Lecture on Municipal Ownership

Major Leonard Darwin delivered his third lecture on "Municipal Ownership" in Emerson Hall last evening.

Municipal corruption, said Major Darwin, is one of the most frequently discussed topics in connection with municipal ownership. In no country in the world is there more municipal industry than in England, and yet there is comparatively little corruption there. Municipal ownership, however, is a recent growth, as is shown by the fact that from 1890 to 1904 debts from municipal service increased 100 per cent. Since earlier municipal ownership consisted largely of water-works in which few men were employed, it is difficult to tell just how municipal ownership has affected English politics. There are, no doubt, many in this country who believe that it should have a purifying effect. It may do this in one of two ways--it may arouse a greater interest in civic life, and it may remove the temptation of public service corporations from the path of the administrators.

The question of wages under municipal ownership is another interesting question. It is evident from statistics that workmen under the employment of a municipality receive higher wages than those in the employment of a private corporation. Fraud, however, is more likely to arise if there are a large number of workmen in the employment of the municipality, and the direct employment of municipal labor is likely to increase corruption. The extra remuneration paid to city employees must be obtained by some form of increased taxation, which will tend to benefit this privileged class of workers at the expense of the community, whereas a benefit resulting from increased taxation should revert to the public. The higher municipal wage, moreover, increases the hold upon the workman by municipal employers, which is a factor tending towards corruption.

The two main arguments in favor of municipal ownership are that when municipalities manager an industry, they can regulate prices better than a private corporation, and are apt to pay more attention to the health, morality, and comfort of the community. The arguments against it are the probability of increased corruption and financial loss. In regard to ordinary industries we should encourage municipal ownership under three conditions only,--when the trade is such that it tends to become a monopoly, when the trade is one of vital importance to the community, and when a change of prices is apt to arise which could not be foreseen at the time the franchise was granted