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reasonable level is not sufficient comfort for the consumers who are paying exorbitant prices this year. The . fact that a trust in one industry charges reasonable prices in order to ward off competition will not quiet the complaints of the consumers of the products of another combination which adopts the opposite policy.
There can be no conclusive generalization from experience regarding the effect of combinations upon prices, still less regarding the ability of combinations to maintain monopoly prices in the absence of unfair competition and special privileges. For this there are several reasons.
In the first place, there has been no complete investigation of the multitude of trusts and pools. The thoro investigations of the Bureau of Corporations have covered only a half dozen industries. Other less elaborate investigations, official or private, have been made, but the results of most of them are inconclusive. Many fields have not been touched at all.
In the second place, law and public opinion have had an important effect in restraining the monopoly power of trusts and pools. Up to about fifteen years ago, there were very few trusts. The pool was the common form of combination. Even before the enactment of the Sherman law in 1890, and of the various state antitrust acts, most of which were passed at about that date, pooling agreements were void and unenforceable under the common law. There was nothing to prevent their members from breaking away. Since the passage of the anti-trust acts, pools have been criminal as well as unenforceable. If pooling were legalized, if pool agreements were made enforceable, the power of pools might be much greater than it has been in the past.
In any case, we cannot judge the monopoly power of the trusts from past experience with the pools. From the trust no member can possibly break away. But we have had no adequate test of the monopoly power of trusts unrestrained by law. Practically the entire history of the trusts is comprised in the period since the Sherman act was passed. They have operated under the ban of law. That fact has affected their price policies and their policies with respect to the acquisition of competitors. The effect must have been appreciable even in the earlier days, when the anti-trust laws were not being actively enforced. It has been powerfulduring more recent years, when suits in equity and indictments against trusts have been almost weekly events. The trusts have not dared to fight their competitors so vigorously or to annex them so freely as they would have done in the absence of restrictive legislation. They have hardly dared to maintain prices as high as they have had power to do. They have feared dissolution. They have feared criminal prosecution. They have desired to curry public favor with a view to securing amendments making the laws less rigid. What they would or could do if given free rein cannot be judged by past experience.
In the third place, a satisfactory study of the effect of trusts and pools on prices during recent years is made particularly difficult by the extraordinary changes which have taken place in industry generally. There was from 1897 until a year or two ago a long period of high prosperity, of rapidly advancing prices, and of rapid changes in methods of production, not merely in trust controlled industries, but in industries generally. It is, therefore, quite impossible in most cases to determine
the effect of a trust on prices by merely comparing the prices before and after the formation of the trust. It is necessary in each case to enter into the most elaborate details as to the prices of materials, the rates of wages, the methods of production and the movements of demand.
Some have sought to measure the influence of trusts merely by comparing the movement of prices in industries in which trusts exist with that in other industries. The prices of farm products are often used for such comparison. On the average the prices of agricultural products have advanced more than those of trust-made articles. Comparisons of this sort, however, prove absolutely nothing. The disparity between the growth of population and that of agricultural production has caused an extraordinary increase in the prices of farm products. Of course other factors besides the presence or absence of combinations affect the relative price movements of individual commodities or groups of commodities. Under conditions of freest competition the price of one product may go up while that of another goes down, or the price of one may go up far faster than that of the other. The sole question at issue is whether the price of the particular commodity made by a particular trust has gone up more or has fallen less than it i would have done in the absence of combination. That question, as already suggested, can be settled, if at all, only by the most elaborate investigations.
Finally, even if we possessed far more information than we do on the history of prices under trusts and pools, we should still be unable to determine satisfactorily to what extent such power as these combinations were found to possess over prices was attributable to unfair competitive methods or to special privileges such
as natural or patent monopolies. Unfair competitive practices are largely secret. Railroad discriminations, for example, are comparatively seldom brought to light. We shall never know how far combinations and pools in the past have used unfair methods. Even if we did know all about these practices and all about the special privileges enjoyed by combinations, it would be merely a question of opinion as to how far power over prices was attributable to them, except in cases where no unfair practices and no special privileges had existed.
The truth is that a final answer to the question whether trusts and pools, merely by virtue of combination, can maintain monopoly power and can on the average keep prices higher than those prevailing under strictly competitive conditions, would be possible only as the result of a wide-reaching and prolonged experiment. The nation and the states would have to repeal their anti-trust laws and substitute merely laws for the prevention of unfair competitive methods and the removal of special monopoly privileges. Then, perhaps, after a long period of years, we could determine approximately the advantages or disadvantages of unrestrained liberty to combine. It is such an experiment, apparently, that some would have us undertake. The chief objection to it would be the difficulty of dropping the experiment when we had learned its lesson. If it were found that trusts and pools under such conditions were injurious to the public interests, it would be almost impossible to break them up and to return to a régime of general competition.
Are we then to reach the conclusion that we know nothing about the ability of trusts and pools to obtain excessive prices if unaided by unfair competitive
competitive methods effectively. This is the natural result of the fact that the pool is not under unified management. Take the matter of railroad discriminations, for example. The pool ordinarily does not deal with the railroads as a unit. It has no officer or organization for that purpose. The individual members either pay the regular freight rates or separately negotiate for special rates and rebates. As individual concerns, the members of a pool are not in a stronger position to secure railroad favors than the outside concern. The practice of price discrimination also requires, in order to be an effective agent for destroying competition, a degree of centralization in marketing such as seldom exists in the pool.
Moreover, in most cases, the pool as such can have no peculiar monopoly privileges. Only in case the single members together possess the whole of some limited natural resource, or together possess all the patents on which a given business is dependent, can their combina