The best and worst of times: privilege and poverty in 1906, and rampant privilege in 2006

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 06/26/2006 - 02:54.

It is astounding to read the words of Cleveland's greatest mayor, Tom Johnson, written for his autobiography in 1911, and realize they are more intelligent and insightful about today than any words known to be written or spoken by living leaders of our community since. Of special alarm today are the privileges ineffective and corrupt politicians are giving evil business interests for "land monopolies", in more perverse ways than even Johnson could probably imagine, going beyond tax exemption to outright theft from the public trust through illegal actions and eminent domain.

"The greatest of all governmental favors or special privileges is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values," Johnson wrote, and we ignore. Such special privileges are central to the Carney con - the ODOT con - the Port Authority con - the Wolstein and Stark con, that the masses should lose their property rights and the community should sacrifice tax revenues so those of privilege may amass outrageous wealth through land monopoly in the midst of a sea of poverty. That is the story to NEO today, and the tale of a city being run astray. Read the Forward below and then read "My Story" on line, and learn a better way for today, from the greatest leader of our community, ever, still as visionary 100 years ago to the day.



The greatest movement in the world to-day may be characterized as the struggle of the people against Privilege.

On the one side the People-slow to wake up, slow to recognize their own interests, slow to realize their power, slow to invoke it. On the other, Privilege-always awake and quick to act, owning many of the newspapers, controlling the election and appointment of judges, dictating to city councils, influencing legislatures and writing our national laws.

What is Privilege?

Privilege is the advantage conferred on one by law of denying the competition of others. It matters not whether the advantage be bestowed upon a single individual, upon a partnership, or upon an aggregation of partnerships, a trust-the essence of the evil is the same. And just to the extent that the law imposes restrictions upon some men and not on others, just to the extent that it grants special favors to some to the exclusion of others, do the people suffer from this evil.

These law-made restrictions and benefits are many, but substantially all may be grouped, in the order of their importance, in the following five classes: land monopolies, taxation monopolies, transportation monopolies, municipal monopolies, and patent monopolies.

The greatest of all governmental favors or special privilages


is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values.

The special privileges growing out of conditions created by our local, State and national tax systems are so far-reading and disastrous in their effect that one might devote a volume to the discussion of this division of Privilege, and then not begin to compass the question.

Under transportation monopolies come the governmental favors to railroads and to those enterprises dependent upon the railroads, such as special freight lines, sleeping-car companies, express and telegraph companies.

Municipal monopolies consist of rights and special privileges in the public streets and highways which in the nature of the case cannot be possessed by all the people and can be enjoyed only by a few. Under this head come the franchises which our cities grant to street railways, to water, gas, electric light and telephone companies, and in these lie the chief sources of corruption in municipal life.

Patent monopolies are the last distinct survival of a policy which once had a very much wider application and which in every other case has been abandoned because it was recognized to be unsound. At one time it was common enough to reward public service of almost any kind by the grant of a trade monopoly. Soldiers in war were tempted by the prospect of such a grant and often got it as the result of a victory. Statesmen were tempted and were often rewarded in the same way for services to the State, or service to their party. Now this is universally recognized to be an error.

Patent monopolies cut off from us the opportunity to take immediate advantage of the world's inventions. They exert upon many men an influence as baneful as the


most corrupt lottery by tempting them from regular work and useful occupations. They interfere with the natural development of invention.

Useful inventions come naturally and almost inevitably as the next necessary step in industrial evolution. Most of them are never patented. The patents that are granted interfere with this natural development. If inventors must be rewarded it would be better to pay them a bounty than to continue a system productive of so much evil.

And so by securing in different ways "special privileges to some" and denying "equal rights to all," our governments, local, State and national, have precipitated the struggle of the people against Privilege.

It matters not what the question-whether a water or gas franchise, a street railway monopoly, a coal combination, an ordinary railroad charter, or the grabbing of the public domain-the issue between them is always the same.

Owners and managers of public-service corporations may change; so may their methods. They may respect public opinion or scorn it; they may show great consideration of their employes or treat them as machines; their policies may be liberal or the reverse; they may strive for all the traffic will bear, looking to dividends only, or they may share their profits with the public.

What of it?

So, too, political parties may change.

And what of that?

A Republican boss or a Democratic boss is equally useful to Privilege. It may seek legislative power through dealing directly with corrupt bosses, or it may find the control of party machinery by means of liberal campaign


contributions the more effective; again it may divert the attention of the people from fundamental issues by getting them to squabbling over nonessentials.

This is often demonstrated when the contest is made to appear to be between two men, though in reality both are committed in advance to obey the wishes of Privilege. Superficial moral issues are especially serviceable in this particular line of attack.

But it is on the judiciary that Privilege exercises its most insidious and dangerous power. Lawyers whose employment had been entirely in its interest are selected for the bench. The training, their environment, their self-interest, all combine to make them the most powerful allied of monopoly. Yet this may be, and often is, without any consciousness on the part of the judges themselves that their selection has been influenced by an interest opposed to the public good.

Thus unwittingly men, otherwise incorruptible, become the most pliable agents of Privilege and the most dangerous of public servants. No mere change of political names or of men can correct these evils. A political change will not affect judges with their judge-made laws, and so long as Privilege controls both parties, a political change will not affect the legislative bodies which create judges. An effective recall of judges would furnish the machinery to correct many abuses, and this step can be taken without waiting for the economic changes which must afford the final and fundamental relief.

For it is to economic change, and not to political change, that the people must look for the solution of this problem. Not lawbreakers, but lawmakers are responsible for bad economic conditions; and these only indirectly, for it is


business interests controlling lawmakers that furnish the great motive force in the protection of Privilege.

The economic change that will correct these political abuses is one that must remove the prizes which Privilege now secures from the People. It must reserve to the public the ownership and management of public-service utilities so that they shall be regarded no longer as private loot, but as public rights to be safeguarded and protected.

That good, law-abiding corporations and good, well-meaning men cannot correct these wrongs without changing the economic conditions which produce them, has been proved times without number, and only serves to emphasize the fact that the real fight of the people is not to abolish lawbreaking, but to put an end to that lawmaking which is against the public good.

It is true that the contest looks like an unequal one; that the advantage seems to be entirely on the side of Privilege; that its position appears invulnerable.

Is there then no hope? Let us see.

The people's advance guard has been routed often, and will be time and time again. New recruits must come to the front. As the firing lines are decimated the discontented masses must rush forward to fill the gaps in the ranks. Finally, when we are fighting all along the line, public opinion will be strong enough to drive Privilege out of its last trench.

Agitation for the right, once set in motion, cannot be stopped. Truth can never lose its power. It presses forward gaining victories, suffering defeats, but losing nothing of momentum, augmenting its strength though seeming to expend it.


Newspapers controlled by the Interests cannot stop this forward movement, legislatures must yield to it, the courts finally see and respect it and political parties must go with it or be wrecked.

What more striking example could be cited than the disintegration of the Republican party as shown at the 1910 election, following so closely upon the almost unparalleled vote for its candidate for President?

Big Business, corrupt bosses, subservient courts, pliant legislatures and an Interest-controlled press may block, delay, apparently check its progress, but these are only surface indications. The deeper currents are all headed in the same direction, and once fairly started nothing can turn them back.

It is because I believe that the story of my part in this universal movement helps to illustrate the truth of this proposition that I have decided to tell it.

I am going to show how Privilege fights in this city, the State and the nation, but I shall deal more largely with the city since it is here that the abolition of privilege must begin.

In the main, the things I shall tell about Cleveland are the things that might be told about any city or state. The source of the evil; the source of the good; the source of the shame and corruption; the contest between opposing economic interests; the alliance among those identified with the franchise corporations on the one hand, and the unorganized people on the other, is the same everywhere.

Cleveland's experiences are the experiences that other cities will have in their efforts to be free. Privilege may not be quite as irresistible for them as it was for us, because the people have been gathering strength, party lines


are being broken and knowledge of the meaning of Privilege is spreading. Privilege no longer asserts itself with the arrogance of unlimited and unchallenged power as it did a few years ago. The pressure of right is reaching into the higher places. It is disintegrating the classes which have ruled.

The influences which operated to arouse my interest in the struggle of the people against Privilege are significant only as they show one of the many ways in which our minds are made to meet and grasp these great problems, for, while really sincere investigators arrive at last at the same conclusion, nearly all of us travel different roads to get there.


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Struggle against Privilege

  This is such a great entry Norm.  "The greatest of all governmental favors or special privileges is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values," Johnson wrote, and we ignore.  Cleveland needs a Tom Johnson.