The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

V THE ISSUE "RESOLVED"

SO THE BRISTOWS CONTENDED THAT NO POWER AS GREAT AS THE POWER TO determine what economic opportunities might be available to whole regions of the nation--the power implicit in railroad rate-making-- could be allowed to reside with private entrepreneurs who sought above all ("rightly," Holmes would have said) their own interest. Meanwhile the McCalls argued that Federal control meant political control, which in turn meant not rationality and justice but capricious decisions that turned on purely parochial pressures--pressures which no well-intentioned board of economists, sociologists, or "efficiency experts" could withstand. Beneath these high-level contentions arose the complaints from Kansans that wheat from Wichita cost six and a half cents more than wheat from Missouri because the I.C.C. was too weak, and the fears of New Englanders for the future of Worcester if the I.C.C. should become any stronger.

Thus the controversy raged; no matter how it was argued, it never turned out simple. It was never, of course, a contest between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Neither was it one entirely between scientific enlightenment and procrustean tradition, progressivism and reaction, vested interests and the public interest, paternalism and laissez- faire, government control and private enterprise, or the corporations and "the people." As a consequence, the issue has never been resolved. Or rather, it has been resolved in a characteristically empirical way, in the form of a continuum of compromises among a multiplicity of rival interests, each defining The Ideal in terms of its own experience and its own preference.


APPLIED SCIENCE VS. GRASS ROOTS

Insofar as many reformers in the Progressive Era believed that The Ideal was something which reasonable men could agree on, they came

-48-

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