Readings on the Relation of Government to Property and Industry

By Samuel P. Orth | Go to book overview

THE RENEWED EXTENSION OF GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF ECONOMIC LIFE
ANNUAL ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION

BY DAVID KINLEY, OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS

(From the American Economic Review, Supplement, March, 1914)

For some twenty-five years there has been a marked recession among English-speaking peoples from the strong individualism of the early 19th century towards a gradual extension of government authority in economic matters. Laissez-faire has been discredited both as a principle of political philosophy and as a rule of conduct. Whether we should try to restore its prestige or with what other principle we shall replace it, however, are matters concerning which current discussion is somewhat confused. On the one hand are those who declare that competition has broken down, and has produced a monopolistic system which will in time completely supplant it, and which is of such tremendous extent and power that it can be managed only by the government. On the other hand are those who believe that competition is a force which should be preserved as a ruling power in economic life, and would therefore prevent by government action the establishment of monopolies and break them up where they are already established. This, in substance, is the policy that our own federal government has been pursuing since the enactment of the Interstate Commerce Law in 1887. Still others urge that all we need to do is to prevent the evils of excessive competition by setting limits within which competitive forces must work. The first group of thinkers take the socialistic view and call for government ownership or at least for direct government management. The second group are still in effect believers in the laissez-faire principle, and think to restore it by destroying monopoly. The third group also are still faithful to their belief in the efficacy of competition but would restrict its field of operation at the bottom so as to prevent industrial degradation.

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reservation, in state constitutions or statutes, of the power to repeal or amend corporate charters. These reservations, while of considerable value, have not been entirely effective to safeguard the public interest. A corporation may be killed, but its privileges usually survive its death and inure to the benefit of the incorporators. A curious example of the far-reaching influence of this decision is found in Muhlker vs. N.Y. and Harlem R.R. Co., 197 U.S. 544, 571. According to this and other similar cases, a state judicial decision merely declaring the law or interpreting a constitution or statute, may be held to be a violation of the prohibition forbidding a state to "pass any . . . law impairing the obligation of contracts." See also an article by W. F. Dodd on "Impairment of the Obligation of Contracts by State Judicial Decisions," in Illinois Law Review, October, 1909.

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