THE legislation discussed thus far in this little book has been selected because it shows most clearly the fundamentals of the Wisconsin idea. To describe all the laws which have been passed, their significance, enforcing devices and administrative features would necessitate a large volume, hence only the general trend of legislation has been considered. The session of 1911 was perhaps the most remarkable session ever held in any state, not only in the humanitarian spirit of the laws but also in the daring manner in which great questions were handled. The work was carefully done, and although a part of it was fragmentary in its nature, so much so that it may have to be redrafted, none of it presents any real menace to business or prosperity. The conservative Wisconsin legislator is very careful to build well as he advances, and there is no great resentment against any of these laws. The water power law is the only one which has been declared unconstitutional. The income tax was not received with much enthusiasm at first, but as the people have come to understand it, this feeling has died away. The other laws have met with general approval.
As an example of the sort of legislation of the session of 1911, there is a fairly accurate newspaper account in the Milwaukee Free Press of July 6, 1911, under the heading, "Constitutional amendments." Following is a digest of this article.
The following proposed amendments to the constitution were adopted this year:--
The initiative, referendum.
Providing that the salaries of members of the legislature shall be $600 per annum, instead of $500 for each biennial session.
Permitting cities to acquire lands for park purposes.
Permitting the state to install a system of insurance against sickness, death, accident and invalidity.
Permitting the state to appropriate for internal improvements --"for the purpose of acquiring, preserving and developing the water power resources and forests of the state"; limiting the appropriation therefor to a 2/10 of a mill tax on the property of the state.
Empowering the legislature to provide for the recall of any public elective officer, except judges.
Declaring "all lanes, mineral rights, water powers and other natural resources of natural wealth within the state which are now or may thereafter become the property of the state, shall remain forever the property of the state and shall not be alienated"; permitting the state to lease or rent such resources; and providing that all mineral rights hitherto reserved in contracts, deeds or instruments conveying real estate are abolished after Jan. 1, 1920, and are declared to inhere to the state except where they have been developed in full or in part prior to Jan. 1, 1920.
The following constitutional amendments were adopted at the 1909 and also the 1911 session and will be submitted to the people at the general election in 1912: --
Permitting municipalities to acquire land within or outside their limits, for park or other public purposes and to plat or sell any part of such land for the purpose of adding to a fund for the maintenance of parks, playgrounds, etc.
Permitting the state legislature to remove the five per cent limit upon the public debt of any city, county, town, village or school district, when the debt is incurred for the purpose of purchasing and improving public parks, etc.
The following under the heading "Public health and welfare," show what was accomplished in this line:
Empowering county boards, with the consent of the state board of control, to erect upon grounds of county insane asylums, hospitals for the care of chronic insane affected by pulmonary tuberculosis.--Chapter 461.
Authorizing the secretary of the state board of health to provide biennially for a state conference of health officers and health commissioners of cities and villages.--Chapter 465.
Empowering county boards of supervisors to purchase sites and establish quarters for the treatment of persons suffering from tuberculosis in advanced or secondary stages.--Chapter 457.
Specifying the manner in which the state shall care for dependent, neglected, and delinquent children.--Chapter 460.
Making pandering a felony and providing a penalty therefor.-- Chapter 420.
Empowering the state board of health to abate nuisances caused by the pollution of streams and public water supplies.--Chapter 412.
Making it unlawful to store or exhibit fruits, vegetables, or other food products on any sidewalk or outside any place of business, unless covered by glass, wood or metal cases and providing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 379.
Requiring owners or occupants of public or quasi-public institutions to provide cuspidors and cleanse and disinfect same daily.Chapter 330.
Making it unlawful to abuse, neglect, or illtreat any person confined in a police station or any other place of confinement, and fixing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 375.
Requiring trained nurses to register with the state board of health.--Chapter 346.
Making it unlawful to manufacture, sell, or transport adulterated or misbranded insecticides or fungicides.--Chapter 325.
Prohibiting the manufacturing and sale of certain kinds of firecrackers and fireworks.--Chapter 313.
Making it unlawful for physicians or surgeons to prescribe intoxicating liquor for any person, when unnecessary for the health of such person, and providing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 290.
Empowering common councils to regulate the emission of dense smoke into the open air within the corporate limits of any city, and within one mile therefrom. Chapter 314.
Making it unlawful to spit or expectorate in any public place.Chapter 407.
Empowering health officers to take precautions against the spread of dangerous communicable diseases and prescribing the duties of principals of schools and parents, where such diseases are known to exist.--Chapter 44.
Making it a misdemeanor to sell or have in possession, canned goods containing any artificial coloring matter or bleaching compound and fixing the penalty therefor.--Chapter 46.
Prescribing the manner in which explosives may be manufactured and stored within the state.--Chapter 223.
Prescribing the duties of health officers in determining the diagnosis of contagious or infectious diseases.--Chapter 248.
Extending the police authority of agents and superintendents of certain humane societies.--Chapter 258."
Conservation received some attention also:--
Empowering boards of supervisors to lease swamp lands under certain conditions, and conferring the same powers upon the state board of forestry in certain sections of the state.--Chapter 238.
Making it unlawful to waste or maliciously destroy or impair any natural resources and providing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 143.
Making it unlawful to injure, mutilate, cut down, or destroy any shade tree on any street or highway in villages.--Chapter 459.
Requiring all engines operated in, through or near forest, or brush land to be equipped with screen or wire netting between March 1 and December 1 to protect such forest or brush land from fire.Chapter 494.
Appropriating $50,000 a year for five yeas for purchase of lands for reforestration.--Chapter 639.
Labor was not ignored in this session as is shown by the following laws:--
Prohibiting the employment of children between the ages of 14 and 16 years unless there is first obtained from the commissioner of labor, state factory inspector or any assistant factory inspector or from a judge of any county, municipal or juvenile court a written permit.--Chapter 479.
Requiring safety appliances and automatic feeding devices on corn shredders.--Chapter 466.
Empowering the state bureau of labor and industrial statistics to investigate contracts between employers and employees and making an appropriation therefor.--Chapter 453.
Increasing the scope of the state employment office located at Milwaukee.--Chapter 419.
Making it the absolute duty of an employer to guard or protect machines or appliances on all premises used for manufacturing purposes and to maintain same after installation.--Chapter 396.
Making it unlawful to employ labor by false representation and providing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 364.
Requiring owners or occupants of all public or quasi-public institutions and factories to keep exit doors unlocked during working hours and requiring all such exit doors to swing outward.--Chapter 378.
Specifying the manner in which indenture and apprenticeship contracts may be made, and providing a penalty for non-compliance therewith.--Chapter 347.
Requiring safety appliances on dangerous machinery and sanitary conditions in factories.--Chapter 470.
Requiring contractors and owners, when constructing buildings in cities, to take proper precautions for the protection of workmen and specifying what precautions are necessary.--Chapter 49.
Requiring owners of factories and manufacturing establish meets to provide proper ventilation for same and prescribing a penalty for non-compliance.--Chapter 170.
Limiting the hours of labor on public buildings to eight hours per day and fixing a penalty for non-compliance.--Chapter 171.
Limiting the hours of labor of women to ten a day or fifty-five a week (chapter 548); and of children under 16 years of age to eight a day and forty-eight a week (chapter 479).
Among important insurance legislation enacted were bills curing the defect in the law relating to collecting the expenses of examinations so as to permit the department to make examinations as before; permitting a division of commissions between agents licensed to transact the same kind of insurance though but one is licensed for the company writing the insurance; authorizing the merger or consolidation of fire insurance corporations of this state under one or both of the old charters; authorizing the writing of surplus lines by licensed agents upon the granting of an additional license and the making of reports and payments of taxes secured by a bond; limiting investments in securities of any one corporation to 10 per cent of the admitted assets of the insurance company; providing that no insurance company may hold real estate except a home office building to a value not exceeding one-fifth of its admitted assets, and that other real estate acquired on mortgages must be disposed of within five years unless the time be extended by the commissioner; providing that town mutuals may write barns or outbuildings used in connection with detached dwellings in villages and cities, and not used for trade or manufacture; providing town mutuals may levy an assessment at any time for carrying on the business of the company; safeguarding the surplus of mutual companies by prohibiting the conversion of any mutual company into a stock company and further prohibiting the managing officers or other members from receiving in dividends or on dissolution of the company more than the premiums paid in with six per cent interest; amending the law to make clear the construction before adopted by the department, that a newly organized admitted fraternal benefit society must, in addition to charging rates not less than the fraternal congress table of mortality, hold assets to meet a inability for the reserve on all its outstanding certificates on the same or a higher basis; prohibiting the issue of any deferred dividend certificate, policy, or other contract by a fraternal society.
Another enactment is a rewriting of the laws regulating fraternal societies, including the features of the Mobile bill, with the exception of the one requiring a compulsory increase in rates. Other new laws are as follows: requiring that the policies of assessment life companies, other than fraternal, be valued to ascertain how much has been accumulated toward a reserve and that the amount accumulated be carried to the credit of the individual members and a statement thereof given to any policy-holder; extending the anti-rebate law to cover all forms of insurance; providing for liability insurance against damage to property by accident; permitting the admission of mutual companies and inter-insurers; prohibiting the sale of any insurance stock unless the contract contains a provision informing the purchaser of the percentage of payment made by the subscriber which may be used for promotion and organization expenses, etc., limiting to 10 per cent of the amount paid by the subscriber the promotion and organization expenses, and for an investigation of fire insurance companies.
Court and Legal Procedure
Creating a commission of three members to be appointed by the governor and to be styled "Commissioners for the promotion of uniformity in legislation in the United States," and making an appropriation therefor.--Chapter 462.
Permitting a mortgagor, or his wife, assignee or assignees to redeem property sold at a chattel mortgage sale within five days after such sale.--Chapter 410.
Authorizing county courts to appoint guardians for incompetent persons, such guardians to have authority to convey real estate belonging to said incompetents.--Chapter 367.
Permitting the amendment of pleadings in law and equity.--Chapter 353
Relating to judicial redress for plaintiff on demurrer to complaint.--Chapter 354.
Increasing the annual salaries of justices of the Supreme Court from $6000 to $7500.Chapter 508.
Permitting a trial by jury of less than twelve men with the consent of the accused.--Chapter 348.
Permitting physicians and surgeons to testify in their own behalf, as to information they may have acquired in their professional capacity.--Chapter 322.
Extending the scope of the examination, adverse examinations of witnesses on trial.--Chapter 291.
Prohibiting any person acting as attorney or counsel in a case formerly prosecuted by him as an officer.--Chapter 304.
Amending section 3940 of the statutes, relating to the assignment of estates of decedents.--Chapter 271.
Providing a penalty for non-compliance with the provisions of the discovery statute.--Chapter 232.
Fixing the penalty for the destruction of property by means of explosives from one to fifteen years in the penitentiary.--Chapter 286.
Extending the jurisdiction of the municipal court having concurrent criminal jurisdiction with circuit courts in counties having a population of 250,000 or more to take charge of prisoners placed on probation.--Chapter 269.
Extending the scope of the discovery statute to include the taking of depositions of non-resident plaintiffs or defendants in any county in the state.--Chapter 231.
Prohibiting the examining magistrates from acting as counsel or attorney in any action which shall previously have been determined before him as such examining magistrate.--Chapter 144.
Empowering judges of courts of record to hold in contempt, on proper proceedings, any person who refuses to testify before a board of review after proper summons.--Chapter 140.
Providing a penalty for having in possession burglarious explosives or devices.--Chapter 88.
Relating to the dissolution of corporations and evidence of title to corporate property.--Chapter 65.
Limiting the number of justices of the peace in each town to two and specifying the manner and time of election.--Chapter 72.
Relating to the admissibility of testimony of deceased witnesses or witness absent from state in any retrial or proceeding.--Chapter 65.
Legalizing and validating deeds and other written instruments acknowledged before a register of deeds to the same extent as if they had been acknowledged before a person authorized to take such acknowledgment.--Chapter 24.
Giving justices of the peace exclusive jurisdiction in all cases arising under ordinances and by-laws of villages.--Chapter 23.
Making the maximum penalty for burglary in the night time, ten years.--Chapter 64.
Providing for drawing of jurors in counties having a population of 150,000 and giving circuit judges certain powers therefor.--Chapter 219.
Empowering courts of record having criminal jurisdiction to employ counsel for indigent persons and fixing compensation therefor.--Chapter 218.
Making county in which commitment is made liable for support of persons committed to jail for failure or refusal to comply with court order respecting payment of alimony.--Chapter 153.
Providing for the parole of minors convicted of misdemeanors and felonies.--Chapter 131.
Defining burglary with explosives and fixing a penalty therefor.--Chapter 89.
Providing for writ of error for state in criminal actions under certain conditions.--Chapter 187.
Relating to comity between states and foreign decrees of divorce.--Chapter 174.
Empowering clerks of circuit courts having 1000 or more actions on the term calendar to arrange such actions according to date or filing of complaint, petition, or other pleadings necessary to commence the action, and making the serial record number of every action its calendar number.--Chapter 212.
Requiring clerks of courts of record in the state to turn over to county treasurer all unclaimed moneys, securities or funds for which no order has been made during four years and requiring county treasurer to turn all such moneys, securities, and funds into county treasury when no legal claim is made for same after due publication providing for waiver of all actions for same after provisions of law have been complied with.--Chapter 209.
Making wages due workingmen, clerks, or servants, which have been earned within three months before date of death of testator or intestate, not to exceed $300 to each claimant, valid claims against estate of deceased.--Chapter 17.
Dividing the civil court of Milwaukee county into branches and providing for the numbering of same.--Chapter 9.
Empowering common councils to legalize bonds issued or sold by any municipality for the purpose of purchasing or constructing an electric lighting plant, which bonds have been declared illegal subsequent to their issuances.--Chapter 75.
Authorizing cities to accept their own bonds or mortgage certificates from depositors as collateral security and to provide for their cancellation upon default of the depository.--Chapter 130.
Empowering common councils of cities of the first class to extend the time for payment of city taxes for a period of six months.--Chapter 273.
Empowering common councils to change the license fee charged for interurban franchises not oftener than once in five years.--Chapter 274.
Empowering common councils to levy a tax, not to exceed seventeen one-thousandths of a mill upon each dollar of the assessed value of the taxable property of cities for the city civil service fund.--Chapter 95.
Empowering villages and cities, specially incorporated, to condemn land for the construction of sewage disposal plants and mains incident thereto, within or without the limits of the village or city.--Chapter 279.
Creating an art commission for cities of the first class and specifying the membership thereof.--Chapter 318.
Providing a method of determining the necessity of taking lands for public purposes, in cities operating under a special charter.--Chapter 332.
Permitting cities of the second, third and fourth classes to organize under the commission form of government and specifying the manner in which such organization shall be affected.--Chapter 387.
Empowering county boards to fix compensation of the register of deeds and to change the same from a fee to salary system.--Chapter 400.
Permitting cities of third and fourth class through the mayor, clerk and common council, to execute trust deeds or mortgage, to secure the payment of bonds heretofore or hereafter issued by any city for the purchase of electric light or water works plants and the appurtenances of such plants.--Chapter 411.
Creating the office of city forester in cities of the first class and prescribing his powers and duties.--Chapter 408.
Conferring powers of self government on cities and providing for charter conventions.--Chapter 476.
Empowering any city to create by ordinance of its common council, a board of public land commissioners of five members, appointed with powers of converting streets and highways designated by the common council of such city into parkways or boulevards.--Chapter 486.
Authorizing common councils of cities of the first class to license and regulate persons, firms and corporations engaged in the installing, erecting, constructing, or altering of any electrical work in any building, or part of building, in said cities.--Chapter 482.
Permitting tax levy of 264/1000 of a mill for library in the city of Milwaukee.--Chapter 109.
Granting certain submerged lands along lake shore of Milwaukee for park and boulevard purposes.--Chapter 198.
Permitting all cities to erect public lavatories and to maintain them by letting out privileges to news venders, etc., or out of the general city fund.--Chapter 19.
Permitting cities of first and second class to fix rates of wharfage.--Chapter 42.
Requiring cities to sprinkle streets when abutting property owners' petition for the same.--Chapter 45.
Prohibiting the establishment of a street in Milwaukee county without securing approval of county board.--Chapter 86.
Permitting tax levy of 857/10000 of a mill for the public museum in Milwaukee.--Chapter 93.
Permitting special tax levy of 12/100 of a mill for historical museums in cities of first and second classes.--Chapter 94.
Permitting special tax levy of 51/100 of a mill for parks and boulevards in Milwaukee.--Chapter 98.
Permitting special tax levy of 61/1000 of a mill for auditoriums and music halls in Milwaukee.--Chapter 99.
These laws are in general fairly characteristic of the kind passed by a modern state legislature. Some are trivial, but on the whole a certain spirit of advancement is evident all through them. They are but a small part of the legislation passed at this session. Home rule for cities, the commission form of government and many other improvements were provided for. The educational legislation mentioned previously seems to be the beginning of a general overhauling of the whole educational system. Railroads and public utilities also came in for their share. Ten years ago what an uproar capital would have caused, had such an array of bills been proposed to any legislature, yet no capital has been driven out of this state--in fact everything is advancing with great strides. It is rapidly becoming a manufacturing state. It ranks seventh in the table showing the amount of corporation taxes collected by the United States government from the various states.
It is an easy thing to say that a state is prosperous, but when hard-headed men in Wall Street admit that a certain state, in which a political agitation to which they are opposed has gone on for many years, is prosperous and when the bonding houses concede that all the stocks and bonds of great financial interests and public utilities of all kinds are upon a sound basis in that state, surely there must be some evidence of it. If we find that failures in the United States have increased about 331/3 per cent in ten years and have decreased in Wisconsin some 10.8 per cent, that speaks well for a state as advanced in radical legislation as Wisconsin. If we find that the cost of material used in manufacture has increased 52 per cent in four years in a state having no coal, the agitation is not driving capital out of the state. If we find that there have been absolutely no failures of state banks in that state for over ten years and but three national banks went into receivership because of embezzlement during that period, certainly it speaks well not only for the prosperity of the state, but for the safeguarding of the money invested. The clearing house exchanges have increased in the United States about 100 per cent in ten years and in Milwaukee 117 per cent in that time. New construction in gas utilities has increased 22 per cent in 1910 over that of 1909; in telephones, 14 per cent in the same time; in electric utilities, 145 per cent; in water utilities, 24 per cent; the railroads' gross earnings have increased 21.01 per cent from 1905 to 1909, while all the railroads in America have increased but 16.15 per cent; the railroad mileage of Wisconsin has increased 12 per cent in the same time; the total value of railroads in Wisconsin in six years has increased about $96,000,000; the value of all general property in the state has about doubled in six years. Considering all these facts, we can surely say that the legislation--admittedly some of it experimental--which has been discussed in this book is not of such a nature as to seriously hurt capital. The underlying truth is, that there has been substituted governmental regulation for the darkness of private corporation accounts. We all know that however good security private companies may offer, United States bonds at a lower rate are more certain and safer. This is simply because we are willing to pay for security. The public bookkeeping in Wisconsin whatever it does, insures security. The recent prosperity of the agricultural and dairy interests in Wisconsin (the result of the educational campaign) can scarcely be realized. Wisconsin is now the second dairy state in the union; the yield per acre of grain during the last year has been greater in this state than in any other state. For ten years it has been the great flax producing state in the country; and excluding the states which require irrigation, the greatest in barley, oats and spring wheat; it is second in the amount of potatoes produced; the number of cows has increased in ten years some 47.7 per cent; in butter production, it has increased 70.4 per cent and in cheese production, 87.7 per cent. Surely the great investment which Wisconsin has made in her educational institutions has returned its original investment many times over in hard dollars and cents.
Granting that this prosperity may not be the result of this legislation, it may be good evidence that the Wisconsin legislature has proceeded with great caution and made its laws only after the most careful scrutiny of the delicate machinery of industry. It may be said that these conditions might have existed if none of these laws had been passed but the fact that prosperity has increased at a rate as great as, if not greater than, any state in the country, is evidence that if laws are made carefully and are made to fit into the harmony of industrial conditions, greater advances can be made than by following the wild shouts of reformers who would destroy without constructing.
The state has not suffered from heavy taxation either in the accomplishment of all these things. Wisconsin has no state debt (save money borrowed from its own school fund) and yet is building a $6,000,000 capitol building out of current taxation funds without debt.
Heavy investments for the future which, according to all systems of finance and from every motive of justice, should be carried by a state debt, have been provided for by current taxation. As the direct state tax was remitted for six years there was no direct state tax during that time, the corporations paid it all and the people have been spoiled. Although now the state tax rate is relatively low in comparison with some of the surrounding states, there has been some grumbling as a result of this remittance of a few years ago when no state tax whatever was collected.
The fact is that the greater part of this increase of the cost of government has been caused by state aid to educational enterprises, in many cases chiefly of local importance and by the building of roads and developments by which the locality itself directly benefits. It is gradually being understood by the Wisconsin people that a large investment has been made and as time goes on, a more general satisfaction is evident in regard to the payment of taxes. The people of this state demand efficiency in government and once convinced of its existence they are willingly taxed for it, despite the demagogue who so often makes this his only shibboleth.
There are countries still where taxes are low; Dahomey is one of them. State activity means investment and all the advanced states of the world make heavy investments. Wisconsin taxes are very low in the opinion of the writer, and even a heavier investment should be made to-day either by bonding the state or otherwise, in the development of roads, and forests and in the industrial and agricultural education of the people. It would certainly be worth the investment a hundredfold provided always that efficient machinery prevents waste.
If what has been written has any element of truth in it, if good legislation and prosperity can and do go hand in hand, the result is a monument to the painstaking and toiling way in which the Wisconsin legislature has gone about its task. If the Wisconsin legislation has some elements of solidarity in it, no little of its success may be due to the fact that the cautious, careful German and Norwegian have refused to be domineered by every long-haired reformer who prances into the-arena, asking all to "put on the whole armor of God." This type of reformer has been practically unknown in our legislative bodies and, indeed, it is only recently that he has made his appearance at all--then but to receive a very chilly welcome. In the words of the current slang phrase, every Wisconsin legislator "comes from Missouri" and you have to "show him."
Real reformers have yet to learn that they can progress much further if they really build well as they proceed. Many a good business man would welcome certain kinds of legislation if he were convinced that it could be made effective without great distortion of industrial conditions. It is to the advantage both of the reformer and the business man that there should be some attempt to improve our law-making process. A governor of New York once told how his predecessor managed the reformers; he agreed with every one and suggested that the reformers put their ideas in the form of bills which he would support. Four out of five of the reformers never returned, while the fifth one reappeared with a bill so crude in form that the governor could easily point out sections which he could not support because of their unconstitutionality or lack of administrative devices. In Wisconsin, the governor could not use that scheme. The chances are that if a man really had a feasible idea which would be for the general welfare of the state, he would have a hearing before the legislature and his plan would be modified in such a manner that the governor would have a much harder task to criticise it or lightly dispose of it.
The board of public affairs of which there has been casual mention in previous chapters, is a temporary board or commission, composed of some of the ablest men in the state. It deserves some comment at this point because of its relation to future legislation. It has two specific duties to perform; to increase the efficiency of the administration of the state by applying business methods throughout and to investigate the cost of living, the development of the state, the immigration question, cooperation and credit conditions and, in general, to determine whether a state plan for betterment can be evolved which will make Wisconsin a better state in which to live.
Now there isn't a shrewd, careful man who is not afraid of all this when he hears of it; such plans, from John Locke to the present time, have nearly always failed. The report of the "Recess committee on Irish affairs" under the direction of Sir Horace Plunkett is a brilliant exception. Recognizing these facts, the board is carefully proceeding in its work with the idea of recommending improvements to the legislature which will lay strong foundations for the future.
Wisconsin has ten million acres of unoccupied land. If Australia and New Zealand have dealt with a problem of this kind, why cannot Wisconsin do so? If these lands are good for agricultural purposes but require thirty dollars an acre for development, why cannot a scheme be originated so that the actual settler may have the advantage of some kind of credit, in order to clear his land and use his capital for the greatest benefit? Australia has bought up or condemned great tracts of land and then leased them for 999 years to actual settlers; the settler may use his capital for cattle, machinery and barns and by paying a small lease yearly to the state, improve these lands. Practically the same principle is being applied in the arid regions of the West by our federal government; is there any great reason why these principles may not be applied here? If lands cannot be developed because of lack of water and the government advances money to supply that deficiency, wherein lies the difference between that aid and the clearing of wild lands of stumps subsidized by the government? The only thing which lies in the way in either case is capital and long time credit. All history shows that land monopoly combined with a renter class, brings about the worst possible situation for a country. In order to prevent the gradual increase of the renter class, can we not introduce some long time credit arrangement similar to that recently introduced into Ireland, by which the government allows the purchaser to pay for land on a long time basis?
Is all of this socialism? Quite the opposite; it strives to give the individual a better opportunity to possess property--the very antithesis of socialism. Reduction of the cost of living and coöperative schemes of one sort or another are also to be investigated by this commission. With the splendid examples of the work of foreign countries along this line--the great Raffeisen system of cooperative credit in Germany, the Luzzatti banks in Italy, the effective coöperation in agriculture in Denmark--before this committee, are there not possibilities to be utilized, to be tested and tried? Is there not some hope that this committee may institute some plan whereby there may be increased betterment of conditions in this state, thus setting an example of accomplishment for other states to follow?
America has a great advantage in that our legislation need not be experimental. Germany, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even Ireland and Italy have laws which have outlived the experimental stage and which will be of the greatest service to us in our advance toward the happiness and welfare of all, as well as the more equitable division of the profits coming from the great wealth and strength of our civilization. The small group of socialist Germans in the legislature have well understood that they did not have to advance untried experiments, hence they adopted a policy of continuous education maintaining that certain laws have existed in a certain country and have accomplished certain things and that Wisconsin would eventually have to accept similar laws. The writer well remembers that when the first workmen's compensation bill was introduced nearly eight years ago, the astonished members of the legislature came to him inquiring if such a thing did exist in Germany and England. The fact is, most of the legislation which the socialists have introduced has had nothing to do with socialistic propaganda but in many cases has proposed the very things advocated by thoughtful men in every country of the world save America. It will be remembered that the socialists in Germany for many years were opposed to the whole plan of industrial insurance and only recently have accepted it. So far does this plan of expediency go, that one time when the writer happened to remark to a socialist member that a proposed plan to extend credit, by means of a well known European device so that workingmen might possess a little property, was not really socialism, the member replied with a smile, "It is an excellent bill and good enough socialism for us."
The socialists are looking abroad and putting forth well tried experiments, mixed in many cases it is true with their peculiar propagandist ideals, which because of their source, excite a blind and unreasoning opposition. If our people would give more study to great economic movements in other lands they would realize this truth.
So marked have been the changes throughout the world and so astonishing the fact that they have actually seemed to have increased prosperity, that the conservative Boston Transcript is compelled to remark in a recent editorial on England:--
"Take all together, this makes an astounding program of social improvement, all the more astounding in the fact that it should have been undertaken by the staidest of all governments. This marks a really stupendous innovation in governmental procedure. Our friends, the socialists, have always been ridiculed for their pet claim that it is the business of the government to spread happiness and plenty among the people. Yet here, in a country the very quickest of all to foam at the very word 'Socialism,' is a string of acts each having as its tacit side-issue the partial redistribution of wealth and the spread of happiness!
"Thus far these measures, too, seem to have worked. The Old-Age Pensions act has undoubtedly mitigated a great deal of want and misery. And the so-called 'revolutionary' budget, of which so much disaster was predicted, has left behind it the unmistakable effect of improved business conditions and greater prosperity. This latter effect may have arisen simply from the ending of a business suspense. Still, a very bad measure would have permitted only a halfway recuperation. On the surface there seems nothing impractical about these ventures of government into the sphere of humanitarianism. There may be later and hidden costs to pay, but they are not now apparent. But the point of all this is the speculation which it warrants.
"May it not be that the time has come for us, after all, to frame slightly larger conceptions of government than we have been holding? Is the chief end of government any longer to be the collection of taxes, the maintenance of order, and the other material duties that have long been held to constitute its entire responsibility? Half unconsciously the men who have framed a network of paternalistic measures in Germany, even wider than that in England, seem to have assumed for government a new moral obligation. And this has been found not to involve any serious disturbances to property and vested rights. Are we perhaps going down a new path? Have these other countries beaten us by a decade to a now old and settled New Nationalism?"
Shall we always as our great Judge Ryan once said, "stand by the roadside and see the procession go by?" Shall we always hear the returning travellers' tale of the improvements throughout the entire world with a provincial and smug spirit and be foolish enough to believe that we can learn nothing, while right in our midst are problems which have confronted every nation at some time in its history? Shall we always look over the boundary into Canada and wonder at its prosperity, the daring of its lawmakers and the efficiency and economy of its administration? The old cry, "it is unconstitutional" cannot much longer endure with the present American awakening and an analysis must soon be made of the growing strength of these worldwide economic improvements. Shall we always be deceived by the cry of "Socialism" whenever it is necessary to use the state to a greater degree than formerly? Are there not elements and ideas which the socialists have adopted from which it is a far cry indeed to the state ownership of all the instruments of production?
After a careful study of socialism in Germany the writer has come to the conclusion that many of the reforms advocated by that party will eventually lead to the destruction of its main thesis. The individual initiative and the efficiency of the individual caused by the breaking up of class distinctions, the establishment of merit and ability in the place of family or title, the equitable distribution of taxation and the very equality of opportunity resulting, will lead to an individuality which will cause men to press forward in the acquisition of private property. Those who have seen the land hunger of the American immigrant can well testify to that. Provide the ladder, make free the way and human beings will climb and no plan ever made by Karl Marx or any other man, of whatever party or sect, will prevent the acquisition of private property. The rise of the newly rich class, the evidence of which is seen in the streets of Berlin almost as much as in the streets of New York, proves my thesis. Are there then, issues appropriated by socialism which are really the strength of these movements? Certainly the socialists in the Wisconsin legislature advocate, in the greater part, humane legislation which could be very well advocated by the most bitter opponents of this party and which in many cases has nothing to do with the propaganda of the theory of state ownership. Says Jane Addams:--
"Is it because our modern industrialism is so new that we have been slow to connect it with the poverty all about us? The socialists talk constantly of the relation of economic wrong to destitution, and point out the connection between industrial maladjustment and individual poverty, but the study of social conditions, the obligation to eradicate poverty, cannot belong to one political party nor to one economic school, and after all it was not a socialist, but that ancient friend of the poor, St. Augustine, who said, 'Thou givest bread to the hungry, but better were it, that none hungered and thou had'st none to give to him.' "
Is it good policy or good politics to allow the socialists to become the champions of women in industry, the defender of the child from exploitation, friend of the poor and downtrodden and yet expect to defeat them at the polls in a period characterized by growing humane feeling? Can we wrap in a parcel everything which Christianity has approved since the time of the Great Founder and label it, "Socialism, don't touch"? When it comes to the attainment of any reasonable legislation for the true betterment of human beings, the only way to beat the Socialists "is to beat them to it."
The hardy woodsman, the sturdy American who has battled with the elements, swift rivers and vast forests, may frown at the suggestion of legislation mentioned here. This man in the legislature, powerful in his own strength, frowns upon laws for the limiting of hours of labor for women and children as "un-American." It will be felt by men of this kind (and they have been the sturdy old oaks of American life after all) that there is something very softening in this kind of legislation. Indeed a weakening influence may occasionally creep in but by looking over long periods of time we find that selfishness has always won, so it is not the softening influence that we need to fear but the pauperizing influence, which comes from another kind of paternalism--that of the largess of the great millionnaire or the successful proconsul of ancient Rome. The pages of Gibbon and Ferrero are full of instances which are comparable to actual conditions in our own country to-day.
There is a corrupt influence from large concentration of wealth and its unhappy distribution which will cause more beggarism, more softening and more syncophancy than all the laws which can be put upon the statute books regulating the hours of labor of women and children. Indeed the story of prosperity in every country shows the same picture again and again--pictures which one may find in New York City any time.
Says our great historical student, Professor J. Franklin Jameson:--
"Why do not Americans study more intently the age of the Antonines ? There they will find a state of society singularly resembling our own--a world grown prosperous and soft and humane, with long-continued peace and abounding industrial development, a population formed by the mixture of all races, in which the ancient stock still struggles to rule and to assimilate, but is powerless to preserve unimpaired its traditions, a mushroom growth of cities, a universal passion for organization into industrial unions and fraternal orders, a system in which woman has exceptionally full equality with man, a society in which the newly rich occupy the centre of the stage, offending the eye with the vulgar display of brute wealth yet pacifying the mind and heart with the record of numberless and kindly benefactions."
Yet all the causes of the decline of Rome were working in this soil--the results were not long in forthcoming.
In these days of the ocean cable and the fast racers of the sea, waves of public opinion and thought and the struggles of other lands reach us so quickly, that whether for good or evil, great and sudden changes are emerging from this turmoil. We are encountering but the first waveless of what appears to be a flood of mighty forces. Will our grand old constitution stand the shock? Will the splendid American spirit and ideals of the past be submerged? The best there is of our sturdy individualism must be preserved. In Wisconsin, the wise leaders: have foreseen this and are determined to keep intact every bit of the spirit of the men who made the "Iron Brigade" and hence are building slowly and surely the beginnings of a new individualism.
This little book advocates no new philosophy or doctrine; there is no "ism" in this plan. It urges simply logical consideration of one thing after another as necessity appears. Every other plan of man, however wise and complete it may have been, has failed. Place before the American people the ideal of Lincoln and search keenly into our conditions to discover why there are not more Lincolns. If in our modern life, conditions are not conducive to the highest type of American manhood, we should attempt to find some way of helping men to help themselves. What is the need of a philosophy or an "ism" when there is obvious wrong to be righted? Whatever has been accomplished in Wisconsin seems to have been based upon this idea of making practice conform to the ideals of justice and right which have been inherited. If the weak ask for justice, the state should see that they get it certainly, quickly and surely. If certain social classes are forming among us, can we not destroy them by means of education and through hope and encouragement make every man more efficient so that the door of opportunity may always be open before him?
If you were responsible for the business of government, would you not apply the common rules of efficiency, Mr. Business Man? Do you not believe it would pay well to make a heavy investment in hope, health, happiness and justice? Do you not think you would get enormous dividends in national wealth? Isn't there something worth while, something which will pay in the strong ideal of this New Individualism of Wisconsin?