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Reichstag have each other well by the ears, Russia and Austria will see their opportunity. And this may happen a year or two sooner, on account of Prince Bismarck's retirement.
The one issue on which all parties were united during the last presidential campaign was that there should be reform. True, that campaign did not differ from preceding campaigns in this respect; reform seems to have been a perennial desideratum throughout nearly the whole history of this country, but one which has a marvelous quality of continually eluding our grasp. There is nothing like a virtuous demand for reform to catch votes; even that not very consistent cry for reform within the party has been found extremely effective. Party leaders do not hesitate to say, in effect: "We have been intrusted with the powers of government, and have shamefully used them for corrupt ends. Through our administration the Government has fallen into a very bad way indeed. But we wish to reform,-to reform both ourselves and the Government,-and to this end we must be kept in power." This cry has been known to succeed, or, at any rate, not to bring defeat, for three consecutive elections; and still this people thinks itself fit for self-government.
The immediate cause why prating about reform is so captivating is patent enough: there is a widespread and probably wellfounded belief that honesty and purity do not predominate in the management of public affairs. But how can a government of the people be more corrupt than the people themselves? Why should an intelligent people choose to be ruled by knaves and blockheads? The history of Congress, of State Legislatures, of Municipal Governments, shows that knavery and stupidity have made a large showing, if they have not on the whole predominated. It may be noted that corruption has not decreased with the advance of wealth and intelligence;
but the richest and most intelligent States are likely to have the most corrupt legislatures.
It might be maintained with considerable show of reason, that the conception of political morality on the part of the people at large is not high. Take the following as an instance: A private citizen, in a communication to a certain newspaper, comments thus upon the pension bill recently passed by the Senate: "The bill is indeed liberal to the widows of deceased soldiers. This is good as far as it goes.. It will show the gratitude of the Republic in history, but it will be a monumental piece of political folly, for widows do not vote for Congressmen, and voters have no widows at present." Perhaps it should be said in extenuation that this person (who has no hesitation in signing his name) is an old soldier, and that soldiers have, for the last decade, been subject to very demoralizing influences; but how many readers of the paper will see any immorality in the implied proposition, that it would be the part of political wisdom to use the money disbursed in pensions in such a way as to secure the allegiance of recipients to the party which originated the bill? In other words, to use pensions as a means of bribing voters?
It cannot be denied, however, that political morality is lower than private morality. No ordinary citizen, much less a man of any social standing, would do in his private dealings what many politicians do, without danger of disgrace. Two reasons at once suggest themselves for this state of affairs: In the first place, while the average man will assent to the general proposition that politics are corrupt in this country, his knowledge lacks definiteness and precision. Few will doubt at the end of the present Congress that it has been guilty of jobbery and corruption, but still fewer will know in detail and with certainty even one instance. Again, almost every one who is interested in politics at all, becomes a partisan. That means that he becomes incapable of
taking an unbiased view of men and measures. He reads his own party newspapers, which contain accusations against the opposite party (most of them, if specific, well-founded), and he is little. affected by any arguments or accusations which may be brought forward by the opposite party. That quality of standing by one another which has always characterized the Anglo-Saxons, when it takes the form of loyalty to a political party, is responsible for much of the evil in our politics. I suppose not many would deliberately vote for a person they were convinced was dishonest, and against one of the opposite character, because the former happened to be nominated by their party; but to convince a thorough-going partisan that his candidate is less worthy than the opposing candidate is, in the general case, an impossiblity.
Considerable wonder is expressed, especially by foreign observers, that the higher social classes do not take a more active part in the politics of this country. The reasons for this are sufficiently evident to one acquainted with the conditions. There is no strong demand on the part of the masses to be ruled by those occupying a high position socially; while to secure a party nomination implies generally the practice of arts to which a person of delicate breeding would greatly dislike to stoop. It chiefly concerns us here to notice, what has been frequently pointed out, that the presence in Congress of a comparatively small number of men with a keen sense of honor, would create a feeling in that body sufficient to restrain its members from the grosser forms of corruption. A consideration of these causes for the crookedness of politics is calculated to throw some light upon the chances for reform. If these causes are merely transitory the prospect is brighter. Unfortunately, however, they seem likely to be permanent. The people are not likely to inform themselves more accurately as to the secret doings of their representatives.
Whether they are becoming more or less lenient in their judgment of immoral actions committed by politicians may be left an open question. The party system, perhaps in a mitigated form, is reasonably certain to persist; and the party machine, since it is extremely effective for the purposes for which it is designed, is also sure to survive. The so-called better element has of late years brought itself into prominence by taking a more independent stand in politics; but it is yet too early to predict how much influence this action will have. On the whole, if reform means getting the Government, national, State, and municipal, to do what it now attempts (or pretends to attempt) to do, in an honest, efficient, and patriotic manner, the outlook is indeed discouraging.
The case of civil-service reform affords a good instance of the progress which may be expected. The agitation has been going on at least since 1871; the people have certainly been in favor of the measure, though not, of course, fully aroused on the subject; the result thus far has been the passage of an Act (in 1883) to apply a system of competitive examination to a little over one tenth of the offices within the gift of the Government, an instance, probably, of astute Congressional "pandering to the better element." The politicians certainly could not be expected to favor complete civil-service reform, for the offices are life and blood to them; but they probably saw that there was enough strength in the movement to make a slight concession judicious. The Act covers less than half as many offices as President Harrison has made removals for political reasons during his first year at the White House.
That which attracts the swarm of parasites which hover around every administration is evidently the public plunder. Whenever a large amount of public money is to be spent, it is almost sure to fall into the hands of scoundrels, because they are more eager to get it for themselves than honest men are to see that it is properly
expended. The most obvious method of reform is to cut down the amount of public plunder-diminish the number of offices. This method is seldom advocated; probably because it is so very simple. It has not, however, entirely escaped the notice of those who have given attention to the question. Mr. Dorman B. Eaton lately expressed the opinion that it would be entirely practicable to transfer the entire carriage of mail to private enterprise. He hastened to add that this is not any part of what is contemplated by civil-service reform; that he would not put himself on record as saying that such a change would be desirable. There can be no doubt as to the accuracy of his statement; there are private concerns in the country as large as the Post-office Department; it is possible to send a package by express almost any where that a letter can be sent; but the most conclusive proof is furnished by the fact that, in a certain section, a private company for a time so far exceeded the Government in efficiency that it attracted to itself considerable of the mail matter for that section, though the Government stamps had to be affixed in addition to the charges of the company. Mr. Eaton's alternative proposition is, that the one thing needful is to pass a law that "no Postmaster General shall entertain any proposition for removing Postmasters, until he has in his department evidence that the Postmaster sought to be removed is not fit for his place." Such a law, if enforced, would prevent removals for political purposes, but something further would be required with reference to appointments. The appointing power must be vested somewhere, and even if Mr. Eaton's pet scheme were completely adopted, it will hardly, I suppose, be seriously contended that there is any mystic property in the august title, Civil-Service Commission, which will be an unfailing guarantee of the purity and wisdom of that body.
The only reason for the existence of a Post-office Department is, that there may
be means of communication between different parts of a country. At certain stages of civilization, if the Government does not establish means of intercommunication, none will be established; at a higher stage, other and better agencies are ready to perform the task. We see to-day that the Post-office Department is the cause of, say, half the political corruption in this country. It is almost impossible to overestimate the gravity of the evil, because the immorality of political life has a tendency to spread throughout the whole life of a people, especially in a free government. If there is to be a reform, the choice lies between the simple, direct certainty of doing away with all the corruption by abolishing the Department, leaving its functions to be discharged by an agency which will discharge them better, and between trying to patch up the system by removing some of its worst abuses. If men could approach the question without prejudice, and not deadened to the evils by long custom, there is little doubt to which side the decision would incline.
The Post-office Department has been taken as the most glaring instance of evil arising from the Government's undertaking work which it is not fitted to do, but other instances almost as good might have been selected. In municipal government, for example, it cannot be doubted that the indispensable condition for the success of the Tweed Ring in New York, of the Gas Ring in Philadelphia, of nearly all the corrupt schemes of politicians in our large cities, has been the willingness of the people to raise by taxation large sums of money which ought not to be raised, and to expend them for purposes which ought not to be carried out. There are a few instances of corruption in the courts, but nearly the whole history of political corruption in this country points to the conclusion that Government must be reformed by restricting it to its proper sphere.
FARM MORTGAGES AND FORECLOS
The condition of the American farmer is just now attracting a great deal of attention. It is admitted that the half of the working force of the nation engaged in agriculture is not so prosperous as the other half. The most striking symptom of this depression is thought to be the amount of farm mortgages, or rather the increase in the amount which has taken place during the last few years. Until the report of the next census it will be impossible to ascertain closely how much the mortgage indebtedness on farms throughout the country is; nevertheless, some States have collected partial statistics on this point. Mr. I. P. Dunn contributes a paper on the "Mortgage Evil" to the Political Science Quarterly, in which most of the figures accessible for the Western States are brought together. The estimated increase in the amount of mortgages from 1882 to 1888 inclusive, in Indiana, based upon the partial report of the State Bureau, is $46,476,652. In the last fourteen years the increase has been $106,855,884; what proportion this bears to the total amount of mortgage indebtedness in the State it is impossible to say, but evidently the total amount cannot be less than this sum.-In Michigan the figures are more complete, although probably less than the reality. The report (1888) of the Bureau of Statistics showed that the real-estate mortgages amounted to $129,229,553, on a total realty valuation of $686,614,741, and that 47.4 per cent of all the farms in the State were mortgaged.In the same year the Illinois Bureau computed that the real-estate mortgages in that State amounted to $381,322,339, while the assessed value of the real estate in 1880 was $575,441,053.—In the three States then, the lowest estimate places the amount of mortgages at over $617,000,000, while the actual values of the real estate (computed from the assessed value) is about $4,514,000,000. These figures being a minimum, General Butler's recent estimate
of $3,450,000,000 does not seem so very extravagant.
But the absolute amount of mortgages, or even its increase, is not a certain indication of the depression of agriculture; farmers, like those engaged in other business, are ready to borrow money when "times are good." A much better, though by no means conclusive, indication is the number of foreclosures; but on this point the figures are entirely inadequate. The amount of mortgages recorded is given and also the amount of satisfactions, but no distinction is made between those satisfied by foreclosure and those which the mortgagor had succeeded in paying off. In one State, Michigan, the number of foreclosures for 1887 is stated to have been 1,667, and in only 131 of these cases were redemptions made, leaving a net loss of 1,536 pieces of property by foreclosure in the year; but there is no means of determining whether this number increased or diminished in subsequent years.Mr. Dunn gives a table of foreclosures made in the United States Courts for Indiana by thirteen companies, mostly life insurance companies, for the years 1878-79-80, from which, together with the amount in the State Courts, he estimates that these thirteen companies were foreclosing at the rate of $1,500,000 a year. From the President of the Phoenix Mutual he learned that it "loaned a little over a million dollars in Indiana, and foreclosed on fifty-three per cent of it." His own opinion is that the total volume of foreclosures at this time was at least one half the total volume of satisfactions.
Mr. Dunn is convinced that the existence of these mortgages is an injury to the Western States. The annual interest paid to non-resident capitalists (by Indiana) is greater than the entire tax levy of the State. It is difficult to portray adequately the evil of this drain on production." It goes without saying that Indiana is worse off than if the mortgage debt in it to non-residents could be repudiated. It must be remembered, however, that this debt repre
sents so much capital brought into the State which its citizens have the use of. It is not unlikely that the rate of interest (seven per cent or more, on an average) is greater than the profits of the business will warrant. That, however, must be due to an error of judgment on the part of borrowers. It may be said that the business was more profitable formerly, when the debt was contracted, than now; but it is the essence of Mr. Dunn's contention that the amount of mortgages is increasing at present. It is evident a man cannot without loss borrow capital to extend his business and pay therefor a higher rate of interest than he can make the capital net him in profits; but if a man makes a mistake of this kind, there is nothing for him to do but to bear the loss.
Mr. Dunn's study of what facts have been recorded confirms the impression that, while farming in this country has been very profitable in the past, it is much less so now. The existence of heavy mortgages certainly cannot account for this decline. It may account for the hardship of particular individuals, or if by reason of foreclosure a large amount of farm property is thrown upon the market, it may explain why the price of neighboring property should be depressed; but it cannot be a cause of the small returns of labor and capital invested in the business.
There are two explanations to account for the recent depression of agriculture, as compared with other occupations, which are worthy of examination. The first is overproduction. The amount of our farm products has exceeded the home demand, and the surplus has been exported. Now, as long as any is exported it is evident that the price in the home market cannot be greater than the price in the foreign market. Certainly no one would ship wheat to Liverpool for seventy-five cents a bushel when he could sell it in New York for eighty-five cents. The price of the surplus, then, if there is any, may be said to fix the price of the whole crop. No labor in Europe is worse paid than agricultural labor. The
portion of our wheat exported comes into competition with the wheat raised there and with that raised in India, where "the price of labor is only seven cents a day." As long as the farmer exports any wheat he must compete directly with the "pauper labor of Europe," and even of India.
There are two remedies conceivable, one of which has been seriously proposed. Our Government cannot very well raise the price of wheat in Europe, but it might pay a bounty of, say, ten cents a bushel on all the wheat raised here; that would make an expense of only $30,000,000 or $40,000,000,-and surely a little thing of this sort ought not to stagger the present Congress. It may be suggested that there are a great many more farmers with votes than there are old soldiers. The same course might be pursued with other farm products.
A different remedy is for farmers to stop exporting products and competing with European labor-to diminish the number of acres cultivated, and raise only enough to supply the home market. Then the principle of "protection" could be applied, and there is no limit to the prosperity which might be induced. Mr. C. Wood Davis, in the Forum for May, computes that within five years from January, 1890, domestic consumption will absorb the entire product of cereals, potatoes, and hay, leaving only tobacco, cotton, and animal products to be exported; and the volume of these, even, will constantly shrink. Then the American farmer will be prosperous.
But in the meantime a great many Western farm mortgages (and Eastern also) will be foreclosed. One cannot help fearing that this reliance upon the increase of population to raise the price of food is wholly a delusion. If we look back upon the past, about which we can be reasonably certain, instead of forward into the future, about which we can be sure of very little, we see that the farmer has been prosperous. He has competed with the "pauper labor of Europe," and has proved himself able to do so with profit. Hence some persons are in