcontinental railroad except the corporate sovereign at Washington. The nation is the engine of the people. They must use it for their industrial life, as they used it in 1861 for their political life. The States have failed. The United States must succeed, or the people will perish.

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