It is the degree to which government has become associated with business.
Continuing Woodrow Wilson’s New Democracy,
our selection from The New Freedom by Woodrow Wilson published in 1913. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Woodrow Wilson’s New Democracy.
Let me illustrate what I mean: It used to be true in our cities that every family occupied a separate house of its own, that every family had its own little premises, that every family was separated in its life from every other family. That is no longer the case in our great cities. Families live in tenements, they live in flats, they live on floors; they are piled layer upon layer in the great tenement houses of our crowded districts, and not only are they piled layer upon layer, but they are associated room by room, so that there is in every room, sometimes, in our congested districts, a separate family. In some foreign countries they have made much more progress than we in handling these things. In the city of Glasgow, for example (Glasgow is one of the model cities of the world), they have made up their minds that the entries and the hallways of great tenements are public streets. Therefore, the policeman goes up the stairway and patrols the corridors; the lighting department of the city sees to it that the halls are abundantly lighted. The city does not deceive itself into supposing that that great building is a unit from which the police are to keep out and the civic authority to be excluded, but it says: “These are public highways, and light is needed in them, and control by the authority of the city.”
I liken that to our great modern industrial enterprises. A corporation is very like a large tenement house; it isn’t the premises of a single commercial family; it is just as much a public affair as a tenement house is a network of public highways.
When you offer the securities, of a great corporation to anybody who wishes to purchase them, you must open that corporation to the inspection of everybody who wants to purchase. There must, to follow out the figure of the tenement house, be lights along the corridors, there must be police patrolling the openings, there must be inspection wherever it is known that men may be deceived with regard to the contents of the premises. If we believe that fraud lies in wait for us, we must have the means of determining whether our suspicions are well founded or not. Similarly, the treatment of labor by the great corporations is not what it was in Jefferson’s time. Whenever bodies of men employ bodies of men, it ceases to be a private relationship. So that when courts hold that working men can not peaceably dissuade other working men from taking employment, and base the decision upon the analogy of domestic servants, they simply show that their minds and understandings are lingering in an age which has passed away. This dealing of great bodies of men with other bodies of men is a matter of public scrutiny, and should be a matter of public regulation.
Similarly, it was no business of the law in the time of Jefferson to come into my house and see how I kept house. But when my house, when my so-called private property, became a great mine, and men went along dark corridors amidst every kind of danger in order to dig out of the bowels of the earth things necessary for the industries of a whole nation, and when it came about that no individual owned these mines, that they were owned by great stock companies, then all the old analogies absolutely collapsed, and it became the right of the government to go down into these mines to see whether human beings were properly treated in them or not; to see whether accidents were properly safeguarded against; to see whether modern economical methods of using these inestimable riches of the earth were followed or were not followed. If somebody puts a derrick improperly secured on top of a building or overtopping the street, then the government of the city has the right to see that that derrick is so secured that you and I can walk under it and not be afraid that the heavens are going to fall on us. Likewise in these great beehives where in every corridor swarm men of flesh and blood, it is the privilege of the government, whether of the State or of the United States, as the case may be, to see that human life is properly cared for, and that human lungs have something to breathe.
These, again, are merely illustrations of conditions. We are in a new world, struggling under old laws. As we go inspecting our lives today, surveying this new scene of centralized and complex society, we shall find many more things out of joint.
One of the most alarming phenomena of the time — or rather it would be alarming if the Nation had not awakened to it and shown its determination to control it — one of the most significant signs of the new social era is the degree to which government has become associated with business. I speak, for the moment, of the control over the Government exercised by Big Business. Behind the whole subject, of course, is the truth that, in the new order, government and business must be associated, closely. But that association is, at present, of a nature absolutely intolerable; the precedence is wrong, the association is upside down. Our Government has been for the past few years under the control of heads of great allied corporations with special interests. It has not controlled these interests and assigned them a proper place in the whole system of business; it has submitted itself to their control. As a result, there have grown up vicious systems and schemes of governmental favoritism (the most obvious being the extravagant tariff), far-reaching in effect upon the whole fabric of life, touching to his injury every inhabitant of the land, laying unfair and impossible handicaps upon competitors, imposing taxes in every direction, stifling everywhere the free spirit of American enterprise.
Now this has come about naturally; as we go on, we shall see how very naturally. It is no use denouncing anybody or anything, except human nature. Nevertheless, it is an intolerable thing that the government of the Republic should have got so far out of the hands of the people; should have been captured by interests which are special and not general. In the train of this capture follow the troops of scandals, wrongs, indecencies, with which our politics swarm.
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