A Simple Case of Special Costing Applied to Certain Traffic.—We will suppose A and B are connected by a railroad, while C and B are connected by a highway over which transportation proceeds by the primitive means of horses and wagons. It is like one of the cases we have already stated, with the exception of the fact that the carrier over the longer route is a railroad. The limit of what the railroad can get is the natural difference between the cost of making the goods at A and the combined costs of making them at C and carrying them to B. This definitely limits the railroad charges. Whatever difference of cost there is the railroad can get if it chooses, and barring any deduction it may make in order to induce production at A and make traffic for itself, it will get it. The rate which is fixed for the railroad may be sufficient to cover the total costs chargeable to this portion of its traffic on the simple and pro rata plan of costing, or on the other hand, it may cover only a portion of the fixed costs or no portion at all. This means that the standard which is set by the differing values of the goods at A and at B may or may not yield a profit to the railroad. If it is so slight as not to cover even the variable costs of carrying the goods, the railroad will not carry them, and the supply will be allowed to come from C rather than from A. If it covers more than these variable costs, the road will accept and carry the goods. If the traffic affords any appreciable margin above the variable costs, it will be the policy of the railroad to make its charges low enough to attract the traffic, and this will slightly reduce the place value of the goods at B and bring it below the cost of procuring them from C. The railroad will thus secure the whole traffic to the exclusion of that which came from C. If the costs of making the goods at A and C are alike, then the charge for carrying from A to B will be just enough below the total costs of carrying in wagons from C to B to stop the carrying over this shorter route and appropriate the whole business; but this charge may not cover total costs of carrying from A. It may yield only a slight margin above the variable costs attaching to this part of the railroad's business. It thus appears that this carrier can with advantage accept the freight at a rate that by a perfectly normal bookkeeping is below cost, while the teamsters on the road from C cannot do this.
A Second Case in which Carrying is done for Any Amount above Variable Cost.—Let us now suppose there is a railroad from C to B as well as one from A to B. There is now competition between makers at A and carriers from A to B, on the one hand, and makers at C and carriers from C to B, on the other hand; and whichever of these quasi-partnerships delivers the goods at B at the cheaper rate gets the whole traffic. By the terms of our supposition the makers in both places are offering goods at cost, and any cutting of rates that is to be done must be done by the carriers. To reduce the prices of the goods at the mills in either locality would put some of them out of business. We will assume that there is no consolidation and no other means of concurrent action between the railroads, and that the whole traffic will thus go to the route over which the lower rates are made. For simplicity we will still adhere to the supposition of equal costs for manufacturing and of unequal costs for carrying. As the charge for carrying goes down, one or the other of the railroads will reach the point where the variable costs of this traffic are barely covered, while on the other line they are more than covered. Where rivalry is not tempered in any way whatever, the charge made by competing roads falls to a level at which returns only cover the variable costs incurred by one of the competitors, though it may return somewhat more in the case of the other.
How Fixed Costs are Met.—This implies, indeed, that the fixed charges of both roads must somehow be met by the returns from other traffic; and this supposition is in accordance with the facts. A freight war may temporarily carry rates to a level where some traffic does not cover variable costs and where total traffic falls short of covering total costs. Such a situation cannot long continue, and the natural adjustment, under active competition, is one at which rates on the traffic for which the two lines are contending are just below the variable costs incurred by one line but above those incurred by the other. There is nothing to prevent the stronger railroad from thus reducing its rates, attracting to itself the whole of the traffic, and putting an end to the rivalry of the other line. This would mean bankruptcy for that line unless it had other sources of income.
The Effects of Bankruptcy on Costs.—Bankruptcy means a scaling down of the fixed charges of the railroad to such a point that the total traffic can meet them; but it does not enable the company to reacquire business that will not yield enough to cover variable costs. Adhering to the supposition that there is no mutual understanding, no pool, and no other approach to consolidation between the rival lines, we may safely say that the general rule which elsewhere governs rates holds true here. Two roads actively competing for identically the same traffic tend to bring charges to a level at which the variable charges entailed by this traffic on the one route are not quite met and the traffic passes to the other line.
 If we wish to vary our supposition that the cost of making the goods at A and at C is the same, we have a modification of the case we have stated. If it is much cheaper to make them at A, the railroad that carries these goods from there to B may charge more for carrying than does the one that delivers the goods made at C. It is possible that the difference between the costs of making at the different points may tell decisively in favor of the longer route, and it may be the railroad from C to B that first reaches, in its charges, the level of variable costs and sees its traffic handed over to its rival.
A Principle governing Competition between Railroads and Carriers by Sea.—In a third case there may be between A and B a railroad and a water route also, while between C and B there is a railroad only. On the supposition we have made,—that competition between carriers by water has done its full work,—the charge for carrying anything by water from A to B must be sufficient to cover a pro rata part of the total costs. That may be sufficient to cover the merely variable costs entailed on the railroad, or it may not. If it does not, the railroad will not take any portion of the business except what it may take by reason of the greater speed with which it can transport the goods. If, however, the total costs of carrying by water exceed by a tolerable margin the merely variable costs of carrying by land, the railroad will be able to take the traffic. If this traffic goes to the water route, the charge made by the railroad from C to B is adjusted by a simple rule. This railroad can get the natural difference between the cost of the goods at C and the cost of similar ones made at A and carried by water to B. If the railroad gets the traffic between A and B, and the water route is abandoned, the case becomes the same as that which we have already considered,—the transporting is done at a rate which prevents one of the lines from covering its merely variable costs and secures all the traffic for the other line. The carrying from A to B goes by land or by water according as the variable costs, in the one case, or the pro rata share of total costs, in the other, are the less; and nothing can be carried from C to B unless it can be delivered at B at a price as low as that of goods made at A and transported at the rate just described. If the costs of making at A and C are equal and there are the three carriers seeking traffic, as assumed, the result naturally is to give all the business to the one who will bid the lowest for it. Either railroad will bid as low as the variable costs which the traffic occasions; while the owners of ships will bid no lower than the rate which covers costs of both kinds.
 If carriers by water are in that intermediate state in which their capacity is only partially used, they also may offer to take some traffic for an amount which only covers variable costs; but this condition does not naturally become in their case semipermanent, as it does in the case of railroads.
The Case of Railroads having Common Terminal Points.—In the fourth case there are, besides the other carriers, two railroads between A and B which compete for the traffic at these terminal points, but not at intermediate ones. Their facilities for through traffic are alike. The local traffic on the different lines is unlike, since it is affected by the character of the regions through which the railroads pass; but the charges made for local traffic are governed by the comparatively simple principles which we first stated. In contending for freight to way stations we may say that the railroad has to compete with wagons upon the highway, but with nothing more efficient. The charges for local freight may therefore be extremely high, while, if the railroads are really competing as vigorously as pure theory requires, and if the normal results of competition are completely realized, the rate which can be maintained between A and B for any articles carried will be no higher than those which cover the variable costs entailed on the route which is the less economical of the two. The line to which this test assigns the traffic between A and B must then stand the further tests we have described—those involved in contending for business with carriers using respectively the water route and the railroad from C to B.
A Condition leading to a Reduction of Fixed Costs.—It is safe to assume that one of the two railroads from A to B has more local traffic than the other. It may be that even with this advantage its total returns of all kinds may fall short of covering its total outlays. In that case the total returns of any less favorable route must fall still further short of the amount necessary for covering all outlays; and if we adhere to the assumption that neither consolidation nor anything resembling it takes place, we have a case in which both railroads must undergo reorganization. The fixed charges of the better route must be scaled down and the creditors of this railroad must accept the loss, while on the other route the fixed charges must be reduced still more and the creditors must suffer a larger loss. It goes without saying that the prospect of such a calamity means consolidation. It is evident what alternative competitors face in cases in which heroic competition goes on to the bitter end. As a rule this is an unrealized alternative. The mere prospect of the calamity connected with it is bad enough to put an end to the independent action of the different railroads. With the facilities for combination which now exist a far smaller inducement suffices to bring this about.
The Case of Railroads whose Entire Routes are Parallel.—We have to consider only one more typical case in order to have before us a sufficient number to establish the general principles which govern the charges for the carrying of freight by railroads. Variations innumerable might be stated; and, indeed, the experience of the railroad system of this country affords the variations and reveals the results which follow from the conditions they create. The railroads may be strictly parallel lines, pursuing the same route and competing for local traffic as well as for through traffic. If the case we lately examined insures consolidation,—and indeed all of the cases we have stated impel the companies powerfully toward it,—this last case makes assurance doubly sure. Strictly parallel railroads competing for traffic over their entire routes and neither uniting nor showing any of the approaches to union would be an impossibility. Persistent competition would then mean reducing all charges to the level fixed by variable costs, which would leave no revenue whatever to cover fixed costs, and would send the companies into a bankruptcy from which even reorganizations could not relieve them, since they could not annihilate all the fixed costs.
A Case of Arrested Development.—It is clear that, in the entire policy of railroads, the fact that their capacity has never been fully used plays a highly important part. It makes the distinction between fixed costs and variable ones a leading element in the adjustment of charges. With the capacity of railroads completely used, as is that of a ship which carries a full cargo at every voyage, the distinction would lose most of its importance. More business would then require an addition to every part of the plant and would thus entail new fixed costs which would have to be charged against the new business. As the traffic of any railroad grows toward its maximum, the cost which each separate addition to it entails grows larger and larger. When cars are few and are only half filled, an increment of traffic entails a very small increment of expense. When the cars are filled and new freight requires the purchase of more of them, the cost of this addition to the traffic becomes greater. When further additions to the freight carried require additions to trackage, yard room, storage room, etc., they cost far more than the earlier additions; and new increments of freight come, in the end, to cost very nearly as much per unit as the general body of the previous traffic when all outlays were charged against it. The railroad approaches the condition of the full ships referred to, in which further cargoes require further ships, with all the outlays which this implies. The distinction between different kinds of costing is gradually obliterated, and railroads steadily draw nearer to that ultimate state which other carriers more quickly approach, in which each part of the freight carried must bear its share of the total costs entailed. Long before that state is reached, however, combination ensues, and the movement of freight charges toward their static standard is arrested.
The Standard of Freight Charges under a Regime of Monopoly.—A consolidation so complete that it would merge all rival lines under a single board of control and pool all their earnings would restore the early condition described in connection with one of our illustrations—that of the single railroad between A and B, having only sailing vessels and wagons as rivals. It is able to charge what the traffic will bear in a simple and literal sense. The consolidated lines can, if they choose, get for each bit of carrying the difference between the value of goods at the point where they are taken and their value at the point where they are delivered. These values are approximately what they would be if no railroad existed. The carrying done by the railroad itself does not enter into the making of them. The natural value of a commodity at A is what it costs to make it there, and the value at B is either the cost of making it at B, or that of making it at C and carrying it in wagons to B, or that of making it at A and carrying it by water to B. In any case there is a natural and simple process of fixing the costs both at A and at B, and the difference between them is the limit up to which the railroad can push its charges if it will. Where the business which furnishes the freight is not fully developed, the railroad may moderate its charges for the sake of letting it grow larger. The hope of increased traffic in the future may cause a reduction of demands in the present. We shall see what other influences may keep the charges below their possible level; but the natural difference between two local values of goods is the basis of the charge for carrying them from one point to the other. Consolidated lines, if they had as perfect a monopoly of carrying by railroad as has the single line in our illustration, would base their charges on this simple principle, though for a number of reasons they might not take all that the principle would allow.
How Imperfect Consolidation Works.—Imperfect consolidation, when it follows a period of sharp competition, has to deal with obstacles which prevent a complete carrying out of this policy. Many rates have become far lower than the rule of monopoly would make them, and there are difficulties in the way of raising them. A weak combination of parallel lines may keep its charges within bounds, partly from a fear that larger ones may afford too great an incentive to secret rate cutting and may so break up the union, and partly from a respect for what the people may do if the exactions of the railroads become too great. The more complete forms of consolidation have not the former of these dangers to fear; and if, without being restrained by the state, their charges continue moderate, it is mainly due to the fact that other lines less firmly consolidated are unable safely to make a radical advance of rates, and that this often prevents such a course in the case of lines which would otherwise be able to take it.
Limits on the Charges of a System of strongly Consolidated Lines.—This means that where a great system of railroads occupying the whole of a vast territory is so firmly consolidated as to have a complete monopoly of carrying by rail within the area, it is still affected in indirect ways by the possible rivalry of lines altogether outside of its territory. An excessive charge on freight from Chicago to New York might induce carrying by rail from Chicago to Norfolk and thence by water to New York. It might cause grain, flour, etc., to be shipped to Europe from Southern ports rather than from those on the Atlantic coast. These cases and others do not fall under principles essentially different from those already stated, but they call for the application of the same principles in complex conditions which our study is too brief to cover. There is a supposable case in which nearly all that could be secured by any railroad connecting Chicago with the Atlantic coast, even though every line in the territory between them were the property of one corporation, would be the variable cost of carrying goods over a line running to a port on the Gulf of Mexico. Reflection will easily show how the principles already stated apply to this case and others.
Effects of a General and Strong Consolidation.—With all the lines in this country and Canada in a strong consolidation, the advance of rates to, or well toward, the limit set by the principle of natural place value created would inevitably come unless the power of the state should in some way prevent it. The railroads would be able to get the difference between the cost of goods at A, in the illustrative case, and the cost of making or procuring them at B without using the connecting line of railroad. When the appeal to the state is only imminent,—when the power of the government is not yet exercised, but impends over every railroad that establishes unreasonable charges,—the rates may be held in a fair degree of restraint. A wholesome respect for the possibilities of lawmaking here takes the place of actual statutes. A respect for the law appears in advance of its enactment and may amount to submitting rates in an imperfect and irregular way to the approval of the state. This effect, when it is realized, is to be credited in part to laws which will never be enacted. The merely potential law—that which the people will probably demand if they are greatly provoked, but not otherwise—may be a stronger deterrent than the prospect of more moderate legislation. In general a considerable part of the economic lawmaking of the future will undoubtedly be called out by demands for action that is too violent to be taken except under great provocation. The dread of the extreme penalty insures a cautious policy in increasing charges which have been established under a transient regime of competition. Partial monopolies adhering to rates many of which were established under the pressure of competition—such are the railroad systems of America. The existing condition shows some of the effects of competition which has ceased and of legislation which has not taken place. As the combinations shall become greater and stronger, the situation everywhere will become more and more akin to that which existed in a local way when a single line of railroad had no effective competition, and the charges which the traffic would bear were fixed in the way we have described and absorbed the place value which the carrying created. It is a method which exposes the public to an extortion which, though not unlimited, is unendurably great. Consolidation, therefore, means the control of rates by the state; but it is essential that this control be exercised with due regard for the economic principles which rule in this department of industry. Thus only can there be secured the results of a natural system unperverted by monopoly.
The principles which a study of simple cases suffices to establish are as follows:—
1. Freight charges are essentially a variety of price. They express the exchange value of place utility.
2. The static standards or norms toward which these prices tend are fixed in the same way as are other static standards of value,—by a rule of cost,—though in the case of railroads the working of this rule is exceptional.
3. When carrying is done by simple means and by competing carriers, the ultimate basis of charges is the cost of the carrying; and this is estimated in the simple way in which, under perfectly free competition, the cost of making commodities is estimated. The total outlay is charged against the total product.
4. A single railroad between one point and another, when it is not affected by the rivalry of any other railroad, can get for its service the difference between the cost of goods at the place where they are made and the cost at the point of delivery, on the supposition that they would either be made at this point or carried thither by more primitive means. Under such a partial monopoly the costs incurred by the railroad itself do not directly set the standard of its charges, but other costs do so.
5. In this case the so-called variable costs incurred by the railroad furnish a minimum limit below which its charges cannot go, but to which they tend to go in the case of traffic which cannot otherwise be secured.
6. This place value which the railroad can confer on the goods is small (1) when the cost of making the goods at their place of departure is not much less than that of making them at their place of destination, or (2) when it is not much less than the cost of obtaining them from a third point, or (3) when it is possible to carry them from the place of their origin to their destination by water or by any other cheap means of transportation.
7. Variable costs are positive additions to the total outlays previously incurred by a railroad, and they result from adding a definite amount to its previous traffic. They are less than proportionate parts of total costs, including interest, some part of operating expenses, cost of maintenance of roadway, etc.
8. The comparative smallness of the variable costs is chiefly due to the fact that the carrying capacity of railroads is only partially used. These costs become relatively larger as traffic increases, and would practically coincide with proportionate shares of total costs if the traffic should reach its absolute maximum.
9. If the place value above defined is large enough to cover the variable costs attaching to certain traffic and afford any surplus whatever, the railroad usually takes this traffic.
10. On the business which it gets the charges vary widely and, as it appears, capriciously, but they are at bottom governed by the economic principle stated—that of place value as established in ways in which the charges of the railroad itself do not figure.
11. Competing railroads tend to bring rates downward toward a minimum which is fixed by the merely variable costs of the carrying as done by one or more of the railroads themselves.
12. The competition between railroads is arrested while they are not using their full capacity, while the merely variable costs of an increment of traffic are still abnormally low, and while many rates are so.
13. Railroads which compete for freight between terminal points are strongly impelled toward consolidation; and those which compete along their entire lines are forced to resort to it.
14. Consolidation in its more imperfect forms tends to establish rates that are abnormally high, but this tendency is somewhat checked by the danger that the combination may be broken by a desire to foster business in a section of country and by the indirect influence of lines outside of the territory controlled by the consolidated roads.
15. In its stronger and more extended forms consolidation leaves the people with no adequate safeguard against extortionate charges except as this is furnished by the intervention of the state; and this needs to be effected with an intelligent regard for the natural forces which are at work amid the seemingly capricious irregularities in the present system of charges.
The Aim of Regulation by the State.—An aim of a government, in all of its economic policy, is to insure the best use of the national resources, and this can often be done by keeping alive free competition. Where the rivalry of producers is active, a law of survival guarantees that the more economical method of producing an article shall displace the inferior one. When the choice lies between using a quantity of free and disposable labor in making goods in a certain market and using it in making them elsewhere and carrying them to the market, the alternative which gives society the most that it can get by any use of its productive resources is the one that is spontaneously selected.
How an Extortionate Local Charge may sometimes be reduced without Injury to a Railroad.—A low charge for freight carried from A to B coupled with an extortionate one from A' to B might preclude making the goods at A', though they can be made there at excellent advantage and the interests of society will soon require that they be so. This situation can exist only so long as traffic is slight between A and A' and greater between A' and B. The growth of traffic over the former section of the route will make it desirable for the railroad to raise its rate over that portion. If, under compulsion or otherwise, it reduces the rate from A' to B sufficiently to permit the production of the goods at A', it will gain a profitable traffic between A' and B at the cost of giving up a relatively unprofitable one between A and B.
Variable Costs a Proper Basis for Some Charges.—It makes for general economy to pay respect to the distinction between fixed and variable costs and let much freight be carried for anything it will yield above the variable ones. If ten units of labor are required for making an article at B and only five at A, and if a railroad between these points, whose capacity is not fully utilized, can carry the article from A to B with an expenditure of two additional units of labor, then society can best get the goods for use at B by spending these seven units in the making and carrying. It would take ten units to make them at B, and to society itself there is a saving of three units from making them at A and carrying them at a special rate to B. Till the railroad is more fully used for other purposes this source of economy will continue. Though the rates charged for this freight would bankrupt the railroad if they were applied to its entire traffic, it is best for the railroad to take this special bit of carrying at any rate exceeding the wages of the two units of labor; and for the time being this is the best way to use some of the social resources, since it gives at the point of delivery and use more goods for a given outlay than could have been had in any other way.
Why Consumers may suffer while Particular Producers may be Favored.—It will be seen that this principle affords an inducement for making a special classification of certain goods and carrying them for less than merchandise of a generally similar kind is carried for. It is a policy of "making traffic" which costs little and is worth more than it costs both to the carrier and to society. This incentive for reducing charges does not operate as strongly in the case of goods carried to consumers who are forced to live on the route. They are held there by the general causes mentioned at the beginning of the preceding chapter, and must pay the tax which the railroad imposes on them. The only limit on this tax is the possibility of otherwise procuring the goods or of moving out of the territory. The ultimate possibility that population may not grow under a regime of extortion and that both freight traffic and passenger traffic may be held within small limits imposes some check on the railroad's exactions. The company may find it worth while to foster to some extent the growth of population; and to favor producers of certain goods in order to induce them to locate their establishments on its line, and the result of this may be good for society; but there is no way of securing a general good from the heavy tax on the rest of the traffic unless this has been necessary to insure the existence of the railroad itself. In that case there may be a temporary necessity for it, which will disappear as traffic grows.
The Policy of the State in Dealing with Low Charges based on Variable Costs.—The interest of railroads which have a monopoly of their routes is to advance the rates on through traffic. We have noticed a possible case in which some equalization of charges by occasional reductions of local rates takes place. An increase of charges over long routes not made necessary by any pressure of business which overtaxes the railroad's carrying power would of course be injurious. Moreover, carrying full loads does not constitute such an overtaxing as calls for the higher rates. There are times when present supplies of cars and engines may not be able to move more freight than they do; but in that case more of them are called for. Only when the point is reached at which providing for this through traffic in addition to the local freight entails additions to the permanent plant and involves costs that exceed the return from the through business, is it justifiable, in the interest of social efficiency, to advance such charges. In preventing such an advance under other conditions a government helps to secure an approach to a natural economy and a maximum of production.
When, in the Interest of General Productivity, a Reduction of Local Charges is called for.—We saw that carriers of a primitive kind competing with each other would put every charge, local or otherwise, on a basis of its proportionate share of total costs. The traffic as a whole would return enough to cover all the outlays, and each part of it would yield its share. This is the ideal of effectiveness for railroads, as well as for ships and wagons. The attainment of the ideal without a regulation of charges by the state is never to be expected. One feature of this normal condition is that, where no special improvements have recently been made, total returns should just equal total costs, in the sense in which terms are used in static theory—that sense in which all interest charges and all expenses of management figure among the costs. No net profit for the entrepreneur, but full interest for the capitalist and full wages for all varieties of labor, is the rule that gives the static measure of normal returns. If a state shall slowly reduce the charges for local freight, while holding unchanged those for through traffic,—all the while allowing the total returns of the railroads to cover what we have defined as total costs,—it will do all it can toward securing an approximation to the condition which affords the largest product of social industry. It will help to make the resources of the people do their utmost in yielding an income. Total returns covering all costs, a reduction of those charges on local traffic which have prevented industries from springing up at intermediate points between favored centers, a gradual increase of local production without any positive repression of production elsewhere—such are some features of the general change which the future should bring and which only the power of the state can make it bring.
How the State may secure what Competition secures in Other Fields.—In general industry the rivalry of entrepreneurs carries prices to a level fixed by costs, but in transportation the rivalry has so largely disappeared as to prevent such an outcome. The state cannot restore much of the vanished rivalry and would cause an unnatural condition if it did so. We have seen toward what an abnormal level of costs a sharp "freight war" carries rates. What the state can do is something which an instinctive judgment of the people is impelling it to do; namely, to adjust rates directly and bring them gradually toward the standard to which competition, if it were working as it elsewhere works, would automatically bring them, namely, that at which wages and interest are fully covered. A surplus above these outlays could always be temporarily secured wherever a special economy had been effected, and the source of legitimate profit would be open to carriers as it is to producers generally. How much should be reckoned as interest depends on the question how the capital itself is estimated, and here again the instinct of the people has been correct. It will not accept as a measure of true capital the market value of all the stocks and bonds the railroad has issued. The quotations of the market make the total values of the stocks and bonds equal a capitalization of its total earnings, and these may include a profit due to monopoly. If a state were to figure the capital in this way, and then so adjust rates as to allow ordinary interest on the sum thus computed, it would merely leave total returns as they are. It might change comparative charges, but not the sum total of all of them.
How Capital should be Estimated.—In that static condition in which, as we have shown, capital is as productive in one subgroup as in another, the capital is first measured by the cost of the goods that, in the inception of the industry, embody it, and in static studies this cost is regarded as constant. Returns from different outlays are equalized, and a dollar invested in one kind of business then yields as much in a year as a dollar in any other. In a dynamic state the cost standard still prevails, and as the tools of production become cheaper, in terms of labor, it takes more of them to represent the same amount of capital that was originally invested. What it would at any time cost to duplicate every item in the equipment of a business measures the capital it uses. Nothing but a failure of competition in the case of railroads prevents the application of this standard to them. Monopoly makes earnings more or less independent of sums invested and causes purchasers to buy stock at rates that are independent of costs of plant and equipment and are fixed by earnings themselves.
The Process of Estimating Capital on the Basis of Cost.—If we undertake here to do by public authority what competition elsewhere tends to do, we shall have to restore the standard based, not on the original cost of the railroad's substantial property, but on the cost of getting another that would be equal to it in working efficiency. The plant is worth what it would naturally cost to duplicate it; and an average rate of interest on that sum is the natural return from it. There are ethical claims which are entitled to respect and which preclude any sudden reduction of the value of a railroad's properties; and, moreover, the end in view can be attained in a way that will not necessarily take anything from the absolute amount which they are now worth. If the amount of dividends remains fixed, the increase in the actual value of the plant itself will bring these dividends into the proper ratio to it. The land that the companies use is becoming more valuable. Measured by what it would cost to duplicate it, it represents a larger and larger amount on the companies' inventories. If the equipment also is enlarged as traffic grows, the entire sum on which interest and dividends are computed becomes continually larger. If the interest and dividends earned by the plants now in existence remain fixed in absolute amount, they will become a smaller and smaller percentage of the real capital of the companies. Merely letting railroads earn the amount that they do at present would bring the net incomes after some years to the same rate—the same percentage of invested capital—that the income from other capital represents. New plants and enlargements of old ones should be allowed to earn enough to furnish an incentive for providing them as fast as the needs of the public require it.
How Insuring a Fixed Amount of Total Earnings would affect the Rates charged for Freight.—It goes without saying that the general increase of traffic, while the freight charges remain the same, increases the net earnings of the carrying companies. Therefore the policy of keeping the net earnings at a fixed total amount would mean a reduction of rates for freight and passenger service. We do not here raise the question how much reduction will be required for the purpose in view—that of transferring to the people at large whatever now constitutes a genuine monopoly profit. In the case of some lines there is, it is safe to say, no such profit, and it will be impossible to tell how much of it elsewhere exists till some careful appraisal of plants and equipments, on the basis of the cost of duplicating them, shall have been made. What we need to know is that, by the aid of such an appraisal, the state can, if it will, secure in the department of carrying the result which is automatically secured elsewhere, namely, the prevalence of charges which afford normal returns on invested capital as well as wages for every kind of labor.
Elements of the Problem not included in a merely Economic Study.—It will not fail to occur to any reader that in making the present study of railroads a very general and purely economic one we leave out of account some facts of great importance. We take no account of corruption within the corporations which do the carrying, nor of corruption in the relation between them and the officials of the state. Stockholders within the corporation are likely to have their interests betrayed by those who are appointed to take charge of them, and citizens of the state are likely to have their greater interests betrayed, in a like manner, by their appointed custodians. We cannot here discuss the various plans by which directors plunder their own corporations, nor the ways in which public officials betray the people. All of these abuses are disturbing influences in the economic system; and all of them interfere with the adjustment which gives the highest productive efficiency, and contribute a full share toward putting the social order in danger. All are, however, so obviously criminal, if they are judged by the spirit of the law,—not to say by the letter of it,—that it is better to leave the discussion of the mode of suppressing them to legal and political science.
A Practical Mode of Insuring an Approach to Normal Rates for Transportation.—When competition rules, it enlarges the supply of a dear article till the price of it is normal, and it increases the capital in a profitable business till its earnings become so. In the case of railroads this does not automatically take place, but the result of it all—adequate service and normal charges for it—can be directly secured by the state. Charges that have been made reasonable by competition may be left as they are, and those that are disproportionately high may be gradually lowered. The growth of traffic may be trusted to keep the total earnings of the companies' present plants at the amount at which they now stand, in spite of these reductions of rates; and enlargements of the plants may be permitted to earn further sums which will attract capital and keep the service abreast of the public need. All this will require expert skill of a very high order. For the purpose of the present work it is enough to say that such a course as this is the only one which will insure in transportation the results which competition elsewhere yields. It will secure both rates and service which the civil law calls "reasonable" and economic law calls "natural."
ORGANIZATION OF LABOR
What an economist wishes first to know concerning the organization of labor is whether it is a natural phenomenon which should be welcomed and left to itself. Does it help to establish wages on the basis of the productivity of labor, and does it do it without much reducing that productivity? We shall find that it works both well and ill in these particulars and needs close study and careful regulation.
What laborers themselves ask concerning the organization of men of their class is simply what power it has to raise their own wages; and we shall shortly find that it has a certain power when it does not invoke the principle of monopoly and a much larger power when it does so. We shall find that the benefit from mere organization may be extended to the great majority of laborers, while that which depends on monopoly is confined to relatively few and involves an injury to the remainder.
The Static Standard of Wages of Unorganized Labor.—In that static state toward which society is always tending, and in which the normal standard of wages is completely realized, men are supposed to get all that they produce. The law of marginal productivity of labor works, as it were, in vacuo, and gives an ideally perfect result. Every unit of labor receives what a marginal unit produces.
Actual Pay of Unorganized Labor.—A static assumption excludes enforced idleness on the part of able-bodied men. The changes which throw such men out of employment are not taking place, and there is no reserve of efficient but idle labor. In the actual state, which is highly dynamic, such a supply of unemployed labor is always at hand, and it is neither possible nor normal that it should be altogether absent. The well-being of workers requires that progress should go on, and it cannot do so without causing some temporary displacements of laborers. Though no individual were long out of employment,—though a particular man were in this condition only briefly and during the period occupied by a transit from one occupation to another,—there would always be in the general market some unemployed men. If we throw out of account those who are idle because of personal disabilities, it will remain true that really efficient men can nearly always be had, if only a few are at one time needed. The presence of even a few men able to do good work and not able to get employment is often sufficient to make individual bargaining work unfairly to the laborer. When the employing of one man is in question, the employer has other alternatives, and the man may not have them. The employer may much more readily set men bidding against each other for a vacant place than any of the men can set employers bidding against each other for an idle man. This strategic inequality between the parties in the wage contract becomes greater as the supply of unemployed men becomes larger. At some times and places it may force the pay of many workmen downward toward a minimum set by what the unemployed will consent to take.
The Effect of Local Organization.—Organization means collective bargaining and tends to equalize the strategic positions of men and employers. Where an entire force of workers must be dealt with at a time, the employer has not the alternative ready to his hand which he would have if he had only to employ a single one. If his employees strike, he cannot at once secure another force large and efficient enough to meet his needs. If his men allow their places one by one to be filled, the strike will be disastrous to them, indeed, but it will also be a misfortune for the employer. His new force will be inferior to his old one, first, because many of the new men will be personally inferior to the old ones, and secondly, because as a body they lack effective training and will not work together as efficiently as did the old force. He can afford to pay for the disciplined workers the amount that the new force will produce with two plus marks attached—one representing the superior personal quality of the former employees and the other representing the value of discipline. In other words, he can afford to make two distinct additions to the amount that unemployed men are worth to him in order to retain his old employees. This is on the supposition that it is possible to gather from the force of idle men enough to operate a single establishment. Without organization and by means of individual bargaining, wages are drawn downward toward the level set by what idle men will accept, which may be less than they will produce after they receive employment and will surely be less than they will produce after they have developed their full efficiency. With organization which is local only, and with collective bargaining that goes only to the extent of adjusting the pay of men in one establishment, this pay comes nearer to the standard set by the productivity of labor than it would if bargains were individually made. The employer balances in his mind the value of a new and raw force and the value of a selected and disciplined force, measures the difference between these values, and will often pay a rate that is between the two amounts and under average conditions is likely to approach the larger of them.
Wages as adjusted by a General Organization of Labor in a Subgroup.—Where organization goes to the length of uniting all the employees in a particular industry or subgroup, the situation is unlike the foregoing in an important particular. No quick filling of the places which the men may vacate with altogether new workers is possible. The employers are not so situated that they can compare the old force with a new one, measure the difference in their values, and govern their conduct accordingly. The training of an entirely new force is indeed a remote possibility, if the business can wait for it, but it can seldom do this; and a strike that runs through a subgroup presents to employers the alternative of winning the workers by concessions or allowing their business to stop. If it stops, it becomes a question of endurance between the employer and the employees, in which the employer has the advantage so long as the public does not interfere. We shall recur to this condition when we study the effectiveness of strikes and boycotts under various conditions. Under all three of the conditions we have just described, the static standard of wages—the final productivity of social labor—still exists; and the actual pay of labor tends toward it, but differs from it by varying amounts, according as labor is unorganized, locally organized, or organized throughout a subgroup. In the first case the worker may get materially less than the standard amount; in the second case he may get something closely approaching it; and in the third case, for reasons to which we shall later give attention, he may be able to get the full amount and somewhat more. A particular employment which is strongly organized and which makes the utmost use of its organization is often able to carry the pay of its employees to a level that is distinctly above that set by the productive power of marginal social labor. Nevertheless, the amount of this overplus which the favored worker gets is limited, and the standard fixed by marginal productivity is one on which the pay of these workers and of all others depends, though it may not coincide with it.
The Power of a Universal Organization of Labor.—In the days when the wages fund theory held sway it was believed that organization could not materially advance the interests of labor as a whole, since it could not add anything to the fund which was destined in any case to be divided among the laborers. Now that another theory of wages is generally held, it is still clear that what organization can do for the entire working class is limited. By no possibility can it insure a rate of pay that will permanently exceed the product of labor, since employers would then be interested in reducing the number of their workmen and so raising their product per capita to the level of their pay. This would result in a large force of idle laborers, whose competition would have its depressing effect on the labor market. Up to the natural limit set by the specific product of labor a universal organization might successfully carry its demands. Moreover, this result would require no use of force—no "slugging" of non-unionists, since there would be none to be slugged. The mere fact of a universal organization maintaining discipline and preventing breaks within its own ranks would suffice for the end in view—the maintenance of pay that should conform to its natural standard. The supposition of a universal organization of labor has at present only a theoretical interest. What society has to deal with is an organization that includes a small minority of workers and is composed of separate unions which are endeavoring each to promote the interests of the men of its own craft. It is a type of organization which, instead of uniting all workers, makes the sharpest division between those in the unions and those outside of them, and creates a lesser opposition between the different unions themselves.
Organized Labor and Monopoly.—Actual trade unions do not always rely upon mere collective bargaining. They sometimes aim to secure a partial monopoly of their fields of labor; and as it is impossible to do this if unemployed men or men from other fields of employment are free to enter their territory, they must be kept out of it. They can only be kept out by some use of force, and coercion applied by the workers in a well-paid field to the men who seek to enter it during a strike is a part of the strategy of trade unions.
The Ground on which the Use of Force is Justified.—Organized laborers claim a right of tenure of their positions; they claim to own them much as a man, by right of prior occupation, owns a homestead. They claim the same right to repel intruders from their field of employment that a man has to drive interlopers from his grounds. "Thou shalt not take another man's job" is a recognized commandment on which they claim the right to act.
The Mode of Justifying the Use of the Force in Guarding Vacated Positions.—Coercion is a comprehensive term and does not always involve personal assault. What it inflicts on the recalcitrant may range all the way from social opprobrium and boycotting to literal striking, maiming, or killing. In every case it involves some injury and is contrary to the spirit of the law, unless the right of tenure can be fully established. If the employer has no right to turn off his men and take new ones, and if the new ones have no right to come at his invitation, there is a rude analogy between the effort of the non-union men to get the places and an effort to get away a man's farm. It is a matter of course that the employer may rightfully discharge men who prove worthless and fail to render the service which is contracted for. The question is whether he has the right to dismiss them when they will render the service only on what seem to him exorbitant terms. On this point the verdict of his own reason is extremely clear. To offer to render the service only on exorbitant terms has the same effect as to offer an inferior service on the original terms, and the right of tenure which the workingmen claim, if it exists at all, is contingent on the rendering of effective service on reasonable terms. On the supposition that they have owned their places at all they seem to their employer to have forfeited them when they have insisted on too high wages. On this point, however, the men's reason may give an opposite verdict, though it is based on the same principle. To them the terms they insist on may appear reasonable, and they then think that, because they are so, their ownership of their positions is valid and that other claimants are usurpers. Both parties in the dispute base their contentions on the supposed reasonableness of the terms they demand.
The Necessity for Knowing what Terms are Reasonable.—A momentous question both for society and for the working people is whether there is any way of ascertaining what terms are reasonable and securing conformity to them. What we shall find is that it is possible to keep in view the natural standard of wages, as in an early chapter we have defined it, and that it is possible, in the midst of the struggle of massed capital with massed labor, to secure a certain degree of conformity to this standard. It is possible so to shape the system that a wide difference between actual pay and standard pay will not exist, and that wages will everywhere tend toward their natural levels, as they did under that earlier regime before either the capital or the labor of a subgroup acted collectively.
The Attitude of the Community toward Striking Laborers.—So long as a local community sympathizes with the worker's dread of competition and tolerates his claim of ownership of his position, it does not utterly condemn and repress every use of force in asserting his claim. The local public is partly composed of friends or neighbors of the striking worker and is reluctant to interfere with the worker's effort to defend what he considers his property—that is, his right of employment in a business to which he is accustomed. The community sympathizes with his fear of the hardship which may result when employers freely utilize idle labor as a means of defeating strikes. On the other hand, even a local community realizes that much toleration of force means anarchy. If the violence is not resisted or repressed, the strikers acquire a monopoly that is not dependent on the justice of their claims. The whole question of reasonableness in the terms demanded is forcibly set aside, and the pay that is established becomes, not whatever a calm verdict of disinterested persons would approve, but what workers by brute force can get. Even a local public is unwilling to see the social order completely subverted and mob rule substituted, and it usually interferes when violence goes to that length; but in its unwillingness completely to repress disorder, on the one hand, or to leave it wholly unopposed, on the other, a local government pursues a wavering policy, now repressing anarchy and again leaving it to gather headway. It seldom affords full protection to the non-union men who work during a strike. Moreover, it is the habit of state governments not to interfere with local affairs until the public peace is endangered, and therefore not until the coercion of free laborers has gone to great lengths. The federal government only intervenes in great emergencies. Non-union men working during a strike are left largely in the hands of the local community, which often tolerates enough of violence to give to strikers a measure of monopolistic power. The wavering policy of the local community in regard to preserving the peace expresses a corresponding mental wavering. The public obeys no clear principle of action in this connection and merely allows some "slugging" when it sympathizes with strikers, but not, as a rule, when it does not. We have to see whether this rule has in it any germ of a legitimate policy.
The Sole Mode of Escape.—The sympathy in the case depends, as we have seen, on the off-hand impression of the people as to the reasonableness of the strikers' demands; and for such an impression there may or may not be an adequate ground. It is evident that no authoritative verdict has in these cases been pronounced. The only escape from the intolerable situation which is thus created is by testing the equity of the laborer's demands and adjudicating his claim to a tenure of his position. The possible method of doing this we will presently examine. It is clear in advance that what is to be done is to determine what pay is reasonable. The worker cannot rightfully retain the ownership of his job if he does not work properly; and he cannot so retain it if he works properly and claims exorbitant pay. Fair dealing between employer and employed must be attained if his tenure is even tacitly recognized. The worker who accepts a rate of pay that is pronounced reasonable may safely be confirmed in his place and protected from any persecution on the part of his employers. The worker who refuses a rate which some competent authority has pronounced reasonable thereby forfeits his right of tenure in a definitive way. His place is clearly the property of whoever will take it, and the state is bound so completely to preserve order as to make a new worker perfectly secure from injury. This means that it must do intelligently and thoroughly what a local community weakly tries to do when it lets strikers guard their positions if it sympathizes with their cause, and represses such attempts when it does not. The sympathy needs to be crystallized into a clear verdict as to the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the rate of pay demanded, and the local toleration of violence in cases where the men's demands appear just needs to become an open and frank assertion of their right to employment on the terms demanded; while the tardy repression of the violence in cases in which the demands seem unjust needs to become a prompt and complete repression of it.
The Preservation of the Mobility of Labor Indispensable.—Any use of force, anything, however slight, that deprives labor of its mobility, destroys the condition on which the law of wages is predicated. A perfectly free flow of labor from point to point in the industrial system is essential to a static state, and to any approximate conformity of actual wages to the static standard in a dynamic state. The plan which divides labor into sections and arrays one part of the force against another makes realization of natural wages impossible. While all differences of pay which correspond to differences of productive power are normal, those which are based on a monopolizing of fields of labor by some and the exclusion of others are abnormal. They cause the rich fields to be surrounded by impassable walls and force the bulk of the population to work on the outer and poorer areas.
The Wide Range of Difference between the Pay of Different Classes of Laborers under Trade Unions.—The possible range of the rise of pay which monopoly may insure for certain laborers is far greater than that which any action can secure for labor as a whole. Mere collective bargaining makes some difference, indeed, but where there is no attempt to exclude from a favored field workers of the poorly paid class, the range of difference is not great. To double the pay of laborers of every class would require more than the entire income of society, and yet it is possible for a few workers to make as large a gain as this. Some organizations without monopoly may keep the actual pay of labor somewhat near to its theoretical standard. With monopoly they may carry it far above the standard set by the marginal productivity of social labor.
The Differing Efficiency of Organization as used against Different Classes of Employers.—When employers are acting independently, a trade union which deals with them one at a time may very easily bring the pay of its members up to a certain average standard. A strike against a single producer may be very disastrous for him, since it may cause him to lose his customers. If the general state of business is good, he will pay all that he can rather than see business drift away from him, but what he can pay is somewhat strictly limited. He cannot safely give more than what is given by most of his competitors. Organization in such a case is a good equalizer of pay, and as its power is used against different employers successively, it suffices to raise general pay toward or to a standard set by the productivity of the labor. Moreover, as a rule, it can accomplish this without any appeal to violence. A modest and reasonable demand enforced by a wholly peaceable strike is likely to be conceded.
The Power of a Strike against All Entrepreneurs in a Subgroup.—A strike against employers in an entire subgroup may gain more for the workmen, but the more ambitious effort encounters stronger resistance. The employers, we assume, are competing still and have not the power which a monopoly would give them to raise the prices of their products. Nevertheless, they can concede somewhat more when they act together than one of them could concede separately. A concurrent raising of prices is entirely possible without any positive combination of the producers who follow such a course. Moreover, the strike itself, if it continues for any length of time, creates a scarcity of the products and a rise of prices. Though the employers in the end may concede what their workers demand, or some part of it, the settlement may not cost them anything, since the advance in prices may enable them to take all that they give their men out of the pockets of the public. The strike by a trade union against competing employers has as one ground of early success the employers' distrust of each other. The danger is that as soon as prices become at all firm, one or another of the employers may quickly make terms with his men in order to seize the opportunity for new business. For this very reason, however, the range of possible gains from a strike running through a whole subgroup is smaller than it would be if the employers were organized, so that all of them could safely wait for a larger rise of prices before making terms with their men. The possible increase of pay without a combination on the employers' side is distinctly larger than any which a strike against a single employer can usually secure.
The Power of a Strike against a Union of Employers.—Still keeping the supposition that there is no coercion invoked and that strikes are quite orderly, we find that they may gain more when employers are consolidated than when they are not so, but that they are likely to encounter still greater resistance. The demand—"Pay us more and charge it to the public"—may be conceded, and probably will be so if the employers dread the hostility of their own men and the action of the state in enforcing a resumption of business. If they have no such dread, their power to resist a strike is much greater by reason of consolidation. They can safely hold out long if the public will let them do it. No one of them is in any danger of seeing others take his customers. Their hold upon their constituency is secure, and their power to tax the constituency and make it pay for whatever a strike may cost is very great. A strike under such circumstances may win much for the men or it may win nothing whatever, and the difference between these results is mainly determined by the attitude of the people. If the government will hold its hands and let the producers work their will, they may (1) allow the strike to run for a time, concede something to their men, and raise prices enough to recoup themselves with a surplus; or else (2) they may let the strike run longer, till the men are tired out, take them back without concessions, and still put the same tax on the public as in the other case.
Effectiveness of Coercion as used against Non-union Men.—As a peaceful strike has different possibilities according as it is used against a single producer, a body of competing producers, or a consolidation of producers, so coercion employed against independent workers has correspondingly different effects in the three cases. When it is used in the case of a strike of the first class, it enables the men to carry their point more quickly, but does not materially increase the amount they can gain. If the independent producer is unable to run his mill till he makes terms with his original workers, he will be in greater haste to make terms, but the amount he can yield is limited almost as closely as before by the prevailing rate of pay.
In the case of a strike of the second class which runs through a subgroup in which producers are still without union, coercion adds greatly to what the men may gain. It may fix and enforce a rate of pay which all employers must give, and circumstances will compel them to charge it to the public in whole or in part. The marginal producers who have no net profits must charge the whole advance to the public or go out of business, and the result may be that some of them may go out. The advance in the rate of pay conceded by others may come partly out of their own profits and partly out of consumers' pockets.
With employers in a great consolidation the possible advance of wages is at its maximum. The employers are in a position to charge to the public all that they give to the men, and more. If the state allows them to do it, they may thrive by repeated strikes. Whether their men thrive or not depends on their power to bar other labor from their field and to live without work long enough to induce their employers to yield.
The effect of coercion on the wages of non-union laborers means a lowering of their pay. It confines them to the less productive field which is open to them.
———- 1. Wages of union labor which monopolizes its field and deals with competing employers. ———-
2. Wages obtainable by union without monopoly approximating the natural rate.
3. ————————- Level of pay with no unions in the field.
4. Wages of non-union labor excluded from the more productive fields.
5. Base from which wages are measured.
The height of lines 1, 2, 3, and 4, above the base line 5, measures wages, and the length of the lines rudely indicates the numbers of workmen in different classes. The dotted lines above and below line 1 represent what union labor which maintains by force a monopoly of its field may be able to get from employers who are in a combination. It may be more than competing employers would give or it may be less.
For men in strong unions who have carte blanche to defend their fields, the policy of leaving other labor to its fate is overwhelmingly the more profitable. With a choice between gaining a hundred per cent in wages for ourselves or ten per cent for working humanity, self-interest speaks decisively in favor of the former alternative.
In connection with the actual dealings of workmen with their employers the following are the principal facts:—
1. When labor makes its bargain with employers without organization on its own side, the parties in the transaction are not on equal terms and wages are unduly depressed. The individual laborer offers what he is forced to sell, and the employer is not forced to buy. Delay may mean privation for the one party and no great inconvenience or loss for the other. If there are within reach a body of necessitous men out of employment and available for filling the positions for which individual laborers are applying, the applicants are at a fatal disadvantage.
2. Collective bargaining is a partial remedy for this disability and brings the pay of labor closer to its normal standard than, under individual bargaining, it could possibly be, but does not, of itself, enable one class of laborers to raise themselves to a position which is very much above that of a majority of the others. It gives to no class of workers any monopoly of their field or any power to tax the public or oppress men who are unorganized. It is a normal and democratic measure.
3. Many actual trade unions do not depend upon mere collective bargaining, but aim to secure a special gain through a partial monopoly of their several fields of labor. Their policy is exclusive in that it tries to limit the number of men who are admitted to the unions and to prevent non-union men from working at the craft.
4. In the establishing of such control of fields of labor some force is employed in order to bar from the fields men who would gladly enter them. "Slugging" is a frequent part of the strategy used when strikes are pending, and this elastic term covers a wide range of deterrent arguments. Whatever goes beyond a verbal demand or insult to the man or his family and involves any use of physical force is included in the meaning of the term, and the action ranges from small injuries to the clubbings which maim and kill. Moreover, social ostracism is to be rated as tantamount to force as a means of preventing a free movement of labor.
5. When the resort to force is defended, it is on the ground that the organized laborers have a right of tenure of their positions and that they may vacate them and still hold them as quasi-property. One man should not "take another man's job" even after the other man has left it. Acting on this claim, union laborers treat men who attempt to occupy the vacated places much as a man would treat intruders on his land or in his house. It is, as is claimed, a case in which a man must be his own policeman and protect his property.
6. The public sympathizes with the worker's dread of the competition which he encounters when unemployed men are gathered from near and far and set working in strikers' positions. It even tolerates, in a way, his claim of quasi-ownership of his position, and though it condemns the violence with which he enforces the claim, it does not summarily repress the violence. It is without a well-defined policy and often weakly permits disorders to grow into anarchy which only troops can quell. Local governments are often reluctant to lay vigorous hands on "sluggers," even when to do so would forestall the necessity for severer measures. This is due to an instinctive feeling that hardship and injustice may result from allowing employers to utilize a reserve of idle labor as a means of depressing their employees' wages and defeating strikes.
7. It is realized, on the other hand, that giving to violence a free rein means an amount of anarchy which no state can tolerate, that non-union laborers have, under the law, a claim to protection, and that allowing strikers to drive them from the field is permitting a monopoly to be established by crime.
8. The reluctance promptly to repress violence, on the one hand, or to leave it unopposed, on the other, expresses a mental wavering, since the state perceives and follows no clear principle in this connection. It has neither defined the nature and extent of laborers' rights nor provided for any orderly process for securing them.
9. The only escape from this situation is by arbitration. It is necessary to adjudicate the laborer's demand for wages and to legalize his tenure of place on condition that he shall accept a just rate of pay. The state is bound to ascertain and declare what rate is just, to confirm the workers in their positions when they accept it, and to cause them to forfeit their right of tenure if they refuse it. If the workers thus forfeit their claim, their positions are clearly open to whoever will take them, and the state is bound to protect the men who do this. Such appears to be the present situation, and an essential feature of it is the need of ascertaining on what principle a court of arbitration should proceed in determining what rate of pay is just.
THE BASIS OF WAGES AS FIXED BY ARBITRATION
The state needs an authoritative mode of determining what rate of pay is "reasonable." This duty is often imposed on boards of arbitration, for whose guidance no definite principle of justice has as yet been prescribed. Such a board has to depend on its own intuitions. It approaches its difficult work, having no legal rule for reaching a decision, and yet compelled, if possible, to reach one which will actually settle the dispute referred to it and enable production to go on. It must try, in the verdict it pronounces, to satisfy its own sense of equity. What such a tribunal has, in most cases, actually done has been to make compromises, and this has measurably accomplished both of these ends. A verdict that "splits the difference" between the men's demand and their employers' is most likely to cause work to be resumed; and on the ground that each party is probably claiming too much, and that justice lies between the claims, it insures a rude approach to fairness. This action has caused unfavorable criticism of the whole system of arbitration, on the ground that it abandons the effort to reach absolute justice and tries chiefly to end the quarrel on any terms, and also that by giving strikers a part of what they demand, it encourages them to strike again and secure more. We have to see whether a court can do better than this and whether such a crude procedure has tended at all toward putting wages on a normal basis.
Why a Court cannot reduce Wages in Favored Fields to the Rate prevailing at the Margin of Employment.—A tribunal of arbitration, which has to deal with consolidated capital and organized labor, acts in a field where both profits and wages are higher than they are in most departments of industry. Should a court then take as its standard of just wages what unorganized labor gets when it works for independent employers? That would usually level the pay of the class of laborers it is dealing with to the standard set by a much more poorly paid class.
Should the court, on the other hand, take as the just rate the one that generally prevails where employers are organized in trusts and workmen in exclusive unions? That would be legalizing the result of monopoly. The court, in such a case, knows that the profits of the business are increased by the employers' monopoly and wages by the workmen's; and yet it will not pull down the rate of pay to the level prevailing where no combinations exist. On the other hand, to legalize any high rate of wages, which is made possible only by a double monopoly, would seem to be equally unjust.
The Power of Monopolistic Trade Unions under Different Conditions.—Arbitrators have to deal with trade unions which appeal to some kind of force in defending their right of possession of a field of labor. They make their own demands, strike, and compel rivals to stay out of the positions they vacate. When this policy is tolerated, they secure an exceptionally high rate of pay.
We may represent the product of labor and its pay in the different occupations by the accompanying diagram.
The heavy line AA' represents, by its height at different points above the base line EE', the product that is specifically imputable to labor in different employments. The part of the figure where the line is far above EE' represents the condition where, on the employers' side, monopolies are established; while on the right of the figure, where the line has descended and is slowly approaching the base, the condition is represented in which employers are competing with each other, and many of them are selling their products at prices that only cover the cost of creating them. A unit of labor working for a monopoly creates as large a physical product as it does elsewhere. It turns out as many tons of steel or cases of cloth, etc., as though no monopoly existed, and the price of the goods is high because less labor is employed than would be employed under competition and fewer goods are produced. The actual product of the unit of labor, as measured in dollars, is enhanced by the employers' monopoly. BB' represents, by its varying distance above EE', what organized labor can get under the different conditions. On the left it forces the trusts to share gains with it, and gets a high rate of pay; while on the right, where employers are not in combination and there are no such great gains to draw on, it gets less, although at the extreme right it gets all that it produces. DD' represents what unorganized labor can get under the different conditions, and it is usually somewhat more where trusts employ it than it is elsewhere. The dotted line CC' represents the product of labor as it would be if it were equalized in the different fields.
The Parties interested in a Dispute in which Both Labor and Capital are Organized.—We can best deal with the problem of the adjustment of wages by arbitration if we approach it in a region where organization is strong, both on the side of labor and on that of capital, and disturbances of the natural system are greatest. The struggle that here goes on is, in a way, triangular. Organized labor contends against its own employers, on the one hand, and against unorganized labor, on the other; and the part which develops the greatest bitterness of feeling and the most violence is the strife between labor and labor—between the trade unionists who strike and the men who attempt to occupy their positions. The union is more tolerant of the employer's action in driving a hard bargain than it is of the "scab's" action in "taking another man's job."
The Public a Fourth Party in the Case.—The three parties just named—employers, organized employees, and applicants for places—are not the only parties whom the dispute affects. The public has a vital relation to it, and in a true sense its interest and rights are supreme. The public has a right to demand that production should not be interrupted, and that the supply of necessary articles should not be cut off; and it is in line with this demand that arbitrators seek first for an award that the contending parties will be willing to accept.
Two Issues needing Settlement.—In the immediate contest over the adjustment of pay, the three parties first named are the ones primarily involved. In discharging its duty as the preserver of justice, the court finds two issues which need to be settled rightly. The dispute between entrepreneurs and workmen must be rightly adjusted, and the issue between the workmen and other labor must be so. The power of the state cannot properly be used (1) to force from employers more than they can afford to give, or (2) to exclude from any field of employment free laborers who are able and willing to do the required work. Arbitrators make their awards with an eye to conditions within the business and to the state of the labor market. Instinctively an arbitrator, in trying to satisfy his sense of justice, thinks first of the amount that the business yields. The men must not take the whole income from the business, leaving to the entrepreneur nothing wherewith to meet the claim for interest. Without doing this, however, they may ask for much more than other laborers will accept, and the question arises whether this should be conceded to them. In merely putting the relation of workmen to employers on a proper footing, the tribunal may leave the relation of the strikers to other workmen as unsatisfactory as it has been. It appears that the tribunal of arbitration cannot by one act settle the two issues that are presented to it. If it gives to the men what seems like a fair share of the product of the business which employs them, it gives more than most workers get and more than the law of final productivity of labor would afford. Yet without a ruthless cutting down of the pay of favored laborers it cannot apply the standard of final social productivity of labor. If it applies this standard and cuts down the men's actual pay, they will refuse to abide by the decision; and if it tries to obtain a power of compulsion and make the men accept its decisions, they will try—probably successfully—to defeat the attempt. A system of compulsory arbitration that should go to the length of forcibly equalizing the wages paid to men of like ability in different occupations, would not be tolerated in a democratic community.
The Difficulty of Applying the Test of Final Productivity.—The law of final productivity works most efficiently when it works automatically, as it does when competing employers make the best bargains they can with locally organized laborers. The results, then, approach the theoretical standard, though they do not entirely coincide with it. The law, however, cannot be rigorously applied by a tribunal which is fixing a rate of pay by its own conscious act. How can the judges directly ascertain how much a final increment of social labor produces?
Employers, indeed, do make such tests. An estimate of how much a few additional laborers would add to the product of a business often has, in some way, to be made, and employers manage to make it; but subsequent experience is necessary for verifying their judgment. A rule of pay, governed by marginal productivity, results from the action spontaneously taken by a myriad of employers, who enlarge their working forces when they find that they gain thereby, and reduce them when they lose. Of course no court could do anything of this kind. No department of industry will turn itself into a laboratory for testing the productive power of labor. It is clear that the procedure must be much simpler and cruder; and a vital question is whether a board of arbitration, proceeding as it must do, is under any influence that impels it to render decisions which, in any degree, conform to the theoretical standard of pay. Does the economic law of wages operate at all when civil law steps in to the extent of creating any tribunal of arbitration? We shall see.
The Necessity for Some Standard on which Arbitrators may base Awards.—When a board of arbitration tries to do anything more than to end a quarrel, it must seek for some principle of justice. If it is dealing with a favored class of laborers, it finds two extreme limits between which its awards must fall, namely (1) the product which the business yields in excess of simple interest on the capital, and (2) the wages that unorganized laborers may offer to accept. It is possible that the workmen may demand the former amount and the employers may offer the latter; and if so, compromising is a rule-of-thumb mode of doing justice. In the case of a strong union and a highly profitable business the employers may offer more than the minimum amount, and the award that is a compromise between the terms of the contending parties will then be well above that which is a fair mean between the possible extremes; yet it does not appear that it really conforms to any ethical principle.
Average Wages as a Standard.—Another possible basis of an award is the average rate of wages prevailing; but it has no claim as a standard of exact justice and is very far from being workable. Wages vary from a very high rate to a very low one; and the highest rate is that which prevails where a trade union which is strong enough to keep men out of its field of employment deals with a trust which is strong enough to keep rival producers out of its field of business. Under such conditions shall a court average this rate and a very low one, and reason that a mean thus arrived at is a legitimate standard of pay or one that would be realized if no monopolies existed? There is no evidence that this is the accurate fact, and there is every evidence that a verdict attained in this way would be rejected. It would cut down the pay that the favored workers have been getting, not to mention denying them the increase they are striking for. On the other hand, the lowest rates prevail where no permanent organizations exist; and if a strike should arise here, should the tribunal take an average rate of pay as its standard? That would greatly increase the rate that prevails in the region where it is acting, and would give the men more than most of their employers could afford. It would discard the necessary rule of keeping within the limit of what an industry can pay without seeing many of its shops and mills closed. Yet a court which refused to raise the pay of the lowest class at all would seem to accept the bad results of monopoly; for it would ratify the hard arrangements which workers who are excluded from the better fields are forced to accept.
A Court of Arbitration not the Agency for Rectifying General Evils due to Monopoly.—It will be seen that the difficulty we discover in the way of a wholly satisfactory action by the court is caused by a tacit demand that it shall undo the results of monopoly itself. We instinctively say to ourselves that the court must insist on doing ultimate justice, and that all rates perverted by monopoly are unjust. The arbitrators should pull down the high rates, raise the low ones, and create such an approach to uniformity as would be realized if labor were as perfectly mobile as a static assumption requires. To do this would give some laborers much less than their employers can afford to pay and less than they often do pay; while it would be giving to others more than their employers can pay without bankrupting themselves. If such levelling is to be done, it must be done by some other agency than a board of arbitration.
The Attitude of the Public toward a Strike by Employees of a Monopoly.—If we turn from a formal tribunal to the court of public opinion, we find a like state of affairs. There is no danger whatever that the public will justify cutting down the wages now received by men in the employment of a monopoly to a much lower level. That in itself would not right the wrongs of the poorly paid workers or those of the public itself. The employer would go on getting high prices for his products and would pocket the new gain which the reduction of wages gave him. If a great corporation is now taxing the public, even those who suffer would rather see the proceeds of the grab shared with the men than see it all held by the employing corporation. It is, indeed, true that if a tribunal were to give the men an increased share of what the monopoly is getting, the employing company would try to recoup itself from the public by raising prices still higher; and, if it were to give a reduced share, the company might enlarge its business and make its prices a shade lower. Giving to the men a share of the grab made by their employer does indirectly cause a certain increase of the injury done to others, and withdrawing a share might slightly lessen the injury. The public would rather see the higher wages paid, and take some chance of this minor and indirect injury, than see the employing company pocket all that it exacts from the public.