A National Fund for Efficient Democracy

AMERICA’S greatest legacies are her greatest disappointment — religion, education, democracy! We extol them; we make sacrifices for them; we misuse and misunderstand them. Although their common aim is equal opportunity, not one means equal opportunity to the child ten years out of school. Not one approximates in action the picture drawn by teacher, preacher, publicist. The church complains of growing irreligion. Government admits that it has not been democratic. Educational institutions, according to their most honored leaders, have given in large measure miseducation; have been neither universal nor free; and, so far as their programme is executed, create special privilege for the educated, train for caste, and fail to educate for religion and democracy. Wherefore leaders — religious, educational, political — find themselves condoning “sins by society,” and unequal opportunities abhorrent to their faith and inconsistent with their platform.

Three causes of our disappointment have not heretofore been faced by American leaders of thought. (1) Religion and education have not seen that an efficient democracy is an indispensable element in making their dreams come true. (2) Religion and education, like democracy, have concerned themselves with purpose and personality, to the exclusion of method, act, and condition. (3) Church, school, and government are without a social programme that embraces the aims of religion, education, and democracy, and, at the same time, supplies the technique necessary to successful progressive execution of that programme. To understand and remove these three causes is America’s — and humanity’s — paramount need.

The chief obstacle to consistent religious and educational effort is a disappointing democracy.

A democracy of equal opportunity is the promise of both religion and education. The triumph of what history calls right inspires the American boy, not because patriotism is bred only by war stories, but because those stories deal with the widening of opportunity. He is interested again in the conflict of religions, because the picture in his mind is that of the triumph of unrestricted opportunity over caste opportunity. Finally, that thing about education which makes the soul expand is not additional earning power or additional knowledge, but equal opportunity for one’s fellow man.

Modern institutions are instructing favored men to have what Bernard Shaw calls “ enormous social appetites.” While religious and educational leaders endorse this appetite and promise one and all ultimately “ a developed sense of life,” they continue to regard democracy as the beneficiary of their effort and not their co-worker or their benefactor. This mistake explains their indirect attention to the working of democracy. If government remits taxes on church and private-school property, it is for its own sake and not for church or school. If wrongs are done by government, teachers and preachers truly believe that the quickest remedy is more education and more religion, not more attention to government.

This indirect concern for government is due partly to the confusion of school with education and church with religion. During the Dark Ages, the priest-student was a veritable pillar of fire by night. When there was no force working for religion except monastery and church, and when there was no teaching or studying except in monastery and university, it was natural that the place where light was sought, and whence light radiated, should epitomize religion and education. But in these days of newspapers and magazines, of social clubs, trade-unions, travel and congestion, of university extension by lecture, correspondence and moving pictures, of trade-schools and business discipline, commercial science and instructional philanthropy, educational processes outside educational institutions are more numerous, more continuous, and farther-reaching than educational processes within school walls. Likewise, religion manifests itself in infinitely more ways outside, than inside, church organizations. With these outside educational processes and religious forces, government has more direct and more numerous relations than has either church or school.

Since government is organized action of one hundred per cent of a community, wherever government is busy manufacturing sickness, industrial incapacity, miseducation, crime, and inequality, its product accumulates faster than the product of church and school working with divided forces and deficient tools upon part of the population part of the time. Therefore the gravity of a situation, in which, in practically every city of the country, organized society is paying more men and women to do anti-social work than church and philanthropy are paying to do social work. Organized society is putting obstructions in the way of enlightened and religious life for adults by the score, where church, school, and private philanthropy directly uplift one.

In October, 1908, the city government of New York will vote its budget for 1909. Through that budget, one hundred per cent of the population would, if it followed precedent, give the seal of its approval to padded payrolls and to dishonest and wasteful contracts involving directly more individuals than will attend church during 1909. Comptroller Metz declares that wherever a city employee spends or receives money for the city, present methods encourage dishonesty. Fifteen thousand teachers are crowding upon six hundred thousand children a curriculum declared by principals to be misfitted to the children’s strength and future work; and the great machine grinds on year after year, doing less for all than might be done for the same money, actually injuring thousands, and thereby manufacturing problems for church and school and government that will require generations to solve. The police department has nine thousand men disciplined in the tradition that they are entitled to accept contributions from the woman of the street, the saloonkeeper, the motorist, and other offenders, in exchange for permission to attack the “ integrity of democracy ” by violating law.

Tent evangelists and prison chaplains convert in ten years fewer men and women than society’s jails push into crime in one year. The pulpit of New York State, following Governor Hughes’s lead, for days vituperated race-track gambling; not one single legislative vote was changed; the conditions that produced a corrupt lobby remain the same; and the significant truth stands out, that to reduce its taxes, the self-conscious morality of rural New York bribed its own legislators to vote for gambling.

Last winter, I had occasion to see in working contrast one Young Men’s Christian Association and its neighbor, the white-slave agent. I went out with a representative of the Woman’s Municipal League, who had recently interviewed a very wealthy man in the hope of securing financial aid to protect immigrant girls from organized exploitation. This very wealthy man could not help because he was “ confining his gifts exclusively to religious work.” Yet, as I wrote to a friend of his the next morning, there were within a mile of the Young Men’s Christian Association more young men inside, and going to and from, brothels than there were at the same time in the Young Men’s Christian Association building; more young men on the street giving the location of such houses and the description and names of their inmates than were giving instruction in the Young Men’s Christian Association building; more officers of the law encouraging its violation than executive officers in the Young Men’s Christian Association building. Why does not this man see that the policeman and the teacher and taught among those young men were actively obstructing the work of the Young Men’s Christian Association and manufacturing social forces stronger than that one Young Men’s Christian Association? The recent temporary change in that quarter was brought about neither directly nor indirectly by church or Young Men’s Christian Association.

Like democracy, religion and education have concerned themselves with purpose and personality to the exclusion of method, act, and condition.

Recent illumination of this truth by an eloquent southern preacher aroused the pulpit and press of Georgia against its nefarious convict-lease system. From the text, " The Cross and the Convict,” the Rev. John E. White drew evidence that the church in Georgia had in the past failed to understand the message from the Cross, because it had failed to understand the convicts and their crosses. Squarely upon the religious conscience of pulpit and pew he placed responsibility for a system that treats the convict “ as an asset, not a liability — as a benefit, not a burden.” Whether the leased convict is punished, abused, educated, reformed, or confirmed in crime, is a question of fact that can be ascertained only by watching the convict and society’s treatment of him. When democracy fails to analyze the results of that treatment, it encourages, and actually commits crime, whatever the theology or the pedagogy of pulpit and college chair.

Purposes and personalities have monopolized attention, not because acts and results are uninteresting, but because leader and follower alike have found it difficult to get the truth as to acts and results. Most history reads differently when attention is centred on acts rather than on personalities. Less than six months before Boston’s efficient Finance Commission uncovered acts and results so flagrant as to provoke the envy of Tammany Hall, two of the nation’s foremost statisticians assured me that Boston “ has had no corruption for half a century.”

Under the Low administration in New York City, the reputable commissioner of parks for Manhattan permitted lunches and dinners to be charged to “ profit and loss ” and “ repairs,” and to be withheld from the public record of park expenses. Throughout two reform administrations, as before and after, political derelicts were appointed in the office of commissioners of accounts, the commissioners certifying men on their pay-roll who did not work for them but were attached to the mayor’s office. In the room immediately below that in which New York’s reform mayors sat, licenses were issued in their name, as before and after reform, for push-carts, pool-rooms, dogs, and so forth, by a system which would never show if five dollars was written on the stub of a five-hundred-dollar receipt. The money wasted during either reform administration in New York City would stamp out tuberculosis from the nation and leave enough money to exterminate typhoid and legalized corruption. After Mr. Low’s defeat, an honest graft politician was congratulated on the return of prosperity. He answered, “ You are sadly mistaken, my friend. I never hope to make so much money again as during the reform administration. Then I could deal with the man at the bottom for fifty cents or five dollars, where now I must divide with the man at the top.”

A year ago, the Mayor of New York pledged himself to explain publicly increases in the budget of 1908 over that of 1907, aggregating $13,500,000. His candor won applause from press and public. Only one office in New York knew that uninformed good intention had missed nine out of ten opportunities to tell the whole truth. Instead of an increase of $60,000 for the department of correction “ because of increased cost of supplies,”the actual increase was $173,500, only $37,500 going to supplies. For the Borough of Manhattan, the increase was not $134,000, as the mayor reported, but $204,000, of which only $33,000 was “for maintaining asphalt pavements.” One official with numerous academic degrees, who by his bearing, manner, and promptness gives the impression of fitly representing his constituents, received an increase of $175,000; later he was found to be wasting fifty per cent of the money spent through his Bureau of Highways, and spending $20,000 to clean a public building that private contractors offered “ to keep as it had been kept for $1800, and to keep it clean for $3600.” Health and tenement work in that borough was crippled for want of funds.

Discrepancies between result and appearance are not limited to politicians, or to great cities. Did not Holyoke find that one reason school children were neglected was that tools worth 23 cents were costing $15.00? The New York State Auditor finds counties and towns paying more in proportion to official transactions than do cities for waste, favoritism, and graft. Non-political motives do not assure beneficial acts. A New Yorker prominently identified with school and church recently resigned from an important post after testifying that although he drew $12,000 a year, he could not prove that he had given twelve days to the city; because he was not proved corrupt, a religious journal heralded his “ vindication.” A hospital managed by volunteers of unblemished character but informed too late, has charged kerosene and nurses’ aprons to “ construction of new hospitals.”

A well-known mission supported by small contributions from all parts of the United States has for nearly a year occupied premises under conditions that make ignorance as culpable as knowledge of the fact that the rent should go to the city, and should not be used to corrupt city officials and cause delay in public work. Because its managers do not know its acts, another private institution, whose directorate contains several of the first men whose names would come to mind when gifts to religion and education are mentioned, has been trying to persuade a city official to pay it for service rendered by other charitable agencies, — this, too, when it reports private gifts to cover that same service.

Unless absolute dishonesty or gross misrepresentation can be shown, although extravagance or inefficiency may exist, the society that passes upon minor charities will not express disapproval, — because it does not compare cost with results. Strong enough for fifty years to have reformed Tammany Hall, Trinity Church Corporation, by investing income and capital differently, might have saved thousands of lives, released millions of dollars for education and religion, and secured for New York City’s government efficient and honest habits of thought and action. It is safe to say that its definition will yet include acts, methods, and conditions.

There is no better illustration of our accepting “ the will for the deed ” than our attitude toward philanthropy. Because we have looked at the donor rather than the recipient, we have forgotten that candor with regard to the deed need not lessen our gratitude for the will. A testator leaves $187,000, to be spent by a department which fails to collect thousands upon thousands due the city, spends hundreds of thousands wastefully, and distributes among political favorites important privileges that should bear income. If we refuse to appraise such giving, it is because we think of the beautiful motive, not of the result.

The worst disclosures of the past decade referred to immoral and anti-social acts that were committed, unrestrained because undiscovered, during the gubernatorial administration of that same president whose would-be successor has called him the standard-bearer of the new morality. The personal morality of the once-governor of New York has not changed; the nature of the offenses committed has not changed; the attitude of the average man toward those acts has not changed; the only new element in the situation is evidence, — the fact, the where, and the when, of the acts themselves. What mankind lacks most is not morals, or attitudes, or platitudes, or higher education, but technique for utilizing what we now have and now know.

Church, school, and government are without a social programme that embraces the aims of religion, education, and democracy, and at the same time supplies the technique necessary to successful, progressive execution of that programme.

Socialist leaders are elated because one of our great capitalists is said to have remarked that only the socialists have a constructive programme. Yet socialism, like religion, education, and democracy, cannot tell us how to take the next step, because it does not know what we are doing now; it cannot tell us where we would be in five years, if their programme were adopted, because it does not know where we are now. I recently asked Professor S. N. Patten what would happen if religious leaders were to be granted all they now ask. He replied, “ A religious-industrial war.” If, over night, the whole country became devoutly Methodist, Episcopalian, Salvationist, or Scientist, the greater part of the industrial and social problems would still stare us in the face; education and democracy would still be out of reach; typhoid fever would thrive; misgovernment would still manufacture vice, crime, and incapacity.

Again, if universal education, according to our present definition, were to become a reality over night, religious problems would still remain, corruption would still need restraint, and sickness need prevention; it is not the uneducated or unchurched who furnish illustrative material for five political platforms attacking corporate dishonesty. If all public offices were to be filled to-morrow with either the most devout or the most educated, religion, education, and democracy would still stumble and manufacture obstructions in their own way. If conscious wrongdoing were to cease, the greater evil of unconscious, anti-social action, and uninformed, blundering leadership would still remain. Leadership by preachers, by great teachers, and by enthusiastic believers in democracy, we have tried. Every time that leadership has failed, because unequipped to deal with relations of man to man that need evidence, right methods, and skilled attention.

Educators change methods, not because evidence is produced that a previous method failed to give adequate results, but because some new pedagogical theory seems attractive. It is not even known how many children in the United States ought to be in school, or how many suffer from easily removable physical defects. We are epidemically borrowing European ideas of vocational training without having located the defects of our own methods. It takes twenty-five years to learn what might be learned in twelve months if educators applied to themselves efficiency tests for comparing what they get done with what they try to do. Whether children should be promoted by subject or by grade, whether children are marching in lock-step, whether there is lack of freedom of speech in educational circles, are questions of fact to be determined by noting pupils’ progress and teachers’ words rather than by discussing curriculum and essays on freedom. Noting requires technique.

Religious work rarely undergoes efficiency tests. Many who have tried the institutional church say that it has failed. Yet expensive institutional churches are still being erected. Not one of the great social movements that have characterized the past generation can be attributed solely, or even in greater part, to church activity; whether churches have helped or hindered no one can now prove. The Young Men’s Christian Association is beginning to teach leaders to compare results with effort and with opportunity. Comparison requires technique.

Not having applied to their own work methods of discovering deficiencies and opportunities, it is natural that church and school should have failed to develop the technique essential to the definition and execution of a social programme. Not having trained the “ fact sense,” they cannot, of course, tell us where we are or what we need. They are, with respect to government, in the position of a student who was assigned to investigate a city department; instead of submitting facts, his report was a necklace of “ ought,” “ must,” “ should,” “ should not,” “ favoritism,” “outrage,” “injustice,” and the like.

The finding out what democracy ought to know about itself, what it does, what it fails to get done; the continuing education of democracy; the consistent application of religious and educational principles for the welfare of democracy, are matters of technique. If that technique is to be effective, three things are needed: (1) A current record of what society is doing. (2) Current interpretation of what society needs, does, leaves undone. (3) Current aggressive action to utilize the information that comes from currently interpreting the current record of organized society’s current acts.

Purpose of municipal research educative, not detective.

To supply these three means, the Bureau of Municipal Research was organized in 1906. Its aim at the outset was educative, not detective. Infinitely more interested in pointing out what is needed than what is wrong, it realizes that the great problem of democracy is not the control of the officer, but the education of the citizen. It began, not by laying down principles of government or discussing men, but by studying the needs of the community and its official acts. It would educate democracy in facts about democracy’s acts and methods, democracy’s need, and democracy’s opportunity. While its initial efforts have been concentrated in New York City, its influence has been felt through the nation, notably among editors, city officials, and civic leaders. It believes that its test of municipal improvement, by way of fact and method, has demonstrated the need of a great educational foundation that might be known, perhaps, as the Blank Foundation for Promoting Municipal Welfare, or for Attaining Efficient Democracy.

Three years, $150,000, and scientific method, have accomplished results surpassing all dreams of those who outlined its programme. So convincing are these results that onlookers who said three years ago, “ The tiger will never change its stripes,” are now saying, “ You could hardly do this in cities where the tiger marks are less obvious.” Although many phases of municipal administration have not yet been studied, there is hardly an obstacle to efficiency and honesty that has not been encountered and overcome by light. The real-estate bureau that eluded all graft charges is being reorganized to prevent either graft or one hundred per cent profits for land sold the city at private sale. While its own staff, consisting of three investigators in 1907 and forty in the summer of 1908, can of itself do no inconsiderable educational work, the Bureau gauges its effectiveness, not by what its own staff accomplishes, but by what the city’s staff of seventy thousand, and through them the city’s population of four million, are enabled to accomplish because of its educational effort.

Methods that manufacture corruption and inefficiency, and that for fifty years defied political reform, are giving way to methods by which seventy thousand employees must tell the truth about what they do when they do it, about what they spend when they spend it, in clear, legible form, so that the community can learn what it has failed to get done that it set out to accomplish. The central controlling office, known as the Department of Finance, heretofore unable to tell whether revenues due were collected or whether prices paid were wasteful, is being reorganized from top to bottom, so that it will be easier henceforth for city employees to be honest than dishonest, to be efficient than inefficient.

Budget architecture is radically changing. No longer will taxpayers’ hearings be a farce and the budget a mass of guesses and misrepresentations. At a meeting recently of representatives of fifty real-estate organizations, enthusiasm was aroused by the promise of a budget exhibit which, through diagram, chart, and photograph, should show the alternatives presented by the various departmental estimates. Several had in mind only that the total of taxes should be reduced ten or twenty millions. One or two leaders, however, saw that the owners of real estate will be injured by an inefficient tenement-house department, or an ineffective battle against infection, or inadequate police protection. They can be interested this year and they can make their wishes felt, because for the first time estimates will show approximately what city officials propose to do with the money requested for next year, and what needs recognized by the community public officials have no programme for meeting. For the first time taxpayers wall be heard upon a tentative budget, embodying the recommendations of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. In this connection, important reports describe methods and needs of health, water, park, finance, and other departments.

Men who want to serve their city are stepping out into the open and successfully appealing to the general public, where previously they were at a disadvantage in trying to be “ practical ” in the dark. Men who previously throve on community ignorance realize that corruption and inefficiency cannot bear the light of day, and are joining the ranks of those who cherish the respect of mankind more than personal profit. Tammany officials, when interested, make excellent collaborators. The Commissioners of Accounts, for thirty years, through reform and Tammany administrations alike, a whitewashing body that condoned and glossed over wasteful and corrupt acts, have become, as a direct result of the Bureau’s work, a great educational agency whose work will undoubtedly be regarded by our successors as the greatest achievement of Mayor McClellan’s administration.

Thus, after years of futile struggle through politics against organized corruption and inefficiency, New York finds itself with an official staff disciplined to find and to tell the truth, whose service can be invoked at any time by the humblest citizen, and whose results can be used, through taxpayers’ suits and appeals to the governor, to remove offending officials, and to institute methods that will substitute efficiency for incompetence, and honesty for corruption. One borough president has been removed for gross incompetence. Another is soon to be tried for incompetence, falsifying records, and charging assessment improvements to the wrong owner. A third hurried to Europe to avoid trial. A fourth is now under investigation with results which it is too early to prophesy.

Civic bodies are seeing that there is a potency in blazing light produced by facts as to conditions and acts, which bears a striking similarity to the light that religion and education have wanted to be.

For democracyauto-study, auto-interpretation, auto-suggestion .

While the Bureau of Municipal Research has attacked the problem of democracy from the standpoint of the city, the same technique will be found indispensable in studying rural, state, and national government. In a short time the General Education Board, working primarily through colleges and the small fraction of adult population that goes to college, has been able to utilize the income on forty millions, and undoubtedly could now with a good conscience accept five, ten, or fifty millions more for its field. What, then, must be the scope of an educational work that includes not only the minds of one hundred per cent of our population, but their efforts through government to achieve democracy!

The fund required is not impossible, because by spending efficiently one thousand for the education of a community as to its own needs and opportunities, we can influence that community’s expenditure of a million, including its school funds. This year, the Bureau of Municipal Research is spending about $100,000 to establish methods that tell the truth, to establish accountability by furnishing evidence, and to put a premium on efficient action. The Charter Revision Commission used its diagrams showing what New York City is trying to do, and what mechanism it uses. The Joint Legislative Committee to investigate city finances, and the referee appointed to ascertain the city’s indebtedness, have asked the Bureau to coöperate in their official inquiries. Because of its efforts, New York City is spending this year, with greater intelligence than ever before, and with greater results than ever before, over $300,000,000.

Auto-study, auto-instruction, auto-suggestion! Think what democracy could do if all government employees and all government methods were headed and kept moving toward equal opportunity! What could not church, school, and private philanthropy accomplish if government did its part as teacher and preacher! Government will do its part, if a surprisingly small amount of energy is given to educational and scientific municipal research.

Relating a central fund to localities and to other funds.

It has been suggested that the proper division between a central foundation and progressive citizens in various localities, would be for the central foundation to make the standards and train the men, while the localities use the standards and employ the men. At present, it is harder to find the men than to raise money for municipal research in Boston, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Louisville, or Atlanta. This programme would necessitate on the part of a central fund continuous investigation, because standards of investigating government acts cannot be made out of books, nor can investigators be trained by lectures.

The division of field-work with medical and scientific research is illustrated by an investigation made several years ago into the causes of infant mortality by the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research. Those studies are very important; they cost a great deal of money; they earned the title “ scientific.” Yet for years the City of New York, and every other city in the country, ignored that information, and babies died by thousands for want of its application. The saving of babies began in earnest when the government of New York City, and of Chicago and Cincinnati, took the results of that investigation into tenement homes to babies themselves. What the nurse does, and what happens to the baby, are the province of municipal research.

Games of chance by individuals are no more dangerous, and no more immoral, than works of chance by organized society. Flipping a coin to see who pays the fare, or who wins a post-office appointment, is gambling no more truly than for organized society to determine a policy with respect to personality or theory, rather than with respect to demonstrable facts drawn from its own experience.

Given technique necessary to record and interpret current experience, democracy will be progressively constructive. Witness Glencoe, the Chicago suburb where motorists scrupulously observe the law and the dictates of their consciences. On every street corner is a bump, built low enough to make legal speed compatible with comfort, but high enough to make illegal speed dangerous for machine and occupant. The citizens of Glencoe cannot afford to watch their street crossings all day and all night. They cannot even afford to police each corner. They can afford the bumps which remind potential law-breakers at the critical moment of the prevailing public conscience and of the conditions of public safety and welfare.

So an educational fund of five, ten, or fifty millions can never hope to make volunteers enough, or police enough, to watch every official act. It can, however, secure the adoption of methods for recording what is done when it is done that will present a bump to prospective law-breakers, incompetent men, and watchful civic leaders at the critical moment where public welfare is involved. To keep these bumps in repair will cost relatively little. By means of them all travelers on democracy’s road will receive warning of the community’s point of view and of the community’s interest, so that at their own peril and in blazing light they commit anti-social acts.

Municipal research will always be necessary.

It is possible to forecast the development of the proposed foundation, for its programme will apply just at well one hundred years from now as to-day. So long as a thousand men have a thousand minds, their relations to each other will produce problems and create new conditions. So long as mankind acts, there will be results, there will be defects, there will be needs not yet met. It is inconceivable that the time will ever come, even with universal education, universal religion, and universal acceptance of democracy’s ideal, when to-morrow cannot be made better than to-day, and when forces will not need direction away from below and behind toward above and beyond. There will always be majorities likely to err in judgment, and needing facts as to lines of development in order that they may choose wisely. There will always be a shortest way to realize an educational or religious ideal. There will always be a choice between inefficiency and efficiency, between waste and conservation of energy. Democracy will always be ignorant as to the consequences of its last acts until those acts have been counted, analyzed, and interpreted. Social legislation, such as prohibition, will always require investigation as to whether the law is actually being enforced, and what are the comparative economic and social effects of enforcement and violation.

Whichever way right lies, we can reach it quicker if we acquire the habit of demanding facts with regard to where we are. Whether, for example, we are to socialize capital by owning it or by con trolling it, no one can now foretell. Clear it is, however, that our next step to-day, to-morrow, and a century hence, will be a safer, more intelligent step in proportion as we know the facts with regard to the forces that have brought us to the point from which we view to-morrow. Potentially, the greatest producer, recorder, interpreter, and user of social fact is an efficient democracy.