Page images
[graphic][merged small]


their decisions after they discover their error. So it may be in Municipal Ownership. It will not do to determine this question by comparison with other nations, acting under different conditions and forms of government.

Success or failure may be the result of good or bad management, individual ability or inability, environment, national or local conditions. It will be much safer to apply the principles of municipal ownership to these public utilities and endeavor thus to ascertain what the probable effect would be, in this country. What might be thought best for the natives of Africa or the subjects of governments whose forms are largely military, or in a kingdom where there is no middle class of intelligent people, might not be desirable or applicable to a nation whose proud boast is that we are the most progressive, intelligent people in the world. Are we willing to admit that we are so far behind the van of civilization that we must seek for light upon these questions and adopt some of the principles of government that prevail to-day in Russia-for instance, government ownership and operation of railroads?

Would it be advisable for the people of this democratic nation to follow the example of Germany and France, where almost every railroad employe is known and acts as a general, a colonel, a major, captain, lieutenant, corporal or private member of the military forces? These nations, whose territories are separated in some cases simply by an imaginary line, watching each other like bull dogs, consider military strategy of first importance and the control of the railroads necessary for the rapid movement of troops and munitions of war for the preservation of the nation's integrity.

These conditions which make it appear necessary in Europe do not obtain in the United States, and the tendency under our forni of government should be from, and not towards, such conditions; because, in my opinion, government ownership of public utilities would be a long step toward creating a centralized government, to which the average citizen is absolutely opposed. We


contend that our form of government is better than any other, because it is not like, but different from, any other.

Municipal ownership would mean not only the taking over of such utilities as are in operation, but it involves the principle also of constructing such others as may be necessary for the convenience of the people and the development of the country. This would, as to trunk lines, eliminate the state government as a factor in railroads, telephones, telegraphs, steamboat lines, etc., and would necessitate a compact or co-partnership between the federal government and each state as to inter-state transportation in all cases where the state's lines connected with a trunk line. The federal government would then be in control of all the great arteries of trade, and thus a large portion of local self-government would be absorbed. The same difficulty would be encountered by cities whose street car lines reached points beyond the corporate limits. It would necessitate either a co-partnership between the city and the owners of that part of the line outside of the limits, or the construction and maintenance of the latter portion by revenue raised within the corporate limits of the city.

This country has been developed, not by paternalism, but by private enterprise. Let it be known that the government may construct or take over any public utility at pleasure, and it will rob the individual of that great incentive, private ownership, which has been the principal stimulus in developing this country to its present degree. Private capital seeks investment wherever it will pay, and seeks it quickly. It is the natural desire for the ownership of property that urges the average man onward, and puts into operation those aggressive activities which not only develop the man, but incidentally the nation.

I have not the time on an occasion of this kind to point out and follow the course that would necessarily have to be taken under municipal ownership, in the construction of an inter-state public utility. A bill would have to be introduced in Congress and be subjected to the various opinions and delays of the poli


ticians at Washington, and if the time shoulil ever come when the construction would be completed, in all probability. it would not be suitable for the purposes originally intended, if our past experience is any indication of how public matters will be conducted in the future. The departing court house of Cook county, the on-coming Chicago postoffice, so called, and thousands of other abortive monuments all over the country, are examples, not to be followed, but to be avoided. We have a discouraging example of governmental ownership and operation in the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The original estimate for its construction was $600,000. The actual cost was $6,000,000, and since 1852 we have spent on improvements, repairs and grafters, $6,000,000 more. Since its construction the earnings have amounted to about $6,500,000, and the expenses to $4,750,000. Of course, we still have the canal, which is not self-supporting, but is useful in provoking unseemly contentions in the Legislature over appropriations to sustain it as an incubator of tadpoles and politicians for profit. No man of experience will have the temerity to deny that public improvements made by municipalities consume more time in construction, cost more and are worth less than those constructed by private parties. I believe it is a conservative statement that twenty-five per cent. of appropriations made for the construction of public improvements throughout this country goes to the benefit of the grafters, instead of the improvenients.

Another question to be considered is, how shall the money needed for the construction of public utilities be acquired? If they be constructed by a municipality, then the means must come from the profits of operation, or be raised by taxation, either general or special. Few of these utilities could be constructed by special taxation or special assessments, so that in the main, if by taxation, necessarily it would be by general taxation on ali taxable property, in which case the cost of construction or purchase would be borne by the citizens owning taxable property, and persons without property would be

« PreviousContinue »