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(idea icon)1912


IT may seem strange at first glance that the system of appointive offices meets with so much approval in a state where there is such confidence in democracy and where the direct primary election is in favor. This is easily explained; the primary election is practically applied only to the executive officers and to those who legislate and formulate policies. The fact that the insurance commissioner has been made an appointive officer and that the election of judges and state superintendent of public instruction does not coincide with the regular political elections, together with the efforts which doubtless will be made in the near future to withdraw the attorney-general, the secretary of state and the state treasurer from political elections, shows that the people are slowly working towards a distinction between those who determine a policy and those who are chosen for administrative or technical skill--as servants merely to carry out the will of the people as expressed in the law. Thus the appointive commission is an aid to democracy. There is no inconsistency in these two principles.

Although the principles of the short ballot have not been acknowledged in this state, the generally accepted principle has been that the legislature determines largely what is to be done and delegates the administration to some technical or scientific body. The appointive commission is an essential in the Wisconsin idea. As a rule these commissions are non-partisan or bi-partisan. They are appointed for long periods of time, receive good salaries and are given expert help. In very many cases, these commissions are permitted to fix the salaries of their employees thus further centralizing responsibility with these bodies. They are protected also--and this is a very important point--by continuing appropriations.

The commissions are seldom paid small salaries; they are either

(1) well paid; or
(2) not paid at all.

Well paid commissions, composed of men of talent and honorary or ex-officio commissions with expert help, have proven successful but when the compensation is small, the service is hampered by inefficient men. The writer well remembers one case in the legislature when a small group of men attempted to fix the salaries of a commission just low enough so that very good men could not be secured and yet just high enough to provide jobs which they themselves could afford to accept.

Unfortunately, there are still some commissions of this kind but they are rapidly disappearing.

Good laws are ineffective unless accompanied by good administration. Good administration is impossible unless combined with ordinary business methods and the latter are not compatible with the policy "to the victors belong the spoils." If any praise is due the Wisconsin laws it is probably because of the appointive commissions, the non-partisan spirit, the expert and the effective civil service law. The non-partisan spirit has become a tradition. In an overwhelming republican state, at one time the chairman of the civil service commission, the chairman of the tax commission and the chairman of the railroad commission were democrats. Of the members of the supreme court the majority are, perhaps, democrats. The civil service law and the non-partisan spirit are inherent in the very life of the state of Wisconsin, therefore it is not surprising that congressmen and United States senators from this state have carried the same spirit into national affairs and are found frequently "lining up" with one party or the other, as the issue demands.

It is very natural, considering all the facts previously considered, that civil service should be a doctrine of the state of Wisconsin.

The German believes in merit. During the session of 1911, when certain members tried to repeal the civil service law, members from the German districts upheld it strongly. One of the assemblymen from Milwaukee said, "We Germans believe in civil service; we believe in merit and fitness; we believe that men should be educated for administrative duties; we do not like 'pull' in state business." There is no doubt but that the German prefers attaining public office under civil service to any other method. It is strange but true, that in the German state of Wisconsin, a German governor has never been elected, as the old German stock in general dislikes political strife and wire pulling. The German believes that public officials should be educated so we have a great basis for civil service principles in the temperament of the state.

The power of the commissions as herein outlined must seem to the reader to be fraught with danger. Centralized machinery has been dangerous in the past and continues to be so unless the temptation for political juggling is removed. Such concentration of power should not take place without the addition of the nonpartisan spirit and an efficient civil service. Any state which may wish to follow Wisconsin by adopting its highly centralized plan is hereby warned in order that they may have proper conditions in which to establish a scheme which gives so much power into the hands of a few experts. Suppose after having planned these elaborate laws calling for statisticians, accountants, actuarial experts and skilled workers of all kinds, that there was no standard fixed for these men. Suppose that the politician says to a commission that he knows of a good accountant who is a good political worker it is true, but who has worked in an accounting office and hence had better be employed; it can readily be seen that the administration of these laws might be a farce and that the offices would be vacant after every political election. If the Wisconsin program is to be followed, it must be taken in its entirety or not at all. If power is granted at all, it must be given in liberal doses in order that there may be efficiency. Mark well every step in this matter. The commissions are so constituted and the terms of the members are so arranged that no two of them retire within the same year; they are thus protected from the desires of any one governor. They are restricted by carefully worked out methods of bookkeeping and publicity and are hedged about by strict civil service requirements and if positions of an expert nature are exempted, they are carefully selected and exemption is grudgingly granted by the legislature only on the grounds of great necessity and upon convincing evidence as to this necessity.

It may seem that this is a complicated and costly system of government, an undemocratic, bureaucratic government and as such criticisms are not without real value, the whole subject demands some frank discussion.

There is no infallible kind of government. Commissions do not depend merely upon the men but also upon the checks and spurs which sustain the integrity of the whole system. If it is a scheme although seemingly contrary to our ideas of democracy, which really carries out absolutely and surely the will of the people, it is an aid to democracy. How in this complex, economic life are we ever going to use any other machinery? We have tried to fix tariff rates by congress and we have found that with the little time and knowledge possessed by each member, with the juggling of interests throughout the country, it seems an impossibility. If rates are being fixed in the chaos and hurry of the legislative session, is it any wonder that the courts have to interpret and many times destroy the results of this guess work? Is it any wonder that the business man is afraid of a legislative session when every bolt or screw in his machinery may be regulated by impractical laws or matters of actuarial skill be determined in a few moments in a legislative committee, or the price of gas or some other thing equally scientific, regulated in an equally crude manner?

Such a system cannot survive and it is merely a question of what system shall supplant it. That we will have to use a commission system of some sort is shown by the ordinary business arrangements of life. If a city owned a municipal baseball team, imagine the city holding a public election to elect a second baseman or attempting to fix certain items of bats and balls! The only sensible way would be for the city to determine whether or not it would have a baseball team, to set the necessary limit upon expenditures for such a team and to direct the council executing the will of the people, to secure a manager who would be the responsible director. Any common experience in life illustrates the same principle. We must have an administrator for any special line of endeavor and give to him the responsibility; commission government seems to be the best method to extend the legislative power scientifically, and the only way also of using judicial determination in great economic questions confronting the people. Dislike it as we may, we will have to employ it nevertheless--and that more and more frequently as economic life becomes more complex. Indications are that legislation for the future on great economic questions will be based upon a broad determination of policies by a legislative body, the carrying out of which will be intrusted to efficient servants and experts, responsible in every manner to the representatives of the people and the people in general.

There is a form of government still existing here and there in the world which gradually is being discarded for the good of all mankind--that of the unlimited monarchy. There have been good and great kings who have accomplished as much or perhaps more than any republic but the good king died, a tyrant succeeded him and the nation retrograded. The individual may have been right but the system as a system, covering a long period of time, was wrong. The same thing is true of this growth of commissions. They should be circumscribed by all the checks and balances of representative government. If great power is given to them they should be restricted and made so accountable to the people and their representatives that if they are weak or inefficient the machinery, like that of a republic itself, will be so well constructed that it will tide over such a condition until better men can be secured. A newly appointed commission is usually stronger than one more firmly established--when its fight has been won. It is well then to remember that in its creation, its powers should be closely defined and safe guarded, so that it has a continuing strength not wholly dependent on the personality of the commissioners and yet is so checked that the white light of public opinion may penetrate into its innermost recesses at any time. If all the eggs are placed in one basket, it is well to watch that basket.

The commission plan is not perfect in the opinion of the author and he has stood almost alone in advocating certain additions and restrictions. In spite of vigilance, the stiffness and red tape of the bureau may eventually appear. Commissioners may in time have a tendency toward making their decisions come so safely within the decisions of the courts that no litigation results, because the persons affected are satisfied--sometimes too well satisfied. Justice is sometimes more thorough when it involves conflict and it is a healthy sign to see cases contested in the courts once in a while, with the commissioners on the one side and great corporations on the other. Of course, public sentiment bearing upon the commissions may make them somewhat arbitrary in their methods. If so, the courts will protect the corporations involved. But if a legislative law or a rule of a commission is always modified so that it comes within the court decisions and precedents, no progress will ever be made for real justice--indeed, it will result in a gradual retrogression and in the end, confidence in the system will be lost. There are certain kinds of progression in legislation, the results of which in relation to constitutionality as construed by the courts we cannot foretell and occasionally there must be encroachment upon precedent so that the subject may come before the courts in as good an economic light as possible. Similarly, there are certain decisions in commissions which have to be made boldly so that the aggrieved parties will use their entire powerful machinery in the court. The writer believes this to be a wholesome process and no commission should be afraid to boldly progress so that occasionally its decisions will be submitted to the courts.

Again, while some commissions may grow sluggish, others may be inclined to become arrogant and bureaucratic towards their masters--the people. There should be some means whereby commissions may be called before the legislature in the same manner in which members of the English cabinet are subjected to questions or interpellation in the British parliament.

Sir Courtenay Ilbert, in his book "Parliament; its History, Constitution and Practice," 1911, p. 113, says of this device:--

"Asking questions in the house is one of the easiest methods by which a member can notify to his constituents the attention which he devotes to public affairs and to their special interests. For this and other reasons, the right to ask questions is specially liable to abuse, and its exercise needs careful supervision by the Speaker and those acting under this authority. But there is no more valuable safeguard against maladministration, no more effective method of bringing the searchlight of criticism to bear on the action or inaction of the executive government and its subordinates. A minister has to be constantly asking himself, not merely whether his proceedings and the proceedings of those for whom he is responsible are legally or technically defensible, but what kind of answer he can give if questioned about them in the house, and how that answer will be received."

A proceeding of this kind would be a protection to both the commission and the public. The writer has often heard some legislator questioning the wisdom of commission administration because of derogatory statements and criticisms which had been presented to him. If asked why he does not go directly to the commission and find the truth, he invariably replies that when he did go to that office he met a crowd of experts who could prove anything to him and things were so complicated that he only made a fool of himself. This man however, would feel much stronger if we adopted the European policy and called the commission before the legislature. He would be bold and they would be on the defence. As Sir Arthur Cunningham of the British home office remarked to the writer, "If old Maggie Malone of County Cork does not receive her old age pension we may be called upon to give the reason." The author witnessed John Burns undergoing a severe test before parliament one day and consequently has great respect for the question as a vigorous expedient to apply to some of these new commissions which are coming into existence, not only in Wisconsin but all over the country.

In the case of the proposed Interstate trade commission, supplementing the Sherman anti-trust act, the members should be subject to recall by a majority vote of congress. It is the belief of the author that sooner or later such a plan will be developed in addition to the program which has been laid down in Wisconsin. When all is said, there is no sure cure-all in commissions. It is a good thing once in a while--not too often--for the legislature to overturn their rulings. It keeps them active and vigilant, for there is a wisdom in the multitude which is greater in the long run, than that of any body of experts or judges. In the legislature there is a certain wisdom and as a result, bulwarks have been built up for the liberty of the human race which no doctrinaire theory of law or no worn-out precedent can give. Our common law, in a broad sense, came from the customs of the people and it is significant that in the establishment of the modern machinery, which is really putting into practice the truest ideals of the common law, there has been more real virility and strength in legislative enactment than there has been in the wisdom of judges.

When one pauses to consider the long line of sufferers from accidents who have come into the courts of America and remained there for years, the long litigation over the trusts and almost every right which is possessed by the people to-day in theory and not in fact, can we say that the judges have been wise, or that the American legislature has been unwise? It is true that in thinking of the learning and ability of the judges we may be tempted to say "Here are men versed in the law; why not turn the matter over to them?" There are men in our legislative halls and our colleges who believe that the only legislation is that made by the judges. Upon looking over this whole situation it seems that we should have renewed confidence in the legislature and the people. After all, there may be some truth in what Talleyrand said to Napoleon: "There is somebody wiser than you, Napoleon and wiser than all your councillors; and that is everybody." And if we in America do not believe it, we do not believe in representative government. The same general principles apply to any small body however expert it may be. As John Morley says in his "Essay upon Guicciardini":--

"It is not merely the multitude on whose wisdom you cannot count. . . . Perhaps Burke comes nearest to the mark:--'Man is a most unwise and a most wise being. The individual is foolish. The multitude for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species it almost always acts right.' "

The history of the past, the philosophy upon which this nation is founded should teach us the futility of placing in the hands of any group of men, power without responsibility and direct accountability. As experts they are entitled to protection and as we cannot well elect experts, we must select them but their work must always be subject to the great common sense which was recognized by the fathers as existing in popular control.

No state should attempt the regulation herein described without securing the highest type of public servant to do the work and it must expect to pay well for it.

To adopt the Wisconsin plan of controlling the vast interests which are included in these laws, while at the same time paying starvation salaries for experts, would be to invite failure from the moment that these laws were enacted. Nothing in political life to-day, in the opinion of the writer, has done more to bring inefficiency in public service everywhere than the poor salaries paid. We are wondering why the state cannot be as efficient as a private concern when the private corporation will pay three times the amount for like service in public life. No civil service law however good, can cure inefficiency coming from this source. A state can never make something out of nothing. Not only the poor salaries paid but the poor adjustment of salaries is a contributing cause. In Wisconsin fortunately, the great commissions have to a great degree the power to fix the salaries of experts and this has been the means of securing much efficiency. If we give responsibility to commissioners, surely we ought to trust their judgment sufficiently to allow them to fix the salaries according to ability. In the minor ranks of expert ability also, something will have to be done throughout our government to attract to the public service the same efficiency which enters into private business.

If private business can afford retirement funds for old men, surely it would be a good investment for the government to have something similar. If it is not good policy for the private industry to retain old men and women, worn out in office service and hindering quick, efficient results, neither is it good business for the government. Efficiency demands the best and public servants should be as well protected as private servants. Some kind of promotion in every rank of public service should come if public efficiency is to equal that in private service. How ridiculous it is for congress or any state to strive to fix the salaries for the different clerks in different departments by legislative action and yet hold the commissions responsible for the work of these clerks! If a great commission is capable of fixing the rates for gas or electricity, surely it is equally capable of fixing the salaries of a clerk or a stenographer, especially when restricted by a civil service law.

Fundamental to the responsible commission and to all good administration of our laws is a study of the principles of administration. Our young men must be trained for public service as in the European countries. That there is a science of administration has been seemingly unknown to the American public until very recently. How could it be otherwise with the doctrine of the spoilsman as the most important thing in our public life? The sense of duty, permanency and scientific methods in office had to be realized first. This realization was brought about through the education of the people.

Few of us realize to what extent preparations are made for legislation in Germany. A recent statement by one of the Prussian statesmen shows that half the members, not only of the imperial parliament but also of the various state parliaments, were men who had received some training for their work and most of the officers, in fact nearly all of the administrative officers in Germany, are especially educated for this important work.

The German university is the usual channel through which this training is acquired, whereas in America the university man is sometimes looked at askance if he utters an opinion upon a public question. In Germany, says a recent report from the German minister of education, it is the duty of the university "to give opinions of all kinds regarding scientific questions falling within their province, or for working out important problems concerning public life." It is not surprising then, that the expert is welcome in a state like Wisconsin where Germanic standards and Teutonic blood, whether Scandinavian or German, are so prevalent.

The science of administration seems only to have begun in America. The pioneer work done by the New York bureau of municipal research, which is influencing many of the cities of the country and is now touching the federal government through the Bureau of efficiency and economy under the efficient management of Dr. Frederick A. Cleveland, shows us a new field for the expert; the expert in investigation as well as in the preparation and the administration of laws. If there is one thing which the Ely school of economics seems to have brought into our life it is the spirit of the German school, which inspires one to look not to theory but to the actual affairs of economic life. So we are looking for advice now, not from discredited followers of the old theory of the classic school but to the teachings of men like John R. Commons, B. H. Meyer or Richard T. Ely. It is true that we are not changing rapidly enough and that we are too prone to take the advice of the undiluted type of professor of the old school who has not been tried in the laboratory of public life and who often proves to be a dangerous man. He who is lost in his theories is often as bad an advisor as the most corrupt politician; his guidance often leads into realms in which there is no real knowledge and which bear no practical relations to real life. A reasonable hesitancy in choosing an expert at the present time will accomplish a great deal for good government. The land is full of men with doctrinaire theories who have never studied the actual problems of government at first hand and who, if received with open arms, may do so much harm to the work of the real student of government that a serious retrogression will occur in the construction of any science of administration. A so-called expert who has not given time and attention to economic questions at first hand and who does not possess the very necessary elements of common sense, should be shunned by every true student of government. There is no royal road to true helpfulness--the scholar must become useful by strenuous application and be able to prove his theories by the hard facts of actual events. Says a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly:--

"Plato has well stated the expert's view of the matter in saying that when you want to take ship for Delos you hire, not a shoemaker or some other amiable citizen, but a pilot; to which the democrat is constrained to answer, 'Most true, O Plato; but forgive me if I suggest that it is I that am going to Delos, and that the necessity is thereby placed upon me to judge of the pilot's capacity to take me there; that I am therefore, by this necessity, constrained to seek such evidence as may be convincing to my own humble and limited intelligence, both, upon the one hand, as to whether the pilot is a pilot in truth, and also, upon the other, as to whether he intends to take me to Delos and to no other place. You will, perhaps, remember my cousin who took ship, indeed, for Delos, but was landed in Crete, and my aunt who, having made a similar arrangement, was never landed at all. Forgive me, therefore, if, with your kind permission, I make a few trifling inquiries, such as in this matter seem to me to be necessary, before I go aboard.' "

Those who wish to adopt Wisconsin methods in other states should subject all "experts" to a "few trifling inquiries."

The development of a high type of trained expert is a still further necessity when one considers that the lobby and influences which great corporations have used in the past, in connection with legislative bodies, may be transferred to the accountant. If an accountant computes the rate, basing it on an intricate system of valuation, cost of the service, etc., the powers that are interested will try to reach the accountant. We should fortify our service by employing men who have had the right instruction; whose teachers were such men as know fire when they see it and who maintain not only the highest ideals of public service but who supply their students with that insight into the methods by which legislation is actually checked or defeated so that they too will know fire when they see it.

In the choosing of men through civil service it will be well to remember that a civil service commission is subject to all of the frailties of a commission. The whole plan may go wrong if that source is not watched and subjected constantly to the light of public criticism. The kind of examination which must be passed determines in the end a large part of the efficiency of the individual. Fortunately commissions have realized that the ridiculous examinations of twenty years ago when book knowledge was made the standard cannot longer command the confidence of the people and they are gradually modifying examinations so as to bring the elements of personality and executive ability to a greater prominence than mere memory.

There is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to expert service of a very high order--the service which needs men whom the position must seek, the men who will never take examinations.

At the present time the harmonious cooperation between the Wisconsin civil service and the state commissions in selecting men of this type bids fair to solve the problem although in the past there have been some contentions over such matters.

China is the greatest civil service nation of the world but the spirit of the bureaucratic autocrat or the Chinese scholar must not be allowed to creep in here. There are signs that thinkers in this line--and it is particularly true in Wisconsin--are alive to this danger and stand ready with remedies for it. Because something went wrong once in some part of the world is no reason why it should go wrong here now--indeed quite the reverse, especially when history is studied as carefully as it is to-day.

Recently we have seen wonderful results from the new studies in business efficiency. Dr. Frederick A. Cleveland was probably the first man to apply this idea to the administration of governmental institutions. The work of the New York bureau of municipal research showed that certain definite responsibility could be fastened upon public officials, the cost of service standardized and efficiency records established.

Dr. Cleveland tells of thousands of people watching the record of a baseball game as it was reported on the wall of a newspaper office. These people were standing in the street watching what? Simply an efficiency record.

Every move of the men on the baseball field was noted, every error and every score recorded. A record of the year's games was kept by means of which the best men stood forth, men recognized as the most efficient in baseball. The lesson for public service is obvious.

We cannot attempt to regulate railroads or great public utilities unless our public service is in itself so organized that it has a thorough understanding of the intricate systems of cost accounting and efficiency used by these great economic units. We must have efficiency of service in order to assure efficiency in administration. As Professor Ely says, "Apart from the question of the simple difference in economic strength as between the contesting parties, we have the question of skill on the two sides." Now if rules and regulations are to take the place of miscellaneous law, they must be made by trained workers; they cannot be made by ordinary elective officials of the old type; they must be made upon tests, measurements and close observation. This is as much of a science, as great a work and demands as high an education, as any work now known in human endeavor. It is surely a great undertaking for the university to teach administration of this kind, teach not only the accounting principles of it, but the formulation of the legal basis of it, the relations of the jurisprudence and the statute law, and the entire methodical and scientific standardization of efficiency methods. What will work in business will work in the state, if applied with true knowledge of political science.

Expert help in administration should be freely recognized and men trained for it in our colleges should be used in our government. The state of Wisconsin has frankly recognized the expert in all these matters and is trying to persuade bright young men from the graduate schools of the university to do voluntary work in the study of these different departments, so that they may be prepared to fill their places in this new service for government. This does not mean a change in the making of the law nor the domination of legislation--it merely means that there is a capable servant at hand to carry out the decree of the people in an efficient manner.

Granted that the legislature is fearless and honest and fully able to control the most powerful commission, the question of regulation resolves itself into a half-dozen concrete, vital elements,--the accountant, the statistician, the actuary, the chemist, red blood and a big stick.