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direction have sometimes been exaggerated, but they are important. If the reports show that corporations in a given line of business are making unusually large profits competition will be the more likely to enter the field and bring down prices.
Under the new act the Trade Commission itself decides what information obtained by it, - by whatever means obtained, — shall be made public, save only that the law prohibits the commission from publishing trade secrets and names of customers. The term “ trade secrets will undoubtedly be taken to mean merely secrets as to processes of production and the like. The general language of the law seems to imply the expectation that a great deal of information secured by the commission will be made public. It is sincerely to be hoped that the Trade Commission will see fit to make public all the important information it secures through the system of reports or in other ways, just as the Interstate Commerce Commission does. It will be recalled that under the law creating the Bureau of Corporations that bureau itself has no power to determine what information secured by it shall be made public, the determination resting with the President. As a matter of fact the President, presumably at the instance of the bureau, has withheld some information regarding individual corporations which would have been of material value to the public. A few years ago sentiment in the business world was scarcely ripe for such a measure of publicity as may properly be demanded today. In fact great corporations are more and more on their own initiative adopting the policy of making full reports to the public. The injury to a business concern from the disclosure of its affairs is sel
dom serious, and any concern whose business is so great as to affect materially the welfare of masses of people has no right to consider itself a private institution.
Reference has already been made to the important powers of the Federal Trade Commission as to the enforcement of the new provisions of the anti-trust legislation. The general prohibition of unfair competitive methods, that of price discrimination and that of restrictive sales and leases are enforceable only through the commission. The same is true of the prohibitions with regard to intercorporate stock ownership and interlocking directorates, — except as they relate to banks and common carriers, where other federal boards have jurisdiction. This is clearly as it should be, at least for the time being. The commission through its expert investigation will be able soon to amass a great body of information regarding competitive methods and methods of combination. Such information is largely lacking at the present time. On the basis of such information the commission should develop a sounder judgment regarding these matters than could be expected of prosecuting officers or judges.
In addition to its special powers in the enforcement of the provisions mentioned, the commission is required to aid in the enforcement of the anti-trust laws generally (86). On the direction of the President or either house of Congress it has the power and duty to investigate and report the facts relating to alleged violation of the anti-trust acts by any corporation. Upon the application of the attorney general it must investigate and make recommendations in order that a corporation alleged to be violating the anti-trust acts “may thereafter maintain its organization, management and con
duct of business in accordance with law." It is well known that in a number of instances in recent years great corporate combinations have, without suit by the government, changed their organization or methods of business, with a view to conforming to the Sherman act. In such cases they have usually consulted the attorney general and secured his approval. Thus to readjust business without appeal to the courts is evidently desirable. It saves expense and friction. It is obvious, however, that an expert body like the Trade Commission will be in a much better position than the attorney general to suggest the proper changes in practices and in organization.
Again, the new law provides ($ 7) that the Trade Commission may be called upon for assistance and advice in connection with the actual conduct of a suit in equity brought by the government under the antitrust acts. The court may upon the conclusion of the testimony in such a suit, if it is of the opinion that a decree should be made against the defendants, “refer said suit to the commission, as a master in chancery, to ascertain and report an appropriate form of decree therein." The court, of course, can reject such a report in whole or in part. It is very likely not only that the courts will in fact often call upon the commission but that they will usually follow its suggestions. This again is a provision of much importance. Had the recommendations of an expert body such as the Trade Commission been before the Court in connection with the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company, for example, it is scarcely conceivable that that dissolution should have taken a form so ineffective as it did. How to secure a satisfactory dissolution of a trust is an
immensely difficult economic problem, rather than a legal problem. A plan must be devised which will at the same time effectively restore competition and avoid needless hardship to the owners or stockholders of the combination and undue shock to the business world.
Finally, the Trade Commission under the new law (8 6) may on its own initiative investigate the manner in which any decree against a defendant in a suit brought by the government to restrain violation of the antitrust acts is being carried out. Upon the application of the attorney general it is its duty to make such an investigation. At present it too often happens that when a court has ordered the dissolution of a combination, or issued some other order for the enforcement of the anti-trust laws, very little attention is given by any one to the question whether the decree is actually obeyed. The commission should be able to render a valuable service in this direction.
The Trade Commission is also directed to report to Congress from time to time its recommendations for further legislation regarding corporations, combinations and trade practices. There is every reason to believe that the commission will have a great and beneficial influence upon future legislation. If Congress had gone no farther at the present session than to create such a commission, give it powers of investigation and call upon it for recommendations regarding future action, the trust legislation would have been well worth while. The ordinary methods of inquiry on which Congress bases legislation are by no means adequate to a problem as vast and complex as the trust problem. The time is not yet ripe for the enactment by Congress of a mass of details regarding com
binations, corporations and competitive methods. In fact, a good deal even of the legislation actually adopted at this session has been, as already shown, a trifle immature. It is better to proceed slowly and surely than to make blunders.
The creation of the Trade Commission is, therefore, a great forward step. All parties in Congress were alike in favoring such a commission. Public sentiment throughout the country demanded it. The trusts and corporations were in general glad to see it established. An inquiry sent out by the National Chamber of Commerce to its constituents, consisting of trade organizations throughout the country, elicited an almost unanimous recommendation of such a commission. It matters not so much what its particular powers are at the outset, or what are for the time being the provisions of law as to trusts, combinations and trade practices. The important thing is to have a body of proper dignity devoted to the expert consideration of these great problems.
1 It is not necessary here to discuss the important new provisions of the anti-trust act with reference to labor or those with reference to the use of the injunction and the procedure for contempt of court. While the latter will have some bearing on cases against trusts and corporations, their chief significance is with respect to labor cases.