CHICAGO occupies more newspaper and magazine space today than any other city in the world. But unfortunately (his generous publicity only reenforces the old maxim, “Happy the people whose history is least interesting to read,” for much of the publicity about Chicago is hostile, critical, or sensational; much of it has to do with gangs, rackets,” and “racketeers.” And yet, when a writer in a recent number of Harper’s undertakes to chronicle the number and varied activities of Chicago’s rackets, he omits what is probably the greatest of them all—the tax racket.
It has fallen to the writer to disclose some of the facts in regard to this racket, which, during the past year, has brought Chicago to the brink of receivership. In fact, it has required two special sessions of the Illinois Legislature and the heroic effort of a Citizens” Committee headed by Silas Strawn, including the raising of $74,000,000 by private subscription, to save the city from outright bankruptcy.
These untoward developments have focused an unfortunate amount of attention upon the tax system in Chicago and upon the facts disclosed with regard to its modes of operation. About the facts themselves there is no longer the shadow of a doubt. They are being presented at this moment in the Federal Court in Chicago; and altogether they present an exceedingly sombre picture of the finances and government of a great city. Those business and social leaders who attempt to dispose of them by calling them “growing pains,” attributable to the youth and newness of the city, to its frankness in displaying its own shortcomings, and so forth, or who attempt to offset these sinister conditions by pointing merely to the phenomenal physical growth of the city, are, like the proverbial ostrich, displaying more of their tailfeathers than their heads. Indeed, it is largely because so many of the city’s business leaders have retreated to this unseemly position that the city is governed so often by its tailfeathers rather than by its head.
But it should be said, likewise, that these conditions are not entirely peculiar to Chicago. They have existed in other cities in times past; most of the ingredients of the Chicago situation exist now in greater or less degree in other cities of the United States and nurture the possibilities of developing into a similar situation at any time. To those, therefore, who still believe in the potentialities of democratic government, the situation in Chicago is not a subject merely for denunciation or cynicism, but one for serious examination.
Needless to say, no serious student of political history will anticipate that this situation can be explained by any single “cause.” The problem cannot be dismissed with a reference to “corrupt government,” “ignorant voters,” or any such simple explanation. Widespread conditions such as these are generally the result of a variety of forces, and the situation in Chicago is made up of ingredients common to most municipal communities in the United States but concentrated here with unusual intensity.
In the first place, Chicago finds itself imbedded in a legal structure most of which, like the Ark, was constructed many years ago, for special purposes. Some of these purposes were legitimate, and some were not; but they all rode the Ark till it stranded in the summer of 1928. Three elements of this legal heritage particularly affect the tax system.
The first is the great variety of independent and overlapping jurisdictions that have been created within Chicago and Cook County, including the city “corporate,” the Board of Education, the County Board, the Sanitary District, and a confusing variety of park boards, “towns,” villages, school districts, mosquito districts, and other special jurisdictions. Many of these jurisdictions have been created merely for the purpose of inflating the borrowing power or of transferring valuable patronage from the city to the governor or other jurisdiction. This governmental confusion does not directly affect the tax administration, since the unit of assessment is the county. But it has disastrous effects upon governmental expenditure; it fosters the growth of inefficient and corrupt administration; and it is a powerful influence in putting unscrupulous groups in control of the various local governments, who are thus enabled to extend their control over the assessment administration.
The second legal element is the uniformity clause of the Constitution, which, in addition to other ills this clause is heir to, has contributed directly to the existing situation by requiring the assessment and taxation of personal property upon the same basis as real property. In the case of most forms of intangible property and of many other kinds of personal property, this is utterly impossible, and no pretense is made of assessing such property with any approach to generality. Nevertheless the power to assess it is lodged with assessing officials and places in their hands almost unlimited autocratic power for the promotion of personal and political ends. With real estate assessments down to a level of 85 per cent of actual value, the tax rates in Illinois have risen until they now range from 4 to 6 per cent. In Chicago they average closely around 5 per cent. What greater control over a competitive situation could any monopoly wish than to have the power to exempt the capital and investments of one group entirely from taxation and to impose a tax of 5 per cent on another? A 10 per cent tax wiped out the issue of bank notes by the state banks; a 5 per cent tax would probably have been sufficient; and that is about the tax rate that assessing bodies, under the present personal property tax, now have the practical option of levying or not levying upon capital stock and intangible property. The authority thus conferred increases enormously the autocratic powers possessed by assessing officials, makes the control of these offices the object of greater effort on the part of political organizations, and thereby contributes very materially to the conditions existing in Chicago.
But the legal element that has contributed most decisively to the present situation is the system of assessment administration, created by legislation of dubious parentage in 1898. Much superfluous moralizing may be avoided by recognizing that to a large extent the conditions disclosed in Chicago are only the logical result of an utterly impractical system of administration. This system embraces thirty local assessors, a Board of Assessors composed of five members, and a Board of Review composed of three members. These officials are all elective, possessed of overlapping powers, virtually independent of each other, and numerous enough to pass the blame for anything that occurs back and forth among themselves indefinitely. It is a system characterized by absence of scientific method, duplication of function, diffusion of responsibility, and secrecy of operation.
We may summarize the essential legal “ingredients” in the situation, then, by saying that Chicago finds itself at the moment enmeshed in a system of decentralized, overlapping, conflicting municipal governments, which have been set up at various times since 1837; imbedded in a constitutional mandate, enacted in 1818, when Chicago’s sky line was nothing but a horizon on the prairie, which injects into the tax system all of the vicious elements associated with the present personal property tax; and subjected to an assessment administration, established in 1898, which specifically fosters inefficiency and irresponsibility.
This governmental structure has come down from the past; but one of the chief obstacles to its alteration and improvement lies in the political conditions that have prevailed in recent years. The level of politics and government, like other things, rises and falls over long periods of time. It would not be difficult, for example, to plot a “curve” of our national government over the past century and a half, with its long upward swings and downward dips, and with pretty general agreement at least as to the location of its “peaks” and “bottoms.”
In Illinois and Chicago the curves of both state and municipal government have sunk in recent years to the lowest levels since the Civil War, if not for a longer period. The scandals connected with recent state and city administrations, the record of the Sanitary District, the buffoonery associated with the Board of Education, the indictment of judges, the conviction and penal sentence of public officials, and the whole crime wave are only the more notorious episodes of the current status. They will not be discussed here; suffice it to say that under such conditions it would be a miracle if any system of taxation produced results greatly different from those that have been shown to exist.
No such miracle has occurred. On the contrary, we find, as we should expect, that the tax system has become the mere adjunct of whatever political organization is in power. Indeed, the most disheartening thing about it is not so much the fact itself but the frankness with which the fact is avowed by political representatives. Precinct captains and ward committeemen openly boast of their ability to “take care” of their constituents; and in general the representatives of political organizations throughout the city appear to take it as a matter of course that a part of their regular duties consists in making the necessary adjustments in the assessment of property.
The result is that, in addition to a regularly constituted board of assessors and board of review, Chicago has an extra-constitutional, ex officio board of revision, consisting of the representatives of party organizations throughout the city, who are engaged every day of the year, without regard to constitutional requirements or quadrennial limitations, in the business of revising assessments to suit the exigencies of party organization. But the most sinister consequence of it all is not so much the baneful character of the political organizations in control of the government as the fact that these organizations are built to a considerable extent upon the present tax system, derive their revenues and resources therefrom, and are therefore vitally dependent upon its continuance. The reader will apprehend how much of an obstacle this represents in the way of any proposed change in the present system of assessment and taxation.
One would suppose, in view of what the city has suffered financially and otherwise from its present tax system, that the business and financial interests and property owners as a whole would be overwhelmingly in favor of substantial changes in the system. But as a matter of fact there are large economic interests that are tied up in one way or another to the present régime— interests which may be said to hold equities of various types in the present tax system.
In the first place, there are the “vested rights” of members of the Board of Review, Board of Assessors, the thirty local township assessors, and other officials connected with the tax system, in the various offices to which, they have succeeded in the regular, processes of party organization. This vested interest has been advanced by some of the highest officials in the state as a serious consideration against any legislation that would deprive tax officials of the offices they now hold. The Speaker of the Assembly himself has asserted that it would be utterly unreasonable to ask a Republican legislature to abolish Republican boards and offices, the implication being that it would be unreasonable to ask the present Republican administration to act contrary to its partisan interest, however desirable or necessary it might be from the standpoint of the public.
But more ominous than the frank partisanship implied is the perfectly sincere and spontaneous assumption that a certain element of vested right inheres in these official positions. The explanation is not far to seek and, indeed, has been avowed with almost equal frankness. These offices have been conferred in the regular process of party organization, in return for services the incumbents will thereby be in position to render the political organization. This involves on the part of t he candidate the expenditure of large sums in connection with nominations and elections; and, more than this, it involves the assumption of a great variety of obligations, personal and otherwise. To deprive an incumbent of office before he has had opportunity to liquidate these obligations (some of which are continuing obligations) is worse than merely violating political understandings; it is like deliberately forcing an associate into bankruptcy. This is the nature of the vested interest which tax officials hold in the present system of assessment.
In any appraisal of the pecuniary value of this vested interest, the reader will understand that the salaries associated with the various offices are a negligible item. It is the indirect emoluments that figure, and they must amount to millions of dollars.
Outside of this close circle of vested interest, there are two wider circles of closely allied interests. The first is the zone of political “tax-fixing,” delicately referred to in the present trial of a member of the Board of Assessors in the Federal Court, when the prosecuting attorney announced to the court that one of the defendant’s sources of income would be shown to be “what is commonly known in Chicago as fixing taxes.” This zone embraces precinct captains, ward committeemen, and a whole hierarchy of party representatives. Prior to the recent reassessment ordered by the State Tax Commission, one could sit in the offices of the Board of Review and the Board of Assessors and see these men come in with their pockets bulging with the crumpled tax bills of constituents to be “fixed.”
Immediately outside of this circle is the still wider circle of allied interests made up of private and professional “tax-fixers,” whose methods and activities are too varied to be discussed in the space of this article and probably too well known to require discussion.
Outside of these three circles of rather special interests is the great circle of property interests that benefit from the present system. This includes, in the first place, entire districts which have been favored with low rates of assessment. In this circle will be found the whole of Calumet, industrial districts in the southern and southwestern sections of the city, and many of the “country” towns in Cook County outside of Chicago, including a number of the wealthier suburban districts along the North Shore.
This circle would include, in the second place, certain classes of property that have enjoyed low assessments. It included vacant land, particularly subdivision property, until 1926, when criticism was directed against this practice. It has apparently included certain groups of hotel and theatre properties. But the class of property most conspicuously included in this zone of interest is made up of manufacturing and industrial property.
It is difficult to secure exact data here; but all the information available appears to indicate that the manufacturing industries, particularly the larger companies, have been more successful than most groups in keeping their assessments and taxes down. This has apparently been the case to a greater extent throughout the rest of the state even than in Chicago. It has been due, in part, to the difficulties inherent in the assessment of industrial property, particularly by local assessors entirely untrained for this difficult field of appraisal; in part to the fact that industrial assets consist largely of personal property of one form or another; in part to the presence of an aggressive organization equipped to look after the interests of its members; and finally, in large measure, to the competition of cities and communities for the location of new industrial plants. Even in the case of established plants, the constant threat to move is one of the most effective means for tempering assessments. It is difficult to learn of actual removals that have been made specifically on account of taxes, and probably such cases are rare; but the threat is none the less effective.
The consequence is that manufacturing industries are apparently escaping with a minimum share of property taxes. It is this situation that unfortunately identifies the interests of the manufacturers” associations with those of the present official and political groups and other allied groups who are profiting by present methods of assessment and will lose some of this advantage under any change in the system.
In addition to districts and classes of property benefiting under the present system is the wide list of individual beneficiaries scattered among all sections and all classes of property— the most numerous list of all.
What the aggregate financial interest represented by these various groups of beneficiaries might amount to, it would be impossible to compute. But the total of taxes remitted to favored groups has been shown to amount to some $30,000,000 annually. This would represent property with a full value of approximately $1,500,000,000. And this represents only real estate taxes on forms of property that could be caught in the process of real estate transfers. It does not include taxes evaded or reduced on large industrial and other types of property not objects of real estate transfer, taxes on personal property, or any of the indirect emoluments and advantages associated in one way and another with the whole system.
In addition to the ties of positive interest among the groups that have been enumerated, there is a very different but very influential economic element. This is the fear of retaliation at the hands of assessing officials. There are millions of dollars” worth of property and thousands of property holders, particularly among the larger property holders, held in a constant state of apprehension as to what is going to happen to their assessments from year to year. In the case of large office buildings and some other properties with heavy fixed overhead and a narrow margin of profit, a material difference in assessment may mean the difference between an operating profit and a loss.
In sharp contrast with the narrow margins upon which many properties must operate is the wide range of possible assessment available to assessing officials. The combination of the two things, narrow margins of profit and wide range of assessment, provides assessing officials with as arbitrary power over the property and fortunes of wealthy citizens as any Central American dictator could desire; and one who has not been in contact with the situation cannot realize what this fear of retaliation means in Chicago. It explains many things in the attitude and conduct of business leaders which outside observers are at a loss to understand. It secures political contributions, compels silence, and deters business men from serving on committees, participating in activities, or being in any way identified with movements directed against the present system.
Fortunately there are a few oases of business interest that would benefit through more or less substantial changes in the tax system. One of these is inhabited, in the main, by the owners of large properties in the Loop and downtown district, whose properties have been heavily assessed under the present regime. Another such oasis is peopled by certain real estate groups that have been driven in from the desert by the hard times there prevailing. The deflation of the real estate market has broadened the perspective of Chicago real estate groups; and, partly in consequence of intelligent and progressive leadership in the Chicago Board, these groups are now among the most vigorous advocates of constructive tax legislation.
A third group represents largely the owners of the newer hotels and apartment buildings on the North Side, whose properties have suffered severely from the overbuilding and excessive vacancy of the past two years. Almost any assessment on the basis of property values would have been a heavy burden upon their properties in terms of income. They have been antagonistic to—to reassessment, but have, logically enough been driven to the position of advocating an income tax.
A fourth element is represented by the banking groups, whose interests have been jeopardized by the threatened collapse of the city’s credit.
But the interest of these various groups in improving the tax system has for the most part been special and temporary The downtown building owners have been gratified with the results of the reassessment in lessening the discrimination against them— and most of them have been satisfied with this. Individual representatives of this group have been among the most conspicuous leaders in the movement for constructive reform. But as a whole the downtown property owners are more than satisfied with what has been accomplished for their own properties, and many are inclined to feel that anything more would be “going too far.”
The banking groups have raised millions of dollars and have worked with remarkable public spirit to preserve the solvency of the city’s credit, supporting particularly the emergency relief legislation enacted by the recent special session of the Legislature— but are apparently satisfied with this. The real estate groups are sharply divided, and are only partially following the broader leadership now represented by the Chicago Board. And so it goes.
In addition to legal, political, and economic factors, there are certain social and psychological elements that go to make up the Chicago situation. These are much less tangible and obvious, and less generally admitted, but certainly not less important than the factors already enumerated.
The first has to do with the general level of political intelligence prevailing in Chicago. Much has been said and written about Chicago’s foreign population, unfamiliar with the language and ideas of America, and about its large Negro element on the South Side and in other sections of the city. The latter race particularly has been made to carry the onus of many local conditions— declining real estate values and others. Yet, so far as can be ascertained, there is nothing to indicate that these groups are, on the whole, less intelligent or capable than the general population of the country elsewhere. In business competition, in the acquisition of property, and in getting on in general, they have shown surprising capacity. Likewise, it would be ridiculous to assert that the people of Chicago are on the whole any less intelligent than the people of other American cities. Certainly their own achievements, and their own opinions, are to the contrary. And if there prevalent belief that the best brains have for years been drifting from the country and smaller towns to the larger cities, Chicago must have been greatly enriched by its growth of the past two decades. But while the attainments of the past decades are in every way a tribute to the brains and energy of the city, there is much to indicate that in one field, that of political intelligence, the people of Chicago are below the level of other communities.
We are speaking here not of political capacity, if that capacity were afforded adequate opportunity for development, but of political intelligence, in the sense of cognizance of political situations, relationships, and their more obvious implications. There are highly developed nuclei of group consciousness and group activities in Chicago, not merely in the form of the overrated “gangs,” but of trade, business, professional, and neighborhood groupings; and wherever politics can be reduced to a common denominator with any of these groupings it encounters a ready comprehension. The success of the present type of political leadership in the city is based largely upon the art of reducing political issues to the small denominations of these various groups. This is a Latin-American type of political consciousness, rather than Anglo-Saxon or European.
Anyone who will take the pains, systematically and conscientiously, to converse on political subjects with a hundred Chicago people, distributed throughout territorial, social, and occupational groupings, cannot fail to be convinced of the truthfulness of the characterization above. The writer is prepared to conduct observation tours through the smaller cities and towns of Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and elsewhere, where it can be demonstrated that the average inhabitant knows surprisingly more about political situations bearings, and relationships in the respective states and communities than does the average person in Chicago.
The existence of such contrasts will probably be conceded by students of political science generally, and certain obvious explanations will readily suggest themselves. The most obvious is the influence of the size of the city itself. A community of three and a quarter millions is not a “community” at all. It is neither a polis, in the original sense of the Greek word, nor an urbs in the Latin sense. Chicago is a honeycomb of many cities, with many races, languages, topographies, and backgrounds. We call it a metropolis; a better word would be polypolis a city of many cities; and a poly pole cannot possibly familiarize himself with the personalities, affiliations, and relationships involved in the politics of his city, or the implications and bearings of movements, issues, and measures.
Furthermore, urban life means specialization, occupational, social, and otherwise,— which necessarily narrows the range both of one’s interests and of one’s intelligence. And, finally, urban life surrounds its victims with a “non-conducting” stratum of distractions, diversions, interruptions, and appeals to one’s attention, which provide effective insulation against vital contact with many of the significant things of life. In the midst of these, it requires a mental effort to manifest an intelligent interest in or familiarity with anything other than the superficial and sensational aspects of politics; whereas in smaller communities in many sections of the United States, strange as it may seem, politics is still an absorbing topic of neighborhood talk.
But these environmental handicaps do not explain all of the differences in political interest and intelligence. Long established political systems and “regimes,” traditional political standards, accustomed types of political leadership, systems of education, character of the press, and the customary attitude of influential individuals and groups in the community— all either stimulate or retard the development of political intelligence; and in many of these respects the antecedents of the present generation of Chicago citizens have not been fortunate.
Whatever the number and influence of the contributing causes, the result has been the establishment of a low level of political intelligence. Plato said man is a “political animal” ; the average Chicago man is not. And the Chicago woman is apparently less so. Women’s clubs and organizations have displayed a great deal of activity in civic matters, and along some lines have accomplished extremely valuable results. Politically their effect has apparently been nil— or worse. For they seem to have succumbed to picturesque, sensational, and misleading political devices even more readily than men; and where they have not succumbed to the devices of practical politics, they have imitated rather than sought to improve them.
Political organizations in Chicago have exploited the specialized psychology of appeal to women voters with admirable dexterity, in the organization of political campaigns, in utilizing the prestige of social leaders, and in the “line” of eloquence handed out by campaign speakers. When Mayor Thompson, for example, in speaking before a rather select North Side women’s audience in his campaign for reelection in 1927, addressed them as dear “fellow hoodlums,” the picturesque bravado of his salutation completely won his audience.
So far as Chicago is concerned, it way be doubted whether woman suffrage has thus far contributed any improvement to its politics. And, without intending any discourtesy to the rest of the country, the area of doubt may well be extended. This is. not a reflection upon the principle of woman suffrage, in which the writer has firmly believed since the days of Frances Willard; and women will eventually contribute a distinctive and helpful influence in politics. But it has been the history of the past that every newly enfranchised class has lent itself to conspicuous types of political exploitation, and such has apparently been the history of woman suffrage thus far.
Upon this low level of political intelligence is set up a deflated scale of values attached to qualities of political integrity and honesty. Indeed, such qualities are not thought of as prerequisites for public office; and it may be doubted whether they would longer be reckoned among political assets at all. Public officials are convicted of graft, corruption, and outright crime; and it is accepted with a cynical smile or a gesture of indifference. So much so that after the experiences of recent years it is difficult to conceive of any form of political malfeasance that could shock the sensibilities of Chicago people. Tacitus observed nearly two thousand years ago that in Rome, contrary to the usual laws of supply and demand, “virtue is least valued in periods when it is most rare.” His observation would be true of Chicago.
And, strangely enough, one factor that has impaired the quality of citizenship in recent years is nothing other than the high level of political welfare that has been attained by the people of the United States, and particularly by the dwellers in our large cities. The quality of citizenship has always reached its highest levels in periods of storm and tress when there were crit ical issues at stake or large objectives to be won. When civil and religious liberty, the right of suffrage, representation, national independence, freedom from oppressive restrictions, or fundamental constitutional rights were the things to be attained through political agencies, the political sphere was overwhelmingly important and political interest was intense.
Now, with the people of the United States in full possession of civil liberties and political rights, with a highly developed scale of social legislation, with universal public-school education and with various forms of higher and technical education made available to practically everyone at government expense, with universal postal service, rural free delivery, and air mail, with concrete highways stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific that everyone may travel freely except for the cost of gasoline, with modern systems of sanitation and protection of health, with parks, playgrounds, bathing beaches, and what not, one might almost inquire what more there is for the citizen to ask through the agency of government. It is true he has the right to demand more honesty, economy, and efficiency in the performance of these services; but after all, these are rather abstract” ideals in comparison with the concrete and pressing things he has needed for hundreds of years and is now getting. In terms of political economy, the very abundance with which our political wants have been satisfied through the progress of the past century has greatly reduced the “marginal utility” of further action through political agencies.
Now this situation, abstract and theoretical as it may seem, has contributed enormously toward perpetuating conditions existing in Chicago in this way. Many a business man and representative of large property interests has been shown the injustice of assessments, including his own, and has expressed sincere and vociferous resentment. That is as far as his protest goes. He cannot take the time to attend conferences, serve on committees, or participate in any organized movement to improve conditions. And, unhappily, the truth is that in most eases it probably would not pay him to do so. He might save thereby a few thousand dollars a year in taxes or in the process of having his taxes taken care of; but in the position he occupies and the general scale of living he has reached, the same amount of time devoted to business, recreation, or almost anything else would yield more than an equivalent return. “It isn't worth the trouble,” is the way is generally put, and probably nine times out of ten it is perfectly true— from the standpoint of the individual.
The writer has conferred from time to time with a considerable number of men of means, who have sat in their offices and talked—in some cases as long as two hours at a time—about the evils of the tax system; but who do not take occasion to do anything about it because it simply isn't worth the trouble. He has talked with a large number of small property owners and home owners, many of whom are in the habit of making cynical observations about the graft and corruption of the tax system. In a surprising number of cases, they do not know what their homes are assessed for. The taxes generally run around $300, $450, or $500, as the case may be. When assured that their particular properties are clearly over-assessed (if that is the case), and that they ought to look into the assessment— “Oh, well, it isn't worth the trouble.”
And so in practically all walks of life our political amenities are so great, compared with anything the world has known before, that additional effort in this field will no longer bring as large returns to the individual as the same amount of effort directed toward business and professional pursuits, or toward automobiles, radios, sports, and vacations, where our shortages are more acute. The result is a mass of indifference that is the more dangerous because it is a fairly enlightened indifference. But it has probably contributed more than any other single influence toward bringing about the tax conditions now existing in Chicago; and at the present time it is the one greatest obstacle to their removal. If diminished prosperity would change this attitude, as it has already brought the real estate and other groups to the “mourner’s bench,” there is probably no city in the United States to which a period of “hard times” would come as a greater blessing than to Chicago.
Finally, organization, standardization, and “patternization” have probably been carried as far in Chicago as anywhere in the United States. Everybody is “organized” in one way or another, and one is fortunate if he has not been organized in half a dozen different ways by as many different organizations and organizers. Everyone’s conduct is standardized or in process of being standardized by some code of business or professional “ethics” or some committee on standardization. The gangs and rackets are only pathological variants of what is in Chicago the “normal type.”
The consequence is that one rarely travels outside the intellectual orbit of his own organization or affiliations, whatever these may be. He moves when the caravan moves and would be unaffectedly surprised at anyone who expected him to move differently. “Footprints on the sands of time” do not interest him. The typical Chicagoan prefers to stay on the concrete and follow the traffic. The real estate man must wait to see what his “Board” is going to do about it. The building owner thinks he is meeting the issue squarely when he tells you “they” have a committee on the subject, “they” being either the Chicago Building Managers Association or the National Association of Building Owners and Managers. The banker is waiting till the State Bankers Association meets at Rockford or elsewhere. The manufacturer tells you with naïve finality that that issue was settled by the report of the Illinois Manufacturers Association last year. Individual independence is not so much condemned as simply unknown.
On purely business and technical matters, or matters of direct pecuniary interest to their members, these organizations of course function with a high degree of efficiency. But on broader questions of public interest they tend to a large extent to displace individual conviction and action and to substitute nothing in its place. The result is organized inertia.
Now, when we have a citizenship which, however spectacular its achievements otherwise may be, is nevertheless characterized by a low level of political intelligence, a citizenship which habitually places a low valuation upon political honesty and integrity, a citizenship steeped in the chronic indifference that comes with prosperity and a high level of general well-being, and a citizenship which habitually evades intellectual conviction and independence of action by the easy alibi of a committee or an organization, we have the soil from which no other political growth could be expected than the present government and governmental conditions in Chicago. And it is uknlikely that these conditions will be greatly or permanently changed until the soil from which they grow is changed.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.