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Judge Cooley's Lecture.



The third lecture in the Finance club course was given last evening in Sanders Theatre by Hon. Thomas M. Cooley, who spoke on "The requirement of impartiality and uniformity in railroad service." A very large audience received the distinguished speaker with marked enthusiasm, and followed his lecture with the closest attention.

Judge Cooley said that the lawful power of the state to limit the rates of transportation is now acknowledged. If the government owned the railroads it would be a comparatively simple matter to regulate rates, for it might establish a standard of rates which seemed expedient. Such action might arouse criticism, it might involve political complications, but it would simply be on the analogy of our laws relating to taxation. For over fifty years railroads were managed by corporations before any attempt was made to regulate rates. But the irresponsible and arbitrary action of corporations finally forced first the state and then the national government to consider the matter. The interstate commerce act is entitled an act to regulate commerce but it does not touch some forms, and this greatly complicates the difficulties which attend the enforcement of the act. But if congress were disposed to regulate all transportation, decided obstacles would be encountered. In the first place railroads are in private, and for the most part separate ownership. A uniform mileage rate would, therefore, not be just; but property rights must be protected. A second obstacle is found in the principals which govern the management of railroads. These are inherently wrong, but cannot be changed by the stroke of the pen. The principal purpose of the interstate commerce act is to secure uniformity and impartiality in railroad service. The act was read at this point to show the manner in which it proposed to accomplish this. The requirements seem simple but when there is an attempt to enforce them, immediate difficulties are met. For instance, in the clause, "the charges (for transportation) shall be reasonable and just," great difficulty is found in interpreting the words "reasonable and just." To attempt to regulate the rate of transportation in proportion to the cost of the service would involve revolutionizing the railroad service, for it is not possible to apportion on this basis the cost of transportation as between all branches of the service. The value of the service as well as its cost must enter into consideration when rates are being regulated. The granting of differentials, which make the charges on long and short hauls seem out of proportion, often still further complicate the matter. It is necessary to leave many of the questions concerning the regulation of rates to the discretion of the carrier, but the Inter-state act controls this discretion by declaring that there shall be no unjust discrimination. The differences in classification of rates which exist between different roads and which can be made uniform only gradually, and the concessions which roads grant to large cities and large interests, are the obstacles to securing uniformity in railroad service. These difficulties in the question of reasonable rates are inherent, and therefore the whole matter should be considered in a broad and liberal spirit. The Inter-state act has not yet entirely done away with the evils of free transportation. An assumption that the public is not concerned in a company's granting free transportation is common; but it is a fallacy, since the free rider travels at the expense of the public. It is therefore as much a public question as taxation. Judge Cooley discussed this point at considerable length. He pronounced the system of free transportation akin to the spoils system in politics, and declared that the principle that a public function is a public trust must govern the management of railroads.

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