Modern Commerce
The following article was written by Henry Addis and published as part of the Free Society Library No. 6, Essays On The Social Problem, June, 1898. A ready to print PDF zine available from Corvus Editions.

Many persons are wont to speak of our commerce in boastful tones and to point with pride to our great commercial centers, with their swarms of human beings hurrying here and there, crowding each other in the streets or toiling all day long in shop or mart, as though all this were the acme of economic arrangements, the greatest achievement of mankind and the source of all human joy. So constantly have the writers, the orators and the dramatists held this idea up to the popular gaze that public sentiment has learned to accept it as correct, and even those who suffer most from the effects of modern commerce feel their breasts swell with pride as they gaze at the pictures of commercial centers in the illustrated magazines, or hear the stump-speakers boast of our commercial greatness.

To the superficial, and the one who is awed into admiration by vastness, the tangle of telephone wires over the city streets, the lines of trucks and drays crowding each other in their hurrying from depot to warehouse or from warehouse to retail store, the heavy trains speeding across the continent, all these have an effect that is irresistible.

But if we look below the surface and behold the picture there presented; see the ships that are wrecked, or railroad trains that have collided; hear the sobs of the sailor’s widow or the groans of the mangled brakeman, all because in the fierce rush of commerce the ship went to sea in a storm, or care was not taken to avoid an accident on the railroad; see the worn and aged men who have grown old while they might yet be young; see the gray-haired men who have grown so because their cargoes happened to reach port a few days late; see the wretched hovels and miserable lives of many who have given all their energy to carry on this mad chase; see the producer of wheat hungry, and the producer of wool cold; and his query rises, and, like the ghost in Hamlet will not “down:” is all this the perfection of human association or is it madness? It is far from the perfection of human association, and is, to a certain extent, madness.

Let us look into the workings of modern commerce, trace its effects back to their causes and see if it is either a blessing or a necessity. Without commerce the large cities as we know them, cities with their long streets of sky-high buildings, their splendor on one side and their squalor on the other, would not exist. These cities are the hot-beds of disease, crime and vice; the breeding places of all manner of disorders and infamies. But they are the legitimate and inevitable product of modern commerce.

Modem commerce is the companion of modern industry, and, like it, is the child of monopoly. Look at the internal commerce of America. Immense quantities of white lead are produced at Eureka, Nevada. All the requisites for making white lead are to be had, and altogether it is an ideal spot for the manufacture of white lead. But the Southern Pacific Railway Co. has interests in San Francisco, so it will not haul white lead from Eureka except at such rates as preclude its sale in competition with other white lead. They will haul the bar lead to San Francisco, then back past Eureka to Ogden or Salt Lake City or Denver for less than they will haul white lead from Eureka to these points. They have a monopoly of the hauling business in this region.

Take wool as another example. Large quantities of wool are grown in Southern and Eastern Oregon. This wool is shipped to Portland. From Portland it is shipped to New York. From there it goes to Lowell or Fall River where it is span and woven. From there the cloth is shipped to Boston, New York or Philadelphia where it is made up into clothing. This clothing goes to Chicago and St. Louis, and finally some of it reaches Portland from whence it is shipped to the towns in Southern and Eastern Oregon. The sheep-grower has raised much good wool, but after it has been hauled across the continent and back, the wool-grower only gets a few shoddy clothes, for the remainder has been absorbed by commerce — commission, storage, brokerage, transportation, insurance, profits.

I have eaten beef that was born in Southern Texas, fattened on the Staked Plains, butchered in Kansas City and cooked in Pan Handle City, Texas.

But what has monopoly to do with wool or beef being hauled so far and handled so much, yon may ask. I reply: Everything. In the country where the Wool is grown, all along the foot of the mountains, are splendid sites for woolen-goods factories. Mountain streams come tumbling down from the upper regions where the melting snows and ever-lasting springs start clear and pure, down for the lower altitudes. They could furnish power enough to run all spindles and looms needed to manufacture all the wool grown in this region. But monopoly of land puts the control of these sites into the hands of those who do not wish to use them for manufacturing purposes. Monopoly of machinery by means of patent laws, and monopoly of money compelling those who wish to purchase machinery to pay ruinous interest, preclude the possibility of putting in the necessary machinery, except by those who don’t want the factories there. Then, transportation companies make such discrimination against all such concerns when an attempt at their establishment is made, that they are killed thereby. The destruction of home butchering in Northern Texas was brought about by adverse legislation and transportation discrimination. As a result Armour & Co. would sell Kansas City beef cheaper than the local butcher could sell his product, and so he had to go out of business. Then the price of beef rose, but commerce flourished — the cattle were shipped to Kansas City, and then shipped back as dressed beef.

When we look at this question in the light of these facts, it becomes evident that less than three-fourths of our internal commerce — hauling, handling, transferring, interest paying, brokerage, etc. — is wasted, or worse than wasted. If the wool was manufactured near where it was grown, the wheat ground into flour at the nearest waterfall, and all industry organized on like considerations, the enormous amount of energy now wasted in these useless commercial transactions would be turned to producing necessities, comforts and luxuries. This would give far greater abundance and security, thus allowing greater leisure and opportunity for the cultivation of the artistic tastes and the literary and musical faculties.

Such an organization of industry can be accomplished only in a condition of freedom.

While government lasts commerce will continue to pillage and rob; to cause the young to look old; to furrow with care the brows of those who should be careless; and, while it fills the halls of some with splendor, it fills the cots of others with woe.

Away with the parent of monopoly — government — and all other monopolies will vanish like fog before the morning sun, and the re-organization of industries upon a sane and rational basis will proceed apace, and gaunt destitution be known no more in all the land.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory