Taft on the Issues

 

PRESIDENT TAFT goes on record, in this interview, on a different angle from his usual official or formal explanations. He answered the questions put to him by the writer ranging the entire cycle of public affairs, whose development the President analyzed freely and unhesitatingly. It was the hour previous to the last Cabinet meeting, at an official period, a political time and hour of the day when Mr. Taft's time is least his own -- the psychological moment. so to say, in his day's work when his utterances are most subject to public scrutiny and criticism.

"The trust question and the tariff seem to be the two crucial questions during the present campaign. Each her been yielded first place, according to the point of view. Criticism has Dot been wanting as regards my attitude toward the tariff and the trusts, and politically I am attacked on the plea that I have tried to criss-cross my former views, my former promises my former actions, when, as a matter of fact, my views and promises and actions are always the same. The conditions existing to-day, so far as the trusts and the tariff are concerned, are no more and no less than what the people wanted, because such conditions have sprung from the operation of laws which the people authorized. It is the laws' operation that has dissatisfied the critics, who perhaps had expected different things or did not clearly understand the provisions of the statutes. If the laws and their operation disappoint the people, they are the ones who can change them, not I. I was elected President to administer the government according to the laws the people had authorized—not those I desired. In the latter respect I can say that wherever I believed it necessary to supplement for the good of the people any existing laws, I recommended further legislative changes, and beyond that I could not go.

" We hear a great deal about the ineffectualness of the suits instituted by Attorney-General Wickersham against the Standard Oil Company and the so-called Tobacco Trust. Have they proven ineffectual? I say that their effectiveness cannot be disputed. Let us see what those suits have done for the common good. First, they have forced the revelation of the exact financial and commercial attributes of both of those bodies, which hitherto had been kept secret; second, they have forced a dissolution of the parent company and authorized, in its place, a number of smaller and independent companies; third, we have restored competition, in this instance, in two commodities and last, hut not least, business has not been disturbed or injured. Those are four viewpoints susceptible of further analysis. It may be argued that the mere knowledge of the companies' respective financial affairs is of little or no pecuniary advantage to the people in general, but it must be remembered that. advised as to the commercial and financial operations of those two bodies, the people are in a better position to contend, if need be, against them and to regulate them. Substitution of independent companies has been characterized as ineffectual because the value of the stocks and bonds of those companies has risen, and this augmentation of value is pointed out as a proof of failure on the part of the administration, which is also wrong, because, on the contrary, it shows the people themselves hoot been so satisfied with the outcome that they have gained more confidence in those companies and thereby automatically feel correspondingly eager in purchasing their securities, and the brisker the bidding the higher the market. In the third instance, we have restored competition which is doubted in certain quarters, on the assumption that certain commodities have risen in price. This rise probably refers to crude petroleum, which costs more to-day than it did before the Standard Oil dissolution. It is true that the latter company was enabled to sell oil at a lower price than it is obtainable for today, but let us look into this deceptive matter. The price has gone up, but the increase is paid to the producer and not to the trust. Competition in the process of obtaining the raw product forces the independent companies to bid against one another to obtain their raw material, whereas before the companies bought at their own price and in a measure placated the people by selling the finished product for less than its market value to-day. Yet the independent producer was complaining because he had to submit to the terms of the trust or be shut out. Competition, coming so suddenly in an industrial field that hitherto had been dominated by an inside group of capitalists, has had the effect of bringing higher prices, but by a natural law competition will, in time lower those prices, either to their former level or a lower one, to say nothing of the decided advantage of a more equitable distribution of profits and currency. Nor has it been a mean accomplishment, that of engineering legal action against those two organizations without in the least disturbing economic conditions, and we must not forget that not so very long ago complaints were rife that the Attorney-General's suits-at-law in these instances would bring ruin.

" I am aware that the current beneath all political agitation is a voice criticizing me because I approved the Payne-Aldrich tariff. The platform upon which I was elected President contained a revision plank, and I committed myself to it as intending downward ret vision, as I stand thus committed to it now. But so long as we carry the tariff into politics, or polities into the tariff, it cannot be hoped to solve this great economic question. I succeeded, so far as such things are possible in actual practice, in removing political influence from an economic subject.

" One of my first official acts as President was to call a special session to consider the question of tariff revision The result of this session, which began in March and lasted into August, was the enactment of the Payne law. That law provided revision along protective lines. In its making Congress did not have the advantage of reports from a non-partisan body showing the exact facts as to cost of production here and abroad. If it had had, the bill would have been constructed on a better basis.

" The statistics of the three years of the Payne law show that there was a substantial reduction in many schedules The lay provided for future revision by giving authority to the President to create a nonpartisan board of experts to make a world-wide inquiry into cost of production and to develop and systematize other tariff data. Under the operation of the Payne law, prosperity has been gradually restored since the panic of 1907. There have been no disastrous failures and no disastrous strikes. The percentage of reduction below the Dingley bill is shown in the larger free list and in the lower percentage of the tariff collected on the total value of the goods imported. The figures show that under the Dingley bill, which was in force 144 months, the average percent of the imports that came in free was in value 44.3 percent of the total importations, and that under the Payne bill which has been in force 35 months, the average percent in value of the imports which have come in free amounts to 51.2 percent of the total; that the average ad valorem of the duties on all importations under the 12 years of the Dingley bill was 45.8 percent, while under the 35 months of the Payne bill this was 41.2 percent, and that the average ad valorem of the dutiable imports under the Dingley bill was 25.6 percent, while under the Payne bill it was 20.1 percent In other words considering only reductions on dutiable goods, the reductions in duties from the Dingley bill to the Payne bill was 10 percent, and considering both free and dutiable reductions, it amounted to 21 percent.

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Scanned: Harper’s Weekly Oct. 26, 1912: 9