« ElőzőTovább »
A SUGGESTION ON COAL
BY WALTER L. BALLOU
In his article "What Shall We Do About Coal?' in the September Atlantic, Arthur E. Suffern has suggested a remedy through gradual extension of government control over the waste in natural resources and man-power which present mining methods entail. It is to be doubted whether many who are conversant with the industry will quarrel with his premise; there is every reason to know that there are many who, having the best interest of the industry at heart, will quarrel with his suggested remedy. Nor is the quarrel prompted exclusively by selfish motives — past experience has convinced many of the inadequate costliness of the Government's attempt to control the industry.
It is a truism that the history of American development has been the history of wasted natural resources. Man seldom thinks of conservation until the approach of total consumption of a natural resource prompts him to do so. This is true of forests, agricultural resources, and mines. It is true of man-power and the potential possibilities of man-power, to such an extent, that it has been said that in its treatment of men America is to-day wasting her greatest natural resource.
Conservation is out of the question without the moral support of the public that consumes the product to be conserved. As long as an industry dealing with a natural resource is operated on a competitive basis, so long must waste be the key-note of operation. One mine-operator is forced, for instance, to mine the cream of his potential output,
in order to meet the competition from another operator who is doing the same thing. He cannot mine 'clean,' because the cost of such mining will not permit him to meet the competition of the producer who does not mine clean.
The result is to be found in England, where to-day the pits have been worked far back, and each year sees an added cost of production, making more difficult the competition that the British producer has to meet. It is true that, if present mining methods continue in this country unchecked, America will eventually have to face the same problem.
There is no question as to the overproduction of coal in the country, caused by an over-development of mines. That, too, is the result of the basis of open competition that obtains. Good years in the industry call forth the opening of new mines, or the reopening of old ones that have been idle during dull years. What control, other than through government ownership, can the Government exercise, which will check the natural effort of one man to make money in a market where others are making it?
Admitting the evil, we believe there is a solution which, while at the further end of the social pole, will come nearer to being a solution than that proposed by Mr. Suffern. Let us first consider some of the evils which might be expected to accompany government control, and then state the suggestion.
During the 'tight' coal market of the summer of 1920, various attempts at control were made by the Government, directed chiefly toward forcing lower prices. These were attempted through regulation of the car-supply by priority orders favoring coal-movements. One priority order alone, however, which in effect permitted the abrogation of contracts with dock operators in the northwest, — if, in fact, it did not force that abrogation, — resulted in adding approximately $13,000,000 to the fuelbill of that section, without getting a pound more coal moved into the territory than would have moved without the orders. Other priority orders, intended to make possible greater production, resulted in a dispersion of available equipment to an extent which militated against the object in view.
As to control by the Government in other industries, the railroads and the merchant marine are eloquent of what waste is possible and actual under such direction. Not only was there an actual loss of millions of dollars during federal operation of the roads, but the loyalty of the railroad men was squandered to an almost irremediable extent. Recent figures given out by the present head of the Shipping Board show that the loss in that venture alone ran higher than $1,000,000 daily during the last fiscal year of operation.
Nor is this condition one that is due to questionable motives or willful intent. Government control lacks that personal interest which nature has decreed must underlie conservation. There is a lack of centralization of responsibility that no idealism of good intent can offset. Delegation of authority and responsibility carries with it a cost which prohibits conservation as it fosters waste. In New Zealand, where government operation of mining in the coal-industry has been tried, it has been found that production costs were higher and labor troubles greater and more frequent than under private operation. The experiment has resulted in less,
rather than more, conservation of both money and good-will.
That control is necessary before conservation can be accomplished is evident, since conservation means control. May we suggest that that control can best be effected by increasing industry control, rather than lessening it through the introduction of government control? Railroad heads to-day are confronted by the evils of divided authority as the result of a paternalistic attitude on the part of Government. They are much in the state in which Browning's Saul found himself. — 'death gone, life not come,' — unable to put into effect those economies that are essential if railroad transportation is to recover from its present chaotic condition. Is it not reasonable to believe that an extension of control over coal to government agencies would have a similar result in this industry?
The history of what is commonly called 'big business' has been marked by a degree of conservation that has not been found in other forms of industrial arrangement. Whether we take the packing industry, the steel industry, or the petroleum industry, the gathering of control into a few hands has made possible a saving and elimination of waste that never could have existed, and did not exist, under open competition between hundreds and thousands of small firms and individuals. 'Big business' not only has adopted modern methods of production, accounting, marketing, and 'labor-adjusting,' but has developed raw natural resources to the highest degree, bringing forth by-products in profusion out of what under former management had been waste. Through maximum production, which this control fostered, prices have been frequently lowered as compared with prices under competitive conditions. Monopoly, with all it is frequently said to imply, has been a benefactor to the public as well as to the industry in which it is born.
In the coal-mining industry such a monopoly would have even greater possibilities for good than in most other industries. Present overdevelopment in coal lands has resulted in wasteful dispersion of railroad equipment, increasing the cost of transportation of fuel, and, in times of emergency, cutting down the potential haulage of the roads. Were the coal lands of the country in the hands of a comparatively few well-financed corporations, new lands would be held in reserve while old ones were being developed along modern scientific lines. Without the struggle that now is frequently necessary in the attempt to meet necessary overhead expenses, it would be possible to install permanent equipment needed for economic mining; the operator would know that he could depreciate that equipment on a producing-time, rather than on a largely idle-time, basis, and would not feel the necessity to recover his investment in a year or two.
Such control would also tend to minimize the waste in man-power that accompanies present methods. Introduction of modern machinery would be one factor; but the elimination of hundreds of mines from operation would in itself release thousands of men from the industry for other employment, and at the same time tend to increase the annual working time of those who remained. Conservation would be accomplished also in the selling end of the industry, since duplication of merchandizing forces would be unnecessary.
It is true that, as in other industries, such concentration in a small circle of control of the vast coal resources of the country would carry with it possibili
ties of evils and dangers; but it is to be doubted whether these would be as great, from the public's standpoint, as would the waste and inadequacy of government control. The public has not forgotten that heatless days and lightless nights were never known outside of federal control of coal, and that they happened then even after warinconveniences were past. It may have forgotten that it was government interference that gave the union miners a wage-rate which is largely responsible for the present high price of fuel; and that it was government operation of the railroads which brought about freightrates on coal that are the other real factor in present coal prices. It finds it possible under monopolistic conditions in the petroleum field to buy gasoline at a satisfactory price and with satisfactory service. It has voiced its sentiments in favor of private control of private business, and it stands ready, we believe, to back that expression, if need be, by revoking its presidential choice of 1920 if the present administration fails to deliver on its pledge.
The Government has been far more successful in coping with the evils of private monopolistic tendencies than it has been in attempts at direct control of an industry. In those fields where a few well-financed firms have gained control of the output, — as in Franklin County, Illinois, for instance, — a stability of policy tending toward efficiency is to be noted, as well as a stability of price in what may be called runaway markets. Is it not reasonable to suggest that an expansion of this control, rather than that of Government, may in the end prove the solution of the problem, and result in a real conservation of coal?
THE CONTRIBUTORS' CLUB
MY WIFE S ADDRESS-BOOK
I Wonder whether other women's address-books are like Cynthia's. Hers defies definition: it cannot be indexed or codified, but must be interpreted by its amazing creator. To give an idea of the system by which it has been compiled I must quote a specific instance.
The other day a lady who was calling on my wife inquired whether she could recommend a good laundress.
'Oh, certainly!' cried the practical Cynthia, 'I always keep the names and addresses of everyone who can possibly be useful to anyone. Algernon,' she called out to me as I was trying to read the paper in the next room, 'just look in my book of Social and Domestic Emergencies and tell me Nora Mahoney's address. It is something River Street.'
Obediently I took up the little red book with its alphabetical pages, and turning to the M's, ran my finger down the list, encountering on the way an alien group of P's who had somehow strayed into the wrong fold. There was no Mahoney among them. But I knew some of my wife's mental processes, and, nothing daunted, I turned to the N's, remembering that Cynthia had once dropped the remark that very few of the people she had ever employed seemed to have last names. There was no Nora among the Nightwatchmen, the Nurses, the Nellys, and the Neds. 'Is your name M or N?' I murmured as I abandoned both initials and turned to L for Laundress. Again I was thwarted, but my hunting-blood was stirred, and I feverishly, but vainly, sought the needle of a Nora in the haystack of Hired Help.
'Don't you find it, dear?' inquired Cynthia with a note of gentle surprise. 'Perhaps you had better let me look. You can never seem to learn my system of registration.' x
When the mystic volume was in her hands, she appeared to go into a trance, and with eyes closed muttered, 'Let me see now, would it be under W for Washerwoman? No. Perhaps it might be under G for General Housework — don't you remember, Algernon, how cleverly Nora was always able to do things that we did n't want her to do? Here are the G's, — let me see, — Gasman, Gymnasium teacher, Mrs. Gordon, Glove Cleansing, Miss Grant, Oh, here we are! General Housework! Oh, no, that is n't Housework, it's General Houston — don't you remember that delightful man with the military moustache we met in Virginia? He gave me his card, and I just jotted his name down in my address-book. I put him among the G's because I knew that though I might forget his name, I should never forget that he was a General; so here he is, just where he belongs — only, where is Nora?'
She knit her brow for an instant and then unraveled it hastily. 'Now I remember! How stupid of me to forget the workings of my own mind! I always used to think that Nora's name was Agnes, — it's so exactly the same kind of a name, — and I probably put her down under A, thinking that is where I should look for her. Oh, yes, here she is!' she called to her patiently waiting friend. 'She leads off the A's, like Abou Ben Adhem. Nora Mahoney, 18 Brook Street — just what I told you, except that I thought it was River Street.'
A few days after this episode I tried to get Cynthia really to explain her address-book to me so that I might be able to assist others, or myself, in some domestic crisis, if she were away or ill; but she found me very literal and thickwitted.
'You see,' she interpreted, 'if a person has a very marked characteristic that distinguishes him more than his name, of course I put him down under the initial of his idiosyncrasy. For instance, there's that deaf old upholsterer that Aunt Eliza told me about, who comes to the house and does n't hear the awful noise he makes when he hammers. He is entered under D for Deaf Upholsterer, because the image that is flashed into my mind when the chairs need recovering is of a deaf man — the fact that his name is Rosenburg is of minor importance.'
'But you have such a confusing way of mixing names and profession,' I objected. 'For instance, those delightful English people who were so good to us in London, Sir James and Lady Taylor, would be flattered if they could see that right on the heels of Lady Taylor follows, "Ladies' Tailor, seventy-five dollars and not very good!" Then here under M is Mason, A. P., such and such a street. That of course is our old friend Miss Anna, but right under her name is Mason, A, with some business address following.'
'Oh, but A is n't an initial in that case,' cried Cynthia. 'A is just A, you know, a mason whose name I don't remember but who was highly recommended by the carpenter that time when the bricks fell out of the chimney! Really, Algernon, you don't seem to be using your mind.'
I was still doggedly turning over the pages, and hardly listened to her. 'Now look here,' I triumphantly exclaimed, 'can you give me any logical reason why under the letter F, I should find
Mrs. Charles B. Redmond, 32 Pineland Road?'
'Why, of course I can!' Cynthia informed me without an instant's hesitation. 'Mrs. Charles Redmond was Fanny Flemming before she was married, and people always speak of her by her maiden name, on account of the alliteration, so I put her down under the initial that brings her to my mind, but of course using the names she is called by. Don't you see?'
I saw, but there were still unplumbed depths of mystery.
'Can you tell me, please,' I asked humbly, 'why there should be flowery beds of E's among the O's, and why a little oasis of blossoms beginning with B should' be blooming among the weedy W's? I'm sure there is some perfectly good feminine reason, but —'
'Ah, there there is some excuse for you!' Cynthia acknowledged;' but surely even you must always associate certain letters together for no apparent reason. For instance, perhaps you may have forgotten a name, but you are certain that it begins with a T. Later you remember the name and find that it does n't begin with a T at all, but with an L. Of course, there is some psychological reason why those two letters are associated together in your mind. Now to me, B and W are practically interchangeable, so I have put Mrs. Blake and the Burlingtons and old Miss Bosworth in with the W's, and the Wilkinsons and the Warners are among the B's. It really helps me very much to have them like that, but I can see that it would be confusing to people who had different group associations.'
I closed the little red volume abruptly. 'Oh, well, if your address-book is simply an Intelligence Test — 'I began.
But Cynthia interrupted me.'It is n't an Intelligence Test, it's an Intelligence Office,' she gently explained.
'Well, it's no use, I can't understand