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Corporations and Public Welfare

Corporations and Public Welfare

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Excerpt from Corporations and Public Welfare: Addresses at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia, April Nineteenth and Twentieth, MDCCCC

The duty of introducing the topic of this afternoon's session - "The Control of Public-Service Corporations" - demands that I should limit myself to the general principles involved rather than enter upon a detailed analysis of any one of the many phases of the question. The rapid changes in municipal policy during recent years makes this task all the easier, for in these changes the possibilities and limitations of municipal control are clearly reflected.

After a long and uninterrupted period of reckless franchise grants, we have suddenly awakened to the inconveniences of the situation. The increasing burden of local taxation has turned attention to the value of these franchises, and has given rise to a very definite demand that they be made a more important factor in the income account of the municipality. But here the opinion of the community divides, one group favoring a system which will compel the companies operating under the franchises to give a larger return for the privileges enjoyed, the other advocating direct municipal operation of the whole class of public-service industries. Widely divergent as these views are, they have one trait in common - to secure a larger return to the public treasury and thus relieve the burden of taxation. This view of the relation of the public-service industries to the public has been greatly strengthened by glowing accounts of European municipalities, where, we are assured, taxes are gradually disappearing because of a careful husbanding of public right and public property. We are even told that Glasgow is able to dispense with taxation and is now supporting herself with the proceeds of municipal public works.

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