The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

IV A MORE DETAILED LOOK AT THE PROBLEM: THE CASE OF THE RAILROADS

FROM THE ARGUMENT ABOUT THE WISDOM OF FEDERAL REGULATION AND THE debate over the proper character of such regulation, we move now to a more detailed consideration of regulation in a specific industry: the railroads.


A. THE CASE FOR FEDERAL RATE-MAKING

The following excerpts are taken from the most authoritative book on the subject in the Progressive Era, one which scholars still use regularly. At the time it was written, Congress had already equipped the Interstate Commerce Commission with substantial rate-making powers. Professor William Z. Ripley of Harvard University, frequently a government consultant on economic problems, presented a consideration of the potential uses of regulation completely uninhibited by arguments which would claim the sacrosanctity of private property. As he says, railroad rate regulation may only be a prelude to more thorough government control over the economy. This called for an honest and forthright discussion; he would nor be diverted by political bogeys.

But then neither should the student be diverted by Ripley's obvious integrity. What did Ripley mean by phrases like "an abnormal disregard or distance," "undue development of special commodity rates," the "rights of geographical location," and "territory naturally tributary to" another? Who would Ripley have had answer these questions? Despite Ripley's easy dismissal of the problem, is it altogether "obstructionistic" to expect statesmen and economists to solve the problem of what constitutes a "natural market" which "rightly belongs to any given economic agent" before they enter the process of determining railroad rates? Did Ripley's advocacy of Federal controls rest solely on his objection to railroad abuses? Or did he display a social philosophy which required

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