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- Problems of Conduct - 50/68 -

so dependent upon the good will of the Government for their prosperity, and even for their very existence, that from the primitive instinct of self-preservation as well as from the greed of exorbitant profits, they stand ready to give liberal bribes, or at least to back with money and moral support the party machine that promises to favor them. They control a large proportion of the newspapers and magazines, and are thus able to distort facts, protect themselves from attack, and even stir up a factitious distrust of would-be reformers. As every little contractor naturally favors the "ring" that awards contracts to him, so the great corporations publicly or secretly support it. The liquor trade and the vice caterers-the keepers of gambling dens, illegal "shows," and disorderly houses-back by their money and votes the "machine" that they know will let them alone. But, indeed, the most "respectable" trusts and public-service corporations are often most culpable, and the greatest power behind the throne. Their interest in the personnel of the Government is far keener than that of the average citizen; they can usually succeed, by cleverly specious presentations of the situation, in dividing the forces against them, and often, by "deals," in effecting secret alliances of the "rings" in control of supposedly opposing parties. The poor are right in supposing that these powerful "interests" are their greatest enemy; as that keen observer of our national life, Mr. Bryce, has put it, "the power of money is for popular governments the most constant source of danger."

(4) But, after all, this combination of forces in defiance of the common weal would not be effective but for the comparative indifference of the people, which may thus be called a contributing factor. The average voter feels no stimulus of self-interest in the matter; "what is everybody's business is nobody's business," and the individual finds his personal influence so slight that it seems hardly worth his pains to do anything about it. Occasionally popular passions become aroused and reform movements make a clean sweep; but the result is usually temporary, and when the general attention is turned elsewhere the bosses creep back to power. Modern life has so many more personal interests in it than the ancient republics had, that public affairs seldom become so big and absorbing an interest. And the more public affairs become the concern of a special group of men with dubious reputations, the more politics are shunned by the average citizen. Home life and business, social life and amusements, aesthetic, intellectual, and religious interests, are so much more attractive to him, that he gives little heed to political conditions, lets himself be duped by newspaper talk, and votes blindly some party ticket, without realizing his gullibility and his poor citizenship.

What are the evil results of political corruption?

(1) The obvious result of these conditions is inefficiency of administration and waste of the public moneys. The real interests of city or State are neglected. Streets become filthy, unsanitary tenements are built, firetrap factories and theaters allowed; every effort to improve public health is sidetracked, and the will of the people is subordinated to the will of the gang. Officials are nominated or appointed not for their competence but for their subservience to the organization; the boss himself, inexpert in administration, responsible to no one, and usually bribable, dictates public policy. The public funds disappear as in a quicksand; extravagant prices are paid for building lots and contracts, in return for political support or a share of the loot. Philadelphia before the reform movement of 1911 borrowed fifty-one million dollars in four years, and at the end had practically nothing to show for it, with the city dirty, buildings out of repair, and everything important neglected. One contractor in the "ring" was paid $520,000 a year to remove the city garbage-a privilege which is actually paid for in some cities, the value of the garbage for fertilizer and the manufacture of other products making the collection of it a profitable business.

(2) Another evil result lies in the subordination of general to local interests. The scattered and ineffective "pork-barrel" appropriations of Congress are dictated not by intelligent consideration for the public weal, but by the desire to throw a sop to this and that section of the country, and thereby win votes. Costly buildings are authorized in many towns where they are not needed, river and harbor improvements proceed at a halting pace in a hundred places at once, unnecessary navy yards and custom houses are maintained at heavy cost, the army is scattered at many small and expensive posts. Even the tariff is largely a deal between various manufacturing interests, rather than an instrument of the public good. Most officials consider themselves bound to exert all their influence in favor of their particular constituency's desires; if they cross those wishes they will probably not be reelected, while if they sacrifice the interests of the people as a whole they will be immune from punishment. Most of the state universities, normal schools, asylums, and other institutions have been located where they are as the result of a deal between different sections rather than with a view to the most advantageous site.

(3) To these grave evils we must add the moral harm of selfish and corrupt politics. Standards of honor are blurred, the spirit of public service is almost lost sight of, and the cheap materialism to which our prosperous age is too easily prone flourishes apace. The man who would succeed in politics-unless he is a man of extraordinary personality and favored by good fortune-must be disingenuous and a time-server, must truckle to bosses and do favors for the ring; he must appeal to prejudice and passion and put his personal advancement before his ideals. No one can estimate the evil effect that corruption in politics has had upon the national character. When we add the indirect effects- the distortion of the public news-service, the protection of vice, the insecurity of justice-the moral evils of political corruption are seen to be of gravest importance.

What is the political duty of the citizen?

(1) In the present chaotic state of our machinery of government, where corruption is so easy and efficiency so difficult to obtain, the burden must rest upon every conscientious voter to play his part with intelligence. He must study the situation, keep himself informed as to candidates and issues, watch the conduct of officials, vote at primaries and elections, however irksome and fruitless this effort may seem. Above all, he must use independence of judgment, and not let himself be duped by disingenuous appeals to "party loyalty"; where blind party voting is prevalent there is little stimulus to party managers to nominate able and honorable men or to promote needed legislation. Public opinion must be kept aroused, the sense of individual responsibility awakened, and political matters kept in the glare of publicity. At election times whoever can spare the time should, after learning the local situation, take some part in the campaign, by public speaking, personal soliciting of is a shame that the peaceable home-loving citizen should have to be dragged into this business of politics, which ought to be left to experts to manage; but at present there seems no help for it in most communities.

(2) An important service lies in joining or forming local branches of the leagues which now exist for the pushing of specific political measures, for the investigation and publication of impartial records of candidates, or for the investigation of the expenditures and results of administrations. Under the first head we may classify, for example, the National Short Ballot Organization; under the second head the Good Government Association, that makes it its business to send to each voter in a community a printed statement of the past history of each candidate for office, including the record of his vote on important matters; under the third head there are the Bureaus of Municipal Research. The New York Bureau, incorporated in 1907, conducts a yearly budget exhibit that shows graphically what is being done with the money raised by taxation. Inefficiency and corruption are ferreted out, waste is demonstrated, suggestions are made for economy, for the improvement of administration in every detail, and the amelioration of evil social conditions. By its determined publicity it can do much to energize and modernize city government. [Footnote: Cf. World's Work, vol. 23, p. 683. National Municipal Review, vol. 2. p. 48.]

(3) The outlook for clean and public-spirited young men, with expert knowledge and ideals, who wish to enter a political career, is gradually becoming more encouraging. The reformer in politics must be not merely an idealist, but a man who can do things. He must show his constituents that reform government serves them better than the ringsters. Reform tactics have too often been negative; stopped, but no positive measures for social welfare have been passed. To be successful, a politician must show the people that he understands and is able to satisfy their needs. More effective than any moral house- cleaning in securing the tenure of an administration is its efficiency in promoting better living and working conditions, improving opportunities for recreation and education, or loosening the clutch of the predatory "interests." Moreover, the politician must be a good mixer, willing to work with those who do not share his idealism, good- natured and conciliatory, ready to postpone the accomplishment of much that he has at heart in order to get something done. As organization is in most matters necessary for effectiveness, he must usually work with a party, do a lot of distasteful detail work, and make compromises for the sake of agreements. Happily, the Progressive party has made an out- and-out stand for the application of morals to politics; and the growing movement in the cities toward seeking experts to manage their affairs gives hope that the way will soon be generally open for men of scientific training and high ideals in political life.

What legislative checks to corruption are possible?

It is, of course, an unnatural situation when the ordinary citizen has to spend a lot of time and effort if he would guard against being misgoverned. He ought to be able to tend to his own affairs and leave the machinery of government to those who have been trained to it and whose business it is. And while no political mechanism will ever wholly run itself, without watchfulness on the part of the people, experience shows clearly that it is possible by a wise system to make corruption much more difficult and more easily checked. We Americans are beginning to awake from our complacent self-gratulation and realize that our political machinery is clumsy and antiquated and a standing invitation to inefficiency. The discussion of the relative advantages of legislative schemes belongs to the science of government rather than to ethics; but their bearing upon public morality is so important that certain typical movements must be explained. The stages by which the advanced form of popular government which we have now attained has been reached need not, for our purposes, be considered-the extension of suffrage to the masses, government by representatives, registration laws, the secret ballot, and the like. We need only discuss several reforms now being agitated and tried, whose aim is to make government more responsive to the real wishes and needs of the people, and more difficult of usurpation by selfish interests.

I. We may first speak of several reforms whose aim is to improve our mechanism of election, in order that merit, rather than "pull," shall lead to office, and that officials shall represent the people rather than the political rings. It is not generally true that good and able men are unwilling to accept public office; what they are unwilling to do is to truckle to bosses, to do all the questionable things that will keep them in with the ring, or to spend large sums of money in advertising their claims to the public. So thoroughly have political machines entrenched themselves that it is often practically useless for any one to oppose the machine candidate. Appointees receive their positions for "political services" rendered, or in return for a "campaign contribution" for which they may hope to recoup themselves

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