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Chapter XIII. The Finale of Laissez-Faire THE COLLECTIVE mind of McClure's staff shows more diversity of view on economic questions than on political ones. McClure himself was less informed on these matters, and, beyond a few elementary guide posts, alllowed the staff to assert itself. It was also in this area that the col­ lective mind underwent the greatest change—from an ex­ treme friendliness towards trusts at the second inaugura­ tion of McKinley to a strong New Nationalist position dur­ ing the Progressive period, when, in the final analysis, the first function of the redeemed state was envisioned as con­ trolling the economic order. A study of these vicissi­ tudes of thought throws more light upon the radical direc­ tion in which many of the Progressive muckrakers were going by 1912. Just as politics was the principal domain of Steffens and White, Baker and Miss Tarbell most as­ siduously pondered economic problems and were the special spokesmen on these questions. In 1894 as a reporter watching the strikes and marches of Debs and Coxey, Ray Stannard Baker bought Benja­ min Kidd's Social Evolution, the best book "at least for me at that time and in that mood."1 Kidd, whose brand of so­ cial Darwinism resembled Lester Ward's, delineated in sharp focus the problems which for over a decade had been of little interest save to single taxers, socialists, Bellamy Na­ tionalists, and certain academicians, such as the coterie around Ely and Commons who composed the American Economic Association and the American Political Science Association. Baker used Kidd's book as background read­ ing while preparing Our New Prosperity. "No one," the Englishman wrote in a passage which Baker underlined, "who engages in a serious study of the period of transition 1 Baker, American Chronicle, 58; Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution (New York, 1894). F I N A L E O F L A I S S E Z - F A I R E through which our Western civilization is passing at the present time can resist the conclusion that we are rapidly approaching a time when we shall be face to face with social and political problems, graver in character and more far-reaching in extent than any which have been hith­ erto encountered."2 Kidd's description of individualists and collectivists, "into which society was slowly becoming organized," was the principal question which aroused Baker's interest.3 That, in a word, was the largest problem confronting the country. The old laissez-faire competitive system, although imperfectly applied, created severe con­ flicts over control of the railroads, freight elevators, rebates, free passes, tariff, currency, business influence in govern­ ment, and industrial violence. But during the muckrak­ ing period one question stood above all others—that of the trusts. John Moody, who was to write with George K. Turner a McClure's series entitled "The Masters of Capital," pub­ lished The Truth about Trusts in 1904. The book con­ tained a diagram of the major combines. Commencing with the Spanish-American War, an estimated 300 trusts devel­ oped in a half-dozen years, led by Morgan's U.S. Steel, and by 1908 Burton J. Hendrick estimated their number at nearly 500.4 Gabriel Kolko in The Triumph of Con­ servatism has recently challenged the contention that wealth was concentrating.5 But his challenge is not completely per­ suasive. Relegated to a footnote is the significant fact that by 1909 almost one percent of all establishments in the United States accounted for 43.8 percent of the value of all products.6 It still remains for someone to challenge Marx, Weber, Darwin, Acton, and Commons that monopolies of 2 Kidd, Social Evolution, viii, copy in Baker Papers, Jones Memorial Library, Amherst, Massachusetts. 8 Ibid., 3. 4 John Moody, The Truth About Trusts (Chicago, 1904), xi; Mc­ Clure's, XXXi (Oct., 1908), 664. 5 Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism (New York, 1963), 87-56· β Ibid., 309. F I N A L E O F L A I S S E Z - F A I R E funds, characteristics, or power are unnatural processes. Against the new development of the trusts stood the almost impotent seven-hundred-word Sherman Act of 1890 and the earlier Interstate Commerce Act, enforced in 1904 by only four men in Roosevelt's Department of Justice. The philosophical problem which Kidd had foreseen a decade earlier—the one versus the many—confronted the country in a menacing manner. Kidd concluded that...


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