MONOPOLIES AND THE PEOPLE
BY CHARLES WHITING BAKER, C. E. ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF "THE ENGINEERING NEWS"
NEW YORK & LONDON G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS The Knickerbocker Press 1889
COPYRIGHT BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS 1889
The Knickerbocker Press Electrotyped and Printed by G. P. Putnam's Sons
TO ALL THOSE WHO LOVE TRUTH AND JUSTICE AND EQUITY, WHO VALUE OUR HERITAGE OF LIBERTY AND PEACEFUL FRATERNITY, AND WHO ARE WILLING TO UNITE IN UPHOLDING AND DEFENDING THE COMMONWEALTH—THAT PRESERVER AND PROTECTOR OF THE RIGHTS OF THE WHOLE PEOPLE—THE AUTHOR DEDICATES THIS WORK.
In the following pages it has been my endeavor to present, first, the results of a careful and impartial investigation into the present and prospective status of the monopolies in every industry; and, second, to discuss in all fairness the questions in regard to these monopolies—their cause, growth, future prospects, evils, and remedies—which every thinking man is to-day asking.
The first part of this task, the presentation of facts with regard to existing monopolies, may seem to the well informed reader to be imperfectly done, because of the host of powerful and important monopolies of every sort that are not so much as mentioned. But I have deemed it most important that the broad facts concerning monopolies should be widely known; and I have, therefore, aimed to present these facts in a readable and concise way, although, in so doing, only a few of the important monopolies in each industry could be even mentioned. It is to be hoped that no one will underrate the importance of the problem of monopoly, or question the conclusions which I have reached, because of these omissions. To any such readers who may not be satisfied from the facts hereafter given that monopolies are the salient feature of our present industrial situation, and, moreover, that they have come to stay, I would recommend a careful perusal of the financial and trade journals for a few months.
Wherever possible I have presented actual statistics bearing on the question at issue; but as regards trusts, monopolies in trade, mining, labor, and in fact nearly all monopolies, there are no statistics to be had. Nor can any be obtained, for it would be absurd for the government to collect statistics of the operation of that which it pronounces illegal but makes no effort to punish.
It may increase the respect of some readers for the conclusions I have reached, to know that it was a practical acquaintance with monopolies rather than any study of economic theories which led me to undertake the present work; that, at the time I undertook it, I was wholly undecided as to the proper remedies for monopolies, and was quite willing to believe, if the facts had proved it to me, that they were destined to work their own cure; and that the rapid growth and increase of monopolies in very many industries, in the few months since these chapters were written, have furnished fresh evidence that my conclusions have not been amiss.
Finally, I wish to place all emphasis on the fact that all the great movements toward genuine reform must go hand in hand. The cause of the people is one cause, and those who work for honest officers in our government, pure elections, the suppression of crime and pauperism, the mental and moral elevation of men and women, are striking harder blows at monopolies than they may realize. But if they desire to hasten the day of their success, they must bring the great masses of the people to comprehend that these movements aim at nothing less than their complete deliverance; and that the reformers who labor so earnestly to make our government purer and its people nobler, heartily desire also to cure the evils of monopoly, and to serve the cause of the people in its every form.
CHARLES WHITING BAKER.
TRIBUNE BUILDING, New York City. June, 1889.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
I. THE PROBLEM PRESENTED 1 A new use for the word "Trust," 1 The people's knowledge of trusts, 2 Remedies for trusts, 2, 3 Trusts a species of monopoly, 3 The problems which monopoly presents, 4 An impartial investigation necessary, 4 The question to be discussed from different standpoints, 5 A scientific method for solving the problem, 5.
II. TRUSTS AND MONOPOLIES IN MANUFACTURING INDUSTRIES 7 Definition of a trust, 7 The first trusts and their successors, 8 Description of the organization of the linseed-oil trust by one of its founders, 9 The action of trust-makers perfectly natural, 14 Actual effect of trusts upon the public, 15 Profits of the linseed-oil trust, 16 Decreased market for goods controlled by trusts, 17 Control of the labor market by trusts, 17 The causes which have produced trusts, 18 Production on a large scale the most economical, 20 The Standard Oil Trust's defence of its work, 21 Its profits, and the cause of its low prices, 22 Industries in which trusts have been formed, 23 Andrew Carnegie's views of trusts, 24 The trust at once a benefit and a curse, 25.
III. MONOPOLIES OF MINERAL WEALTH 26 Mining, the first monopolized industry, 26 Monopolies in iron-ore production, 27 Monopolies in other metals, 28 The French Copper Syndicate, 29 The effect of its action on consumers of copper, 31 Profits of the richest copper mines, 32 Anthracite-coal production, 33 The anthracite-coal pool, 34 Coal monopolies in the West and South, 36 Monopolies in petroleum and natural gas, 40 Other monopolies of this class, 41.
IV. MONOPOLIES OF TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION 42 Transportation only a necessity in modern times, 42 The importance of railway traffic, 43 Railway transportation a vital necessity, 43 Shipping points where competition exists very few, 44 Consolidation and its benefits, 45 Intensity of competition in railway traffic on trunk lines, 47 Its inevitable effect, 48 The necessity of pools or traffic agreements, 49 Their history, 50 The Interstate Commerce law, 51 The effect of stimulating competition, 52 The evils charged to railway monopolies, 52 Evils due to wasteful competition, 53 Monopolies in other forms of transportation, 54 Monopolies on natural highways, 56 Monopolies of bridges, 56 The telegraph monopoly, 56.
V. MUNICIPAL MONOPOLIES 59 City dwellers dependent upon monopolies, 59 Suburban passenger traffic, 59 Street-railway monopolies, 60 Water-supply monopolies, 61 Competition and monopoly in gas supply, 62 T. M. Cooley on municipal monopolies, 64 Prices, cost, and profits of gas supply, 64 Monopolies in electric lighting and in telegraph, telephone, and messenger service, 66 Other monopolies beneath city pavements, 67 Monopolies in railway terminals, 68 Monopoly in real estate, 69.
VI. MONOPOLIES IN TRADE 71 Absolute control not essential to a monopoly, 71 History of trade monopolies, 72 Monopolies in country retail trade, 73 In city retail trade, 74 In wholesale trade, 75 Co-operation of trusts and trade monopolies, 75 Monopolies in the grocery trade, 76 Monopolies in meat, 77 A general view, 78 Monopolies among purchasers, 78 "Corners" and monopolies, 80 Commercial exchanges and speculation, 82 Warehouse monopolies, 82 Insurance monopolies, 83 Trade monopolies artificial, 84 Their unjust acts, 85
VII. MONOPOLIES DEPENDING ON THE GOVERNMENT 87 Government monopolies in ancient times, 87 Government monopolies established for the benefit of the people, 88 Copyrights, 88 Patents, 89 Evils arising from the patent system, 90 Monopolies based on patents, 91 The Bell telephone monopoly, 92 Government subsidies, 94 Relation of the tariff to monopolies, 95 Origin of the protective tariff, 96 The tariff a secondary cause of trusts, 98 Reductions in the tariff as a remedy for trusts, 99 Monopolies carried on directly by Government, 100.
VIII. MONOPOLIES IN THE LABOR MARKET 102 Classes of labor considered, 102 Monopolies of capital and monopolies of labor compared, 103 Locomotive engineers' strike on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railway, 105 Effect of labor monopolies upon the people, 105 The history of labor, 107 The first trade-unions, 108 Laws against them, 109 Labor organizations from the laborer's standpoint, 110 "An injury to one the concern of all," 110 Preserving the self-respect of the laborer, 111 Repeal of unjust laws, 113 A defence for the action of labor monopolies, 114 The underlying cause of labor monopolies, 116 Limits to the power of labor monopolies, 118.
IX. MONOPOLIES AND COMPETITION IN OTHER INDUSTRIES 119 Occupations of the people, 119 Proportion of the people in any way benefited by monopolies 120 Proportion deriving the principal profits from monopolies, 122 Monopolies in the professions, 123 Monopolies among the servant classes, 124 Agricultural industry, 125 Can monopolies be established there? 126 A proposed farmers' trust, 127 The Grange and the Farmers' Alliance, 128 Killing the competition of oleomargarine, 129 Monopolies among agricultural laborers, 130 Proportion of the people benefited and proportion injured by monopolies, 130 Monopolies in the use of capital impossible, 131.
X. THE THEORY OF UNIVERSAL COMPETITION 133 The general effect of monopolies, 133 Two sorts of remedies suggested, 134 Study of the laws of competition necessary, 135 The growth of civilized society outlined, 136 The interdependence of modern society, 137 The theory of civilized industry, 137 Supply and demand and the unequal rewards of men's industry, 138 The theoretical perfection of our social system, 141 "Competition the life of trade," 142 The orthodox school of political economy, 143.
XI. THE LAWS OF MODERN COMPETITION 145 Competition defined, 145 Competition in corn-raising, 146 In paper-making, 147 In railway traffic, 149 The laws governing competition deduced, 150 Monopoly defined, 155 Natural agents in production, 156 Different classes of competition, 157 The three salient causes of monopoly, 159 The proper remedy for monopoly, 160.
XII. THE EVILS DUE TO MONOPOLY AND INTENSE COMPETITION 162 The theoretical perfection of human industry, 162 Over-production not a fault of production, 163 The ideal distribution of wealth, 164 The law of supply and demand, 165 Evils due to monopoly: the congestion of wealth, 166 How great fortunes are made, 168 Monopolized industries and speculation, 169 How monopolies reduce the income of small capitalists, 170 Monopolies the cause of over-production, 171 Monopolies and poverty, 173 The Church and the laboring classes, 173 Intemperance, 174 Reforms must go hand in hand, 174 How monopolies keep men in idleness, 175 The waste of competition, 176 Waste due to parallel railway lines, 177 The waste of competition and financial crises, 178 Wasteful competition in other industries, 179 Waste by strikes of labor monopolies, 180 False remedies for the disease, 181.
XIII. AMELIORATING INFLUENCES 183 Two classes of palliatives to the evils of monopoly, 183 Reduction in price to increase demand, 184 The influence of Christianity, 185 Its promise as a remedy, 186 A social system based on nobler attributes than selfishness, 187 The tendency of modern society, 188 The possibilities of altruism, 189 Direct and indirect charities, 189 The benevolent spirit in business enterprises, 190 The proper attitude of the Church toward monopolies, 191 The fraternal spirit opposed to competition, 192 Monopolists to be judged charitably, 193 Unjust judgment of labor monopolies, 194 Enmity toward monopolists no cure for monopoly, 195.
XIV. REMEDIES FOR THE EVILS OF MONOPOLY 196 Schemes for bettering society, 196 The doctrine of individualism, 197 The doctrine of societism, 198 The defects of each when unmodified by the other, 199 Societism a necessary accompaniment of civilization, 200 The interdependence of mankind, 201 Does societism threaten liberty? 201 Government for the benefit of the whole people, 202 The dangers of government action to aid special classes, 202 Remedies for monopoly: the creation of new competitors, 204 Its practical result, 205 Remedies by prohibiting consolidations, 205 Their inevitable effect, 206 Government the only agent to prevent monopoly, 207 Why direct action by the government is impossible, 208 Indirect action and its probable results, 208 The Interstate Commerce law as an example, 209 The proper remedy for monopoly not abolition, but control, 210 The relative advantages of government and private management of industry, 211.
XV. THE SOVEREIGN RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE AND OF THEIR REPRESENTATIVE, THE GOVERNMENT 213 Questions brought up by the preceding conclusion, 213 The rights of property holders, 214 Property in the products of labor an inherent right, 215 Property in natural agents and public franchises a matter of expediency, 216 Eminent domain over natural agents still held by the public, 217 The laws of competition applicable to determine when this right should be exercised, 220 Absolutely perfect equity impossible, 221 Does private ownership of land work injustice? 222 Fundamental difficulties in dealing with monopolies not dependent on natural agents, 223 Why a remedy for their evils is essential, 224 The basis of the people's authority over these monopolies, 225 Government regulation with private management the only feasible plan, 225.
XVI. PRACTICAL PLANS FOR THE CONTROL OF MONOPOLIES 227 Economists should unite on the principles already propounded, 227 Practical details a matter of opinion, 227 A plan for the equitable and permanent adjustment of the railway problem, 228 The ownership and operation of the railways, 229 Their securities as investments and for use in connection with the currency, 230 Readjustment of outstanding securities, 231 Lending the government's credit to private corporations, 232 How rates of fare and freight should be fixed, 233 How the incentive to economy is retained, 234 How to avoid strikes, 237 Principles to be observed in establishing government control of monopolies, 238 Plans for the control of mineral monopolies, 238 State ownership with private operation, 239 Plans for controlling municipal monopolies, 240 The control of other monopolies, 244 The dangers of special legislation, 244 Government control of manufacturing enterprises not feasible, 245 Taking trusts within the pale of the law, 247 Enforcing publicity, 247 Enforcing non-discrimination, 248 Direct action to prevent extortion by the monopoly, 251 Potential competition to prevent extortion, 252 Reform of corporation laws, 254 The contrast between this plan for controlling trusts and existing law, 255 Reductions in the tariff as a remedy for trusts, 256 Plans for the control of labor monopolies, 257 Strikes an injury to labor, 258 Removal of other monopolies as a cure, 258 What shall fix the rate of wages? 259 Cooperative ownership, 260 Fraternal benevolence most needed here, 261 A definite relation between monopolies and the people, 262 Conclusion, 263.
MONOPOLIES AND THE PEOPLE
THE PROBLEM PRESENTED.
The word "trust," standing for one of the noblest faculties of the heart, has always held an honorable place in our language. It is one of the strange occurrences by which languages become indelible records of great facts in the history of the world, that this word has recently acquired a new meaning, which, to the popular ear at least, is as hateful as the old meaning is pleasant and gratifying.
Some future generation may yet be interested in searching out the fact that back in the nineteenth century the word "trust" was used to signify an obnoxious combination to restrict competition among those engaged in the same business; and that it was so called because the various members of the combination entrusted the control of their projects and business to some of their number selected as trustees. We of the present day, however, are vitally interested in a question far more important to us than the examination of a curiosity of philology. We are all of us directly affected to-day by the operation of trusts; in some cases so that we feel the effect and rebel under it; in other cases, so that we are unconscious of their influence and pay little heed to their working.
It is but a few months since public attention was directed to the subject of trusts; but, thanks to the widespread educational influence of the political campaign, at the present day the great proportion of the voters of the country have at least heard of the existence of trusts, and have probably some idea of their working and their effect upon the public at large. They have been pointed out as a great and growing evil; and few speakers or writers have ventured to defend them farther than to claim that their evil effects were exaggerated, and predict their early disappearance through natural causes; but while remedy after remedy has been suggested for the evil so generally acknowledged, none seems to have met with widespread and hearty approval, and practically the only effect thus far of the popular agitation has been to warn the trust makers and trust owners that the public is awakening to the results of their work and is likely to call them to account.
The truth is, as we shall see later, that it is a difficult matter to apply an effective remedy of any sort to the trusts by legislation, without running counter to many established precedents of law and custom, and without serious interference with what are generally regarded as inalienable rights. Yet we are making the attempt. Already legislative and congressional committees have made their tours of investigation, and bills have been introduced in the legislatures of many of the States, and in Congress, looking to the restriction or abolition of trust monopolies.
It is the wise surgeon, however, who, before he takes the knife to cut out a troublesome growth, carefully diagnoses its origin and cause, determines whether it is purely local, or whether it springs from the general state of the whole body, and whether it is the herald of an organic disease or merely the result of repressed energies or wrongly-trained organs. So we, in our treatment of the body politic, will do well to examine most carefully the actual nature of the diseases which we seek to cure, and discern, if we can, the causes which have brought them on and tend to perpetuate them. If we can discover these, we shall, perhaps, be able to cure permanently by removing the ultimate cause. At any rate, our remedies will be apt to reach the disease far more effectually than if they were sought out in a haphazard way.
The crudest thinker, at the first attempt to increase his knowledge of the general nature of trusts, discovers that the problem has a close connection with others which have long puzzled workers for the public good. Trusts ally themselves at once in his mind with monopolies, in whichever form he is most familiar with them, and are apt to be classed at once, without further consideration, as simply a new device for the oppression of the laborer by the capitalist. But the man of judicious and candid mind is not content with any such conclusion; he finds at once, indeed, that a trust is a combination to suppress competition among producers of manufactured goods, and he calls to mind the fact that other combinations to suppress competition exist in various other lines of industry. Surely when the governing motives are so similar, the proper remedies, if remedies are needed, cannot be greatly unlike. And though, taking the country as a whole, trusts have occupied more attention lately than any other form of monopoly, the problem of railroad monopoly is still all-absorbing in the West; in every city there is clamor against the burdens of taxation levied by gas, electric-light, street-railway, and kindred monopolies; while strikes in every industry testify to the strength of those who would shut out competition from the labor market. These and similar social and industrial problems are quite as important as the problem of trusts, and their solution is becoming every day more urgent and necessary. If we neglect them too long, or carelessly adopt some unsuitable or unjust remedy, who knows the price we may pay for our folly in blood and treasure?
The problem before us, then, as we see it from our present standpoint, is the problem of monopoly. What is it? Whence comes it? What are its effects? And, most important of all, what ought we to do about it? Surely questions whose correct answer is of such importance to the welfare of each person and to the very existence of society demand the careful consideration of every thinking man.
Let us then take up this problem and give it the fairest and most candid investigation possible. In order to do this, let us remember that the truth is the object of our search, and that it will be necessary, if the conclusions from our investigation are to be of value, that we divest ourselves, so far as possible, of all preconceived opinions founded, perhaps unconsciously, on the statements or evidence of incompetent authorities, and also of all prejudices. Let us, in searching for facts and principles, examine with impartiality the evidence and arguments which each side presents, and judge with candor between them.
The author wishes to make an earnest personal request to the reader who is minded to follow the discussion through the following pages, that he will in good faith attempt to do this thing: that he will lay aside for the present his opinions already formed, as the author himself has conscientiously aimed to do while pursuing this investigation, and give a fair hearing to both sides of the question. A complicated machine can only be understood when it is viewed from different standpoints. So, here, in order to find the truth, we must examine trusts from the standpoint of the trust maker as well as from that of the consumer; and trade unions, from the standpoint of their members as well as from the ground of employers and of the public at large. We shall indeed meet much error by this method of study, but is it not proverbial that there are two sides to every question? It will be our task to study these opposing views and sift from them the truths for which we seek.
In taking up now the problem before us, let us adopt the true scientific method for its solution. We must first find out as fully as possible the actual facts with regard to monopolies of every sort and the competition which monopoly replaces. Next, by discussing and comparing the evidence obtained, we may be able to discover the natural laws by which competition and monopoly are controlled; and finally, with our knowledge of these, we will try to discover both the source of the evils which vex us and the proper methods for ameliorating, curing, or preventing them, whichever may be found possible.
Such is the outline of the investigation before us, which it may as well be said here could easily be extended and amplified to fill many volumes. The author has preferred to prepare the present volume without such amplification, believing that the busy men of affairs, to whom a practical knowledge of the subjects herein treated is most essential, have, as a rule, no leisure for the extended study which the volumes into which the present one might easily be expanded would require. He trusts, however, that brevity will not be found wholly incompatible with thoroughness; and that the fact that much which might have properly been included in the book is omitted, will not be taken as a necessary indication that the conclusions arrived at are without value.
TRUSTS AND MONOPOLIES IN MANUFACTURING INDUSTRIES.
In common use the word "trust" is at present rather loosely used to denote any combination formed for the purpose of restricting or killing competition. Properly speaking, however, a trust is a combination to restrain competition among producers, formed by placing the various producing properties (mills, factories, etc.) in the hands of a board of trustees, who are empowered to direct the operations of production and sale, as if the properties were all under a single ownership and management.
The novel characteristic of the trust is not the fact that it is a monopoly, but that it is a monopoly formed by combining several competitors according to a new plan. The process of placing property in the hands of trustees is familiar to every business man. In the formation of a trust the different firms or companies who have been competing with each other in the production and sale of goods agree to place the management of all their several properties in the hands of a board of trustees. The powers of this board and its relation to the owners of the various properties are ingeniously devised to evade the common law, which declares that contracts in restraint of competition are against public policy, and illegal.
The first of the modern trusts was the Standard Oil Trust, which was a combination formed among several of the refiners of crude petroleum in the States of Pennsylvania and Ohio in the year 1869. The original combination grew out of the control of certain important patents connected with the process of refining. It pursued its course for a number of years without attracting much attention outside of the centre of its operations; but of late years so much has been published in regard to it that the very word "Standard" has come to be almost a synonym for monopoly. It is probable that certain branches of the iron and steel trade were the next to be combined by means of a trust, but as these were arrangements between private firms, not much information as to the time of their origin has reached the public. The second great trust to attract general public attention was the American Cotton Oil Trust, in which some of the same men who have so successfully engineered the Standard Oil combination are heavily interested. These two great trusts, the Cotton Oil and the Standard, have attracted widespread attention, and, to a certain extent, the public has become familiar with their organization and plan of operation; but popular feeling on the subject was not fully aroused until 1887, when the newspapers of the country made generally known the fact that the trust principle of combination was being rapidly adopted by the manufacturers of a large number of important lines of goods. The effect which these monopolies were believed to have upon the public welfare was pointed out by writers and speakers, and Congress and the State Legislatures were besought to investigate these combinations and seek to suppress them. Meanwhile it seems to be true that the popular agitation has had no effect in lessening the number of trusts, or checking their formation and growth; and they continue to increase and to gather their profits, while the public impotently wonders what it is going to do about it. Let us be careful, however, to make no assumption that the trust is injurious to the public at large. That is a matter which is before us for investigation.
It is safe to assume that the reader is somewhat familiar with the general charges which have been brought against the trusts; but even if this side of the story has not been heard, it is not unfair to look at them first from the standpoint of the men who make and manage them. In order to do this, suppose we select some particular trust which will serve as a type, and imagine that some frank, candid manufacturer, who is a member of this trust, comes before us to give an account of its formation and operations. This man comes, we suppose, not as an unwilling informant, or as one on trial. He is frank, honest, and plain-spoken. He talks as man to man, and gives us, not the specious argument of an eloquent pleader in defence of trusts, but just that view of his trust and its work that his own conscience impels him to take. Certainly, then, he deserves an impartial hearing.
A number of years ago the principal manufacturers of linseed oil in the United States formed an association. It was started largely for social ends, and was very successful. Business men are generally most interested in their own plans and operations; and those who are familiar with the same topics and have similar interests and purposes are apt to make agreeable companions for each other. We discussed many points connected with the management of our business at the meetings, and by interchanging with each other our views and experiences with different devices, methods of management, etc., we were able to get much valuable information, as well as social pleasure, from meeting one another.
Now within the past few years things have been going from bad to worse with the manufacturers of linseed oil. The long and short of it all was that the margin between the cost of the raw seed and running our mills, and what we could get for the oil cake and the linseed oil in the market, has grown exceedingly narrow. It's hard to tell just what has caused it. They say over-production; but what has caused the over-production? One thing that may have had something to do with it is the new mills they have been putting up in the Northwest. Many of the Eastern mills used to get large quantities of seed from Iowa; but they are building cities out there now, as well as raising flax-seed, and when they were booming some of those cities they would raise heavy bonuses in aid of new enterprises. Among these were some great linseed oil mills, which have loaded up the market pretty heavily of late years; so that not only has the price sagged down, but we have all had to work to get rid of our stocks. The firms which had the best mills and machinery, and were in a position to get their seed reasonably and put their goods on the market with least expense for transportation, etc., have been making a small profit over and above their expenses. But some of the works which had to bring their seed a long way, and which haven't quite as good machinery as can be had now, were in a bad way. There were some of the oldest houses in the trade among them, too, and with fine men at their head. It was too bad to have them go under. They tried to cut down expenses, but strikes and trouble with their men prevented their saving much in that way. Then there was one item of expense which they had to increase instead of cutting down: that was the cost of marketing. Competition was so fierce, that, in order to keep up their trade, they had to spend more on salaries of expensive salesmen, and in advertising and pushing their goods, than they would dream of ordinarily.
It seemed too bad to cut each other's throats in that way, for that was what it amounted to, and when the association met,—or what was left of it, for the business rivalries had grown so bitter that many of the former personal friendships between the members had become strained and one after the other had dropped out,—the situation was discussed by the few members who met together. It was discussed earnestly, too, by men who felt an interest in what they said, because unless some remedy could be devised, they had got to sit still and watch the savings of a lifetime slip through their fingers. One thing was very clear to all. Though competition was as sharp as any one could possibly wish, the public was not getting such a wonderful benefit after all. Prices were not so very much lower for oil, nor higher for seed. It was the selling expense which had run up to a ruinous figure; and on one point all the members were unanimous,—that if all the firms in the trade could only work together in harmony in marketing their goods, they could save enough in salesmen's salaries, etc., to make a great difference in the profit-and-loss account without affecting the selling prices in the market one penny.
Another very important matter, which we had to handle pretty tenderly in our discussions, was that of adulteration. I must confess that a good many firms in the trade, who used to be above any thing of the sort, have been marketing some goods in the past few years which were not exactly the "pure linseed oil" which they were labelled. It's a mean business—adulteration,—but not many of our customers ever test their purchases. The one thing they are apt to look at is price, for they are buying to sell again; and when rivals are selling a cheaper oil that seems just as good until it is laid on as the pure linseed that you are obliged to ask a higher price for, the temptation to meet them at their own game, rather than lose your old customers, is a very strong one. Certainly, when competition took this form, it hurt the public even more than it hurt us. When people wish to buy pure linseed oil they ought to have some prospect of getting it, instead of getting an adulterated mixture of various substances; but at the rate competition was running, there seemed to be small prospect that there would be any really pure linseed oil put on the market in a short time. We have often discussed the possibility of stopping these adulterations, but it was a hard matter to cure by mere mutual agreement. How do I know what my competitor in a city a hundred miles away, does with the vats in his cellar after working hours, even if he has solemnly agreed not to adulterate his goods? For I must confess that there are a few men in our trade who are as tricky as horse jockeys.
Quite a number of improvements have been patented in linseed oil machinery in the past twenty years. Nothing wonderful, but things that effect little economies in the manufacture. We could have done without them; but when a few firms took them up, of course the rest had to follow suit, or fall behind in the race of competition. We have had to pay a heavy royalty on some of these machines, and it has been rather galling to count out our hard-earned dollars to the company which has bought up most of the patents, and is making 100 per cent. a year on what it paid for them, with no risk, and without doing a stroke of work. Now if we manufacturers could work in harmony, we could make this company come down from their high horse, and they would have to ask a reasonable price for their machines. But we could do more than this. It stands to reason that a good many improvements will be made in our machinery in the future. We don't object to paying a fair price to any inventor who will work out these new ideas for us; but it does seem unjust for him to go and sell them to some outside company for a song, and have that company bleed the users of the improvement for every ounce they will stand. Now, by working together, we can refuse to pay royalties on any thing new which comes up; but require, instead, that any new patent in our line be submitted to a committee, who will examine and test it; and if they find it to be of value, will purchase it for the use of all members of the association.
Some of the members thought this was as far as we ought to go. They were opposed to "trusts" on principle. But the great majority saw so clearly where we could continue to better ourselves that they became enthusiastic over it.
Some speculators, in years of short crops, have occasionally tried to "corner" flax-seed in a small way. We could refuse to buy except directly from the growers, and that branch of speculation would be a thing of the past. We have sent out some pretty sharp men as buyers, and sometimes they have bought flax-seed in some of the backwoods districts at very low rates. At other times, two buyers from rival firms have run counter to each other, and paid prices larger than their employers could really afford. But with our combination, we cannot only fix uniform prices for seed, but we can send out only enough buyers to cover the territory; and the work of buying is reduced to simply inspecting and weighing the seed.
Now another thing: Of course, not every manufacturer in the business owns his mills. It is a fact that since the close times of the past few years the majority of the firms are carrying mortgages on their mills; and some of them in the West are paying as high as eight or ten per cent. interest. But with the combined capital of all the firms in the trade at our back, we can change all that. Either by a guaranty, or by assuming the obligations, we can bring the interest charges on every mill in the association down to four or five per cent. at most.
We have been paying enormous rates to fire insurance companies. They are not as familiar with our business as we are ourselves, and they don't know just how much risk there really is; so they charge us a rate which they make sure is high enough. We can combine together and insure ourselves on the mutual plan; and by stipulating that each firm shall establish and keep up such precautions against fire as an expert may direct, we can not only reduce the cost of our insurance to that of our actual losses, but we can make these a very small amount.
It may be said that we might have done all these things without forming any trust to control prices. But the practical fact was that we could not. There was so much "bad blood" between some of the different firms in the business, from the rivalry and the sharp competition for trade, that as long as that was kept up it was impossible to get them to have any thing to do with each other in a business way. It was no small task to get these old feuds patched up; but some of the best and squarest men in the business went right into the work, and at meetings of the association, and privately, exerted all their influence to forward this coming together for mutual aid and protection. They did it conscientiously, too, I think, believing that it was necessary to save many of us from financial ruin; and that we were not bound, under any circumstances, to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the public. The trust has been formed, as every one knows, and many of the things we planned to do have been already accomplished. We have stopped adulterations on all goods made by members of the trust; and the improvement in the quality of linseed oil which has been effected is an important benefit to the public. We are managing all the works in the trust as if it were all a single property, controlled by different managers; and the saving in expense, over the old plan of cut-throat competition, when everybody was striving to save himself and sink his rivals, is an enormous one.
One thing which has caused much hue and cry, is the fact that we have closed half a dozen mills or so. But the matter stood in this way: these mills were not favorably situated for doing business, all things considered; and all the mills in the country cannot run all the time, because there are more mills in existence than are needed to supply the market. These mills must have been closed soon, if the trust had not commenced operations, because they could not be run under the old regime and pay expenses. We knew we could make the oil at a less cost in our other mills, so we concluded to buy out the owners of these at a fair price, and shut up the works. Prices of linseed oil have been raised somewhat, we confess; but we claim that they had been forced down much too low, by the excessive competition which has prevailed for a few years past. Of course some of the most hot-headed and grasping among us, were anxious to force prices away up, when they once realized that we had an absolute monopoly of the linseed oil trade of the country; but the great majority were practically unanimous in a demand for just prices only, and the adoption of the policy of live and let live; for trust-makers are not entirely selfish.
We claim, moreover, that we are breaking no legal or moral law by this action. We are, for the most part, private parties or firms—but few corporations,—hence the attempt to abolish trusts on the ground that the corporations composing trusts have exceeded the power given by their charters will fail to reach our case. We have certainly done this: we have killed competition in the linseed oil trade; but we submit that with so many other interests and trades organized to protect themselves from outside competition, and control the prices at which their products are sold to the public, we were, in self-defence and for our own preservation, obliged to take this step.
 It should be explained that the above is not given as a bona-fide statement of facts concerning this especial trust, but as a vivid description of the organization and plans of a typical trust, from the standpoint of its owners and managers.
Probably, too, few or no existing trusts have tried to benefit themselves in so many different ways as we have supposed this imaginary trust to have done. But to shorten our investigation, the author has purposely extended the scope of this trust's action, to bring out clearly the variety and importance of the methods by which a trust reaps profits, aside from any advance in the price of its product.
If we omit the references to the especial trade, the above view of a trust from the trust-makers' standpoint will do for almost any of the many combinations which have been formed by different manufacturers for the purpose of controlling production and prices. One thing is clearly indicated in the above, and will certainly be conceded: That the men who have formed these trusts are animated by the same motives as those that govern humanity in general. They have, in some cases at least, known what it was to be crowded close to the wall by severe competition. They all at once saw a way opening by which they could be freed from the worries and losses which had been making their business one of small and uncertain profits, and would be set squarely on their feet with a sure prospect for large and steady gains. It is using a common expression to say that they would have been more than human if they had refused to improve this opportunity. Certainly, then, in examining further the trusts, we shall do so with no feeling of personal prejudice toward the men who originated them and carry them on.
As we have given a hearing to the case from the trust-makers' standpoint, it is only fair that we should hear at equal length from the public who oppose the trusts; but to abbreviate the investigation, let us suppose that we are already familiar with the various charges which are brought against the trust monopolies, and let us proceed at once to consider the actual effect of the trusts upon the public.
Since we have heard so much in defence of the linseed oil trust, it will be well for us to inquire concerning the results, in which the public is interested, which have followed its organization. During the year 1887 (the trust was formed in January of that year) the price per gallon of linseed oil rose from thirty-eight cents to fifty-two cents; and this price was kept up or exceeded during 1888. That is to say, every purchaser of linseed oil, or every one who had occasion to have painting done, pays to the members of this trust, for every gallon of oil that he uses, about fourteen cents over and above the sum which he would pay if competition were allowed to do its usual work in keeping down prices.
What profits are the members of this trust making? Let us suppose that they were just able, at the old price of thirty-eight cents per gallon, to pay all their running expenses and four per cent. on the capital invested, making nothing for profits beyond a fair salary to the managers of the business. Then the gain of fifteen cents a gallon in the selling price is clear profit to them. Now add to this the fact, which was plainly brought out in the foregoing supposed statement by a member of the trust, that it is possible by means of the trust to greatly reduce expenses in many directions as well as to increase receipts, and we begin to form some conception of the profits which this trust is harvesting. If we wish to put the statement in figures, suppose we take the annual consumption of linseed oil in the country at thirty million gallons. Then the profits of the trust from the increased prices alone will amount to four and one half million dollars per annum.
There is another way in which trusts directly affect the public, which has received very much less attention than it deserves. Besides the people who use the linseed oil and pay the trust an extra fourteen cents a gallon for the privilege, there are a great number of people who would have used oil if the price had not advanced, but who cannot afford to do so at the advanced price. It is a well-known fact that every increase in the price of any article decreases the demand, and the advance in the price of linseed oil has undoubtedly had a great effect in decreasing the consumption of oil. So while it is undoubtedly true that at the trust's prices there are more linseed-oil mills in the country than are needed to supply its wants, yet if the prices were lowered to the point which free competition would fix, there would probably be demand enough to keep all the mills running. To the trust, then, must be ascribed the final responsibility for the stoppage of the mills and the loss of employment by the workmen. Nor does the effect upon the labor market stop there. From the fact that less people can afford to paint their houses, because of the higher price of the oil, it is certain that there will be less employment for painters; and as less paint is used, all those interested in and employed in the paint trade are sufferers. It is to be remembered that we are speaking of the linseed oil trust only to make the case more vivid. The principle is general and applies equally well to other trusts, as for instance to the loss of employment by thousands of men working in refineries controlled by the sugar trust, in the fall of 1888. Still another effect of this trust's action is to be especially noted: the fact that the diminished production of oil lessens the demand for seed; and also that in the purchase of seed, as well as in the sale of oil, the trust has killed competition. The trust may, if it chooses, fix uniform prices for the seed which it purchases; and the farmer can take the prices they offer or keep his seed. Fortunately the farmer can raise other products instead of flax-seed, and will do so if the price is lowered by any large amount.
One other possible mode of profit for the trusts, which, however, they are hardly likely to engage in—from their fear of public opinion, if for no other reason—lies in the power which they possess over the labor market. It will probably be conceded at once that the rate of wages in any occupation depends, among other things, upon the competition of the various workmen who seek employment in that occupation, and also upon the competition among those who wish to hire men to work at that occupation. It is plain that when the competition among employers to secure men is active, wages will rise; and when this competition falls off, wages will fall. Now the trust is more than a combination for selling purposes only. It is a combination of all the properties concerned under practically a single ownership. Clearly, then, as the various mills belonging to a single owner will not compete with each other in the employment of labor, the mills belonging to a trust will be no more likely to do so. Thus if it were not for the fact that the workmen are able to take up some other employment if their wages are too low, they would be absolutely obliged to take what wages, great or small, the trust chose to give, and would be as dependent for their food and clothing upon the trust as was the slave upon his master.
The question is often asked why trusts have not been formed before, and what the causes are which have started them up so rapidly in such varied lines of industry. There is certainly room for much honest difference of opinion in reference to these causes; but one cause concerning whose influence there can be no dispute is the culmination of the change from the ancient system of manufacturing to the modern. Let us briefly trace the manner in which this branch of civilization has grown: In the most primitive state of existence, each man procures and prepares for himself the few things which he requires. With the first increase in intelligence those of most skill in making weapons and preparing skins make more than they require for themselves, which they exchange with others for the products of the chase. The next step is to teach to others the special skill required, and to employ them to aid the chief workman. Conditions analogous to these existed down to the end of the last century. The great bulk of all manufacturing was done in small shops, each employing only a few workmen; and the manufacturer or master workman labored at the side of his journeymen and apprentices. The products of these little workshops were sold in the country immediately adjacent. Of course the number of these scattered shops was so great that the possibility of uniting all the manufacturers in any one trade into a single organization to prevent competition among them, was beyond the thoughts of the most visionary.
The present century has seen three great economic wonders accomplished: the invention of labor-saving machinery, greatly multiplying the efficiency of labor in every art and trade; the application of steam power to the propulsion of that machinery; and the extension over all civilized lands of a network of railway lines, furnishing a rapid, safe, and miraculously cheap means of transportation to every part of the civilized world. In order to realize the greatest benefit from these devices, it has become necessary to concentrate our manufacturing operations in enormous factories; to collect under one roof a thousand workmen, increase their efficiency tenfold by the use of modern machinery, and distribute the products of their labor to the markets of the civilized world. The agency which has acted to bring about this result is competition. The large workshops were able to make goods so much cheaper than the small workshops that the latter disappeared. Then one by one the large workshops were built up into factories, or were shut up because the factories could make goods at less cost. So the growth has gone on, and each advance in carrying on production on a larger scale has resulted in lessening the cost of the finished goods. Competition, too, which at first was merely an unseen force among the scattered workshops, is now a fierce rivalry; each great firm strives for the lion's share of the market. Under these conditions it is quite natural that attempts should be made to check the reduction of profits by some form of agreement to limit competition. Many plans have been tried which attempted to effect this by mere agreements and contracts, methods which left each property to the control of its special owners; but none have been permanently successful. By the trust plan of combination, the properties are practically consolidated; and the failure of the combination through withdrawal of its members is avoided. It offers to manufacturers, close crowded by competition, a means of swelling their profits and ensuring against loss; and encouraged by the phenomenal success of the Standard Oil combination, they have not been slow to accept it.
The point to which we need to pay especial attention, in the foregoing consideration of the causes which have produced trusts, is the fact that the cost of production is continually being cheapened as it is carried on on a larger and larger scale. And because the cheaper mode of production must always displace the mode which is more expensive: as Prof. Richard Ely expresses it, "Production on the largest possible scale will be the only practical mode of production in the near future." We need not stop to prove the statement that the cost of production by the modern factory system is a small fraction of that by the old workshop system. The fact that the former has beaten the latter in the race of competition would prove it, if it were not evident to the most careless observer. But it is also a fact that the trust, apart from its character as a monopoly, is actually a means of cheapening production over the system by independent factories, for it carries it on on a larger scale than it has ever before been conducted. Our review of the trust from the trust makers' standpoint showed this most forcibly; and we shall see more of it as we study further the methods by which the monopoly gains an advantage over the independent producer in dispensing with what we may call the waste of competition. In the argument presented by the Standard Oil Trust before the House Committee on Manufactures in the summer of 1888, occurs the following statement of the work which that monopoly has done in cheapening production:
"The Standard Oil Trust offers to prove by various witnesses, including Messrs. Flagler and Rockefeller, that the disastrous condition of the refining business and the numerous failures of refiners prior to 1875 arose from imperfect methods of refining, want of co-operation among refiners, the prevalence of speculative methods in the purchase and sale of both crude and refined petroleum, sudden and great reductions in prices of crude, and excessive rates of freight; that these disasters led to co-operation and association among the refiners, and that such association and co-operation, resulting eventually in the Standard Oil Trust, has enabled the refiners so co-operating to reduce the price of petroleum products and thus benefit the public to a very marked degree and that this has been accomplished:
"1. By cheapening transportation, both local and to the seaboard, through perfecting and extending the pipe-line system, by constructing and supplying cars with which oil can be shipped in bulk at less cost than in packages, and the cost of packages also be saved; by building tanks for the storage of oil in bulk; by purchasing and perfecting terminal facilities for receiving, handling, and reshipping oils; by purchasing or building steam tugs and lighters for seaboard or river service, and by building wharves, docks, and warehouses for home and foreign shipments.
"2. That by uniting the knowledge, experience, and skill, and by building manufactories on a more perfect and extensive scale, with approved machinery and appliances, they have been enabled to and do manufacture a better quality of illuminating oil at less cost, the actual cost of manufacturing having been thereby reduced about 66 per cent.
"3. That by the same methods, the cost of manufacture in barrels, tin cans, and wooden cases has been reduced from 50 to 60 per cent.
"4. That as a result of these savings in cost, the price of refined oils has been reduced since co-operation began, about 9 cents per gallon, after making allowance for reduction in the price of crude oil, amounting to a saving to the public of about $100,000,000 per annum."
Certainly it would seem that this is a strong defence of the trust's character as a public benefactor; but it is well to note that while it has been making these expenditures and reducing the price of oil to the consumer, it has also been making some money for itself. The profits of this trust in 1887, according to the report of the committee appointed to investigate the subject of trusts by the New York Legislature, were $20,000,000. The nominal capital of the trust is but $90,000,000, a large portion of which is confessedly water. In answer to the statement that the price of oil has been reduced steadily by the operations of the trust, it is charged that no thanks is due to the trust for this benefit. The trust has always wished to put up the price, but the continual increase in the production of the oil fields has obliged the trust to make low prices in order to dispose of its stock. There are also about one hundred independent refineries competing with the trust, and their competition may have had some influence in keeping prices down. It is undoubtedly true that the economy in the storage, transportation, and distribution of oil by the systematic methods of the Standard Oil Trust has made it possible to deliver oil to the consumer at a small fraction of its cost a decade ago. But it is also true that a good part of the reduction in the price of oil is due to the abundant production of the petroleum wells, which have furnished us so lavish a supply. The principal charges against this trust, made by those who were conversant with its operations, have never been that it was particularly oppressive to consumers of oil; but that, in the attempt to crush out its competitors, it has not hesitated to use, in ways fair and foul, its enormous strength and influence to ruin those who dared to compete with it.
In a later chapter we shall be able to study these more intricate questions regarding trusts with a better understanding of our problem. Let us pay some attention now to the growth of the trusts and of combinations in general for the purpose of limiting competition among manufacturers, which has taken place within the past few years.
According to the little book entitled "Trusts," by Mr. Wm. W. Cook, the production of the following articles was, in February, 1888, more or less completely in the hands of trusts: petroleum, cotton-seed oil and cake, sugar, oatmeal, pearl barley, coal, straw-board, castor oil, linseed oil, lard, school slates, oil cloth, gas, whiskey, rubber, steel, steel rails, steel and iron beams, nails, wrought-iron pipe, iron nuts, stoves, lead, copper, envelopes, paper bags, paving pitch, cordage, coke, reaping and binding and mowing machines, threshing machines, ploughs, and glass—a long and somewhat jumbled list, to which, however, at the present time, there should probably be added: white lead, jute bagging, lumber, shingles, friction matches, beef, felt, lead pencils, cartridges and cartridge-shells, watches and watch cases, clothes-wringers, carpets, coffins and undertakers' supplies, dental tools, lager beer, wall paper, sandstone, marble, milk, salt, patent leather, flour, and bread. It should be said that, as regards most of these combinations, the public is ignorant beyond its knowledge that some form of combination for the purpose of restricting competition has been formed. For the purpose of our present investigation it makes little difference just what this combination may be.
The salient facts for us to note are, that among the manufacturers of this country there has arisen a widespread movement to partially or wholly avoid competition in the production and sale of their goods; that in a very great number of manufacturing industries these combinations have progressed so far that their managers have been able to advance prices and check production; that some of these combinations have taken the form of trusts, and by this means have every prospect of maintaining their stability and reaping their enormous profits with the same permanency and safety as has their predecessor, the Standard Oil Trust; and, finally, that with this prospect before them, our manufacturers, as a class, would lose their reputation as shrewd business men if they did not follow out the path marked out for them, and combine every manufacturing industry in which combination is possible upon the plan of the trust.
In conclusion, it may be well to examine the statement attributed to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, that, "there is no possibility of maintaining a trust. If successful for a time, and undue profits accrue, competition is courted which must be bought out; and this leads to fresh competition, and so on until the bubble bursts. I have never known an attempt to defeat the law of competition to be permanently successful. The public may regard trusts or combinations with serene confidence."
Surely if this statement is true, we have little need for further examination of this subject. We have now knowledge enough of our subject to enable us to determine its truth or falsity. We have found in the actual trusts that we have examined none which have shown signs of succumbing to outside competition. More than this, however, we have seen that it is possible for a trust to carry on business and deliver goods to the consumer at much less cost than an independent manufacturer can. And as surely as this law holds that production on the largest scale is the cheapest production, so surely will the trust triumph over the independent manufacturer wherever they come into competition. If the trust were always content when its competitors were disposed of, to make only the profits which it could secure by selling at such prices as the independent manufacturers could afford, there would be less outcry against it. But with the consumers wholly dependent upon it for supplies, the prices are in the trust's hands; and the tendency is to reap not only the profits due to its lessened cost of production, but also all it can secure by raising the selling price without arousing too much the enmity of the public.
Clearly the trust is at once a benefit and a curse. Can we by any means secure the benefit which it gives of reduction in cost without placing ourselves at the mercy of a monopoly? This is the question which must occur to every thoughtful man. Before we can answer it, however, we must examine the effects of competition and monopoly in other industries.
MONOPOLIES OF MINERAL WEALTH.
It is a well known historical fact that the extraction of metals and minerals from the earth has been more subject to monopoly than almost any other business. It was, and in a large part of the civilized world still is, esteemed a prerogative of the sovereign. Agricultural products have always been gathered from a wide area; manufactures were formerly the product of mean and scattered workshops; but in the working of a rich mine, there was a constant income more princely than was to be obtained from any other single source. Again, with all due respect to the traditions of former generations, it seems to have been thought that any thing to which no one else had a valid title belonged to the crown; and as no one was able to assert any stronger claim to the ownership of mineral wealth than that they had stumbled upon it, it was natural for the sovereign to claim it as his. We see thus the recognition at an early date of the inherent difference between natural wealth and that created by labor.
But coming down to the present time, it is evident that the business of extracting some of the rarer metals from the earth is peculiarly liable to become a monopoly. It is one of the new laws of trade, whose force and importance we are just finding out, that the ease of restricting competition varies with the number of competing units which must be combined. Our most valuable metal, iron, is so widely distributed that any attempt to control the whole available supply could not long be successful. But it is one of the peculiarities of modern industry that by its specialization it furnishes constant opportunities for the establishment of new forms of monopoly, whose power is not generally understood. In the manufacture of Bessemer steel, which has now largely displaced wrought iron in the arts, it is necessary to use an iron ore of peculiar chemical composition. This ore is found most abundantly and of best quality in the mines of the Vermilion range, lying about one hundred miles north of Duluth, Minn., and in the mines of the Marquette Gogebic, and Menominee regions in the north Michigan peninsula. According to good authorities, a combination more or less effective has been formed among the owners of all these mines; and the highest price is charged for the ore which can be obtained without driving the customer to more distant markets for his supply. Among the mines of this district, competition, if not entirely stopped, is greatly checked, and is likely soon to be entirely a thing of the past. It is an interesting fact that among the members of the syndicate which owns the principal mines in the Vermilion regions are some of the trustees of the Standard Oil Trust. It is stated that some of these mines have paid 90 per cent. per annum on their capital stock, which, it is to be noted, represents a much greater sum than the amount invested in the plant of the mine.
It is thus apparent that the mining of the raw ore from which iron is made, abundant and scattered though it is, is not free from monopoly. The combinations to restrict competition among the makers of cast iron and of steel belong properly under the head of monopolies in manufactures. We need only refer here to the fact that they are supposed to exist and have more or less control of the market.
Fortunately for the stability of our system of currency and of finance, the precious metals, through the small ratio which their current production bears to the world's stock, and the fact that this stock is scattered among an enormous number of holders, are safe from any attempts to establish a monopoly to control their price through the control of their production. Other metals, however, which are like silver and gold in being found in workable deposits at but a few points on the globe but are there found in abundance, are peculiarly adapted to facilitate the schemes of monopolists. Of lead, copper, zinc, and tin, we require a steady supply for use in the various arts; and the statement has been made that the supply of each one of these is in the hands of a trust. To see the effect which these combinations have had on prices, let us examine the prices which have prevailed for two years past on these four articles, as shown in the following table:
Table of wholesale prices (cents per lb.) in New York City of copper, lead, tin, and zinc during 1886, 1887, and 1888:
+ + -+ + -+ + Copper Lead Tin Zinc + -+ + -+ + 1885 Dec. 31 11.50 4.60 - 5.35 1886 Apr. 3 11.45 4.90 - 5.50 1886 July 3 10.00 4.90 - 5.60 1886 Oct. 7 11.00 4.35 - 5.60 1887 Jan. 5 12.25 4.75 24.50 6.42 1887 Apr. 6 11.00 4.75 24.50 6.50 1887 July 6 10.50 4.92 25.00 7.00 1887 Oct. 6 11.00 4.45 23.30 6.75 1887 Dec. 29 17.75 5.00 37.00 6.00 1888 Mar. 29 17.50 5.50 39.50 6.75 1888 July 3 17.25 4.25 22.00 6.50 1888 Oct. 4 18.50 5.75 26.00 6.75 1889 Jan. 3 17.50 3.85 22.00 5.50 1889 Apr. 29 16.50 4.25 23.00 6.50 + + -+ + -+ +
Taking the evidence of this table, we conclude that the combination which is said to control the zinc and lead markets is probably not a trust, but a "Producer's syndicate" or corner. The prices of lead show no such firm tendency to advance as would be expected if the production was in the hands of a single combination.
The prices of zinc, however, show a decided advance in the past two years over the prices for the three years preceding, the average price for 1886 being but 5.50, while for 1887-8 it is 6.58. This is a rise of no small importance, and the way it is maintained seems to give evidence of restriction of competition among producers.
But the striking fact in the above table is the evidence it presents of the work which has been done by that most gigantic and daring combination for the suppression of competition ever organized, the French Copper Syndicate or La Societe Industrielle Commerciale des Metaux. This syndicate of French capitalists began operations in 1887, with the intention of "cornering" the tin supply of the world. The rise in price which was due to their operations is shown in the above table. But before completing their scheme they relinquished it for a grander enterprise, which would embrace the copper production of the world. They made contracts with the copper-mining companies in every country of the globe, by which they agreed to purchase all the copper which should be produced by the mines for three years to come at the fixed price of 13 cents per pound, and a bonus of half the profit which the syndicate was able to make from its sales to consumers. In effect this move killed the competition in the copper trade of the world, and placed every consumer at the mercy of this Paris syndicate. The advance in tin was of short duration, and those who suffered by it were speculators rather than consumers; but the advance in copper, as shown by our table, is still firmly maintained, and its effect on the industries using copper has been seriously felt all through 1888. In October, 1888, the Societe extended its contracts with several mining companies to cover a period of twelve years, and advanced its price to the producers to 131/2 cents per pounds. At the same time, to avoid the accumulation of stock, which the diminished consumption consequent upon the increased price had caused, and which it had been generally predicted would finally be the cause of the Societe's downfall, they arranged for the restriction of the production of the mines. If the Societe, which is backed by the heaviest capital, and managed by the shrewdest business skill of France, does what it intends to do, and its tributary producers are faithful to their contracts, for ten years to come, yes, for all years to come—for it is not likely that an enterprise of such golden returns will ever be abandoned if it can once profitably be carried out,—the world must pay for its copper whatever these monopolists demand.
Probably the argument against the private ownership and control of the wealth which nature has stored up for the whole world's use was never brought home to men's minds so forcibly as it has been by the acts of these French speculators. Copper is a necessity to the industries of civilized society; and the mind of every unprejudiced person protests against the injustice of placing in the hands of any single firm or combination the power to exact such prices as they choose for the great staples of human consumption. This increase of price of about 7 cents per pound is a tax which affects, directly or indirectly, every person in the civilized world. Let us inquire what becomes of this tax. Perhaps 2 cents per pound will go into the pockets of the Frenchmen who have engineered the combination, a sum which will give them, if we set the annual consumption of copper at 400,000,000 pounds, a comfortable net income of about $8,000,000 per annum. The lion's share of the profits is taken by the producers, however; who, if 10 cents is the price at which copper would sell if free competition were in force, are receiving under the present contract with the Societe about 5 cents per pound as a reward for their co-operation in its monopolistic scheme.
 Since the above was written the collapse of the copper syndicate has taken place. The causes which brought this about were the failure to complete the contracts for restriction of production, and lack of funds to meet the current liabilities. The reason for both these must be largely ascribed to the fact that it had come to be generally realized how great and how obnoxious the monopoly was; and capitalists rightly feared that government interference would be interposed to check the monopoly's operations. If the syndicate had made its long-time contracts at the start, or if it had been bold and shrewd enough to have inveigled speculators on the bear side of the market into operating against it, M. Secretan and his associates might have won as many millions as they could have wished. It is a significant fact that the downfall of the syndicate was not followed by the reestablishment of free competition. Instead there was at once talk of another syndicate being formed to hold the copper stored up by the Societe, and keep the price up as long as possible. On this side of the water the question was at once canvassed whether a combination could be formed among the different American companies to prevent competition and support the price. Evidently the failure of this scheme has not discouraged the makers of monopolies.
It is appropriate here, too, to make reference to the enormous profits which the owners of the copper mines of the country are receiving, apart from the special influence of this great syndicate. The richest and most valuable copper mines in the world lie on the southern shore of Lake Superior. The Calumet and Hecla Company, which works one of the richest deposits of native copper ever found, has a capital stock of $2,500,000, on which it has paid, since 1870, $30,000,000 in dividends. The reports of these companies to their stockholders show that the present cost of refined copper at the mines is as low as 4 cents per pound, and its cost, delivered in the New York market, is only 53/4 cents. Probably the officers of these companies are right in their belief that in no other mines of the world can copper be produced so cheaply. But the question that comes with force to every thinking man is: If the wealth of the ore in these mines is so much greater than that in any other that it can be produced at so much less cost, does there not exist here a natural monopoly, of which the owners of these mines are getting the sole benefit? And, again, by what right does the chief benefit from this rich deposit accrue to the few men who own the mines, rather than to the many men in all parts of the world who wish to use their product?
Great and important as is the copper monopoly, of far greater importance to us than any and all the combinations in the metal industries are the monopolies which control the price of coal. We do not often realize how intimately connected is our nineteenth-century civilization with the store of fuel laid up for us in distant geologic ages. And in this country, with our severe climate, coal is all-important as a factor of domestic economy, as well as a necessity to manufacturing and metallurgical industries. The total cost to the consumers of the coal used in the United States every year (about 120,000,000 tons), calling the average retail price $4.00 per ton, is nearly $500,000,000, or over $8.00 per annum for every man, woman, and child in the country. Surely, then, the statement which we make at the outset, that the coal trade of the United States is in the hands of monopolists; and that competition, where not killed, is almost impotent to keep down prices, is one which merits earnest attention.
The United States possesses coal fields of enormous extent and richness. The mineral is widely distributed, too, productive mines being now in operation in 27 of the States and Territories. Anthracite coal, however, which is by far the best adapted to domestic use, only occurs in a limited area in the State of Pennsylvania; but here the deposit is of phenomenal richness. The total area of the Pennsylvania anthracite field is about 300,000 acres. Of this area nearly 200,000 acres is owned by seven railway corporations. These companies, either directly or through subsidiary companies controlled in the same interest, carry on mining operations, carry the coal to market, and sell it. The following figures exhibit the receipts of each of these companies from sales of coal from their mines during the year 1887:
+ -+ -+ + COMPANY. TONS. RECEIPTS. + -+ -+ + Philadelphia and Reading R. R. Co. 7,555,252 $18,856,550 Central R. R. Co. of N. J. 4,852,859 12,132,146 Lehigh Valley R. R. Co. 5,784,450 14,461,125 Del., Lackawanna, and Western R. R. Co. 6,220,793 19,044,803 Delaware and Hudson Canal Co. 4,048,340 10,100,118 Pennsylvania R. R. Co. 3,818,143 8,820,718 New York, Lake Erie, and Western R'y Co. 2,363,290 6,846,342 + -+ + Total 34,643,127 $90,261,805 + -+ -+ +
 Compiled from "The Coal Trade," 1888, (H. E. Saward), and "Poor's Manual of Railroads," and partially estimated.
Thus these seven corporations alone produced from their own mines, carried to market, and sold, over 34,000,000 tons of coal during the year, for which they received about $90,000,000. Of the magnitude of the operations carried on by these great corporations we now have some idea. Let us next inquire to what extent competition is allowed to act between them to keep down prices.
Many years ago these seven companies formed the famous anthracite-coal pool. This was an agreement by which all the companies concerned agreed to maintain a uniform selling price for coal at all important distributing points where two or more of the companies came into competition. Some of the prices which were fixed by the pool were extremely arbitrary. Cities in Pennsylvania within an hour's ride of the coal fields had to pay nearly as high a price for coal as those 500 miles or more distant. Rates of transportation on coal mined by individual operators were made such that the latter could not afford to sell below the prices fixed by the pool, even if they had been so disposed. At the present time the situation has been modified by the long and short-haul clause of the Interstate Commerce law, by which the railroad is obliged to make its transportation rates somewhat proportionate to distance, and also by the passage of a law in the State of Pennsylvania, by which the acts of the anthracite-coal pool were declared illegal and punishable. Nominally, therefore, the pool is a thing of the past; but the practical fact is, that by secret or tacit agreement the various companies are not competing with each other any more now than in the days of the pool, and at points like New York or Buffalo, where two or more roads meet, the same prices are quoted by each different company.
Nor are the charges against the pool comprehended in its autocratic determination of the price of coal. To make production correspond with price, it was necessary at times to close collieries entirely, throwing the miners out of employment. The individual operators, too, have no love for the combination. Their profit depends more than any thing else on the rate of transportation, and thus whether they shall make or lose depends on the railroad companies. They claim that the railways base their rates for carrying coal upon the principle of "charging what the traffic will bear." This is a matter, however, which we can better discuss in the next chapter.
It is thus evident beyond dispute that the production of anthracite coal in this country is an industry uncontrolled by competition. To sum up: these seven great corporations own more than two thirds of the area in which workable anthracite coal is found: they mine and market directly the great bulk of the total production; the individual operators are dependent on the railways for getting their coal to a market; and the price at which they can afford to sell it depends on the railroad rates. Finally, consider that these seven companies work in harmony, both as to traffic rates and prices for the sale of coal, and the conclusion is irresistible that competition in anthracite-coal production in the United States is practically dead.
Let it be noted, for the benefit of those who may conceive that the above statement is unfair to the railway companies, that no charge is here made that the prices fixed by the companies for the coal are at the present time extortionate or unjust. That is a separate matter; in which, doubtless, there would be plenty to affirm on the one hand that the prices charged were no more than a just compensation, while their opponents would declare that the prices adopted by the pool favor some points to the prejudice of others, and that the statement that they were on the whole exorbitant was proven by the fact that the railway lines in the coal regions, where honestly managed, have paid great dividends on the actual capital invested.
Compared with the production of Pennsylvania anthracite, the coal production of any other single section seems small. But it is only so by comparison, for the Western coals, while inferior in quality, are abundant and easily mined, and must remain the staple for general consumption throughout the region west of the Mississippi, as well as for large sections further east.
As is well known, the people of the Western and Northwestern plains are wholly dependent upon the railroads for their supplies of every description, except the raw products of the soil. The railways themselves are great consumers of coal, and have bought up large tracts of coal lands and opened mines. In the desire to develop traffic and ensure a supply of coal to the settlers on their lines—we will even say of cheap coal,—the railway companies have entered the coal trade themselves, either directly or through subsidiary companies. Thus it comes about that hundreds of thousands of people of the West and Northwest must pay for coal, which is an absolute necessity of life during several months of the year, whatever price the managers of a single railway corporation may demand. Let it be understood that no charges are here made of injustice or extortion on the part of the railway companies. It is only wished to bring out the fact that competition is here wholly absent. It is believed that, in some cases at least, an honest attempt has been made to mine and sell the coal at merely a fair profit. But in days to come it will not be so directly for the interest of the railways to deal liberally with their patrons as at present. Other men of less breadth and principle and more ready to grasp at a chance for enormous profits may control the company's affairs; and if that happens, the opportunity to take advantage of the absence of competition and raise the price of coal will be utilized.
A brief review of the actual status of the coal production of the West and South will help us to a clear appreciation of the case. The Missouri Pacific Railway Company, through subsidiary companies, extracted from its mines in Missouri and the Indian Territory, during 1887, 1,618,605 tons of coal. Through its control of transportation rates, private operators have been compelled to sell coal at the company's prices in the market. The company has recently purchased large tracts of coal lands in Colorado, on which it is opening mines. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy, the Denver and New Orleans, the Union Pacific, and the Denver and Rio Grande Railway companies are also heavily interested in the Colorado coal mines. The last company has long held a bonanza in the monopoly of the coal mining and transportation for the Colorado silver-mining and smelting districts. Though the other companies, to which the Rock Island should probably be added, come in as competitors, there can be no doubt that their active competition will be of short duration. The Wyoming coal fields are being worked by the Union Pacific and the Chicago and Northwestern companies, while the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy and a company supposed to be closely connected with the Northern Pacific are preparing to take the field at an early date. On the Pacific coast the coal trade has long been a monopoly in the hands of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, who have kept the prices in San Francisco just below the point at which it becomes profitable to import Australian coal. Other railways are now preparing to reach the coal fields, but can we doubt that the competition to which the coal consumers are looking with eager anticipation will prove evanescent? Returning to the East, we find the coal mines of northern Illinois all held by a single company, which has full control of the traffic; while the mines of southern Illinois, on which the St. Louis consumers depend, are united as the Consolidated Coal Company. This latter corporation has "wrecked" many of its mines for the purpose of limiting the supply and raising the price; and has bought many mines of competing companies and closed them for the same purpose. The Attorney-General of Illinois has been requested to bring suit against this "trust" for the forfeiture of its charter.