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Nationalisation, Not Purchase, of Railways
(S661: 1908)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 19 September 1908 number of The New Age. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S661.htm

    [[p. 417]] In your "Notes of the Week" (September 5th) you remark that railway companies are combining "for the sole purpose of selling their lives dearly" in anticipation of nationalisation. As it seems to be a very general idea, even among Socialists, that the two operations--nationalisation and purchase--must go together, will you allow me space to point out that, while nationalisation is in the highest degree advisable, and may be effected at once by a very simple enactment, purchase is equally unadvisable and unnecessary, and had far better be left till a much later period, when in all probability some general method of dealing with similar claims to other forms of nationally produced wealth may be found practicable.

    I may take it for granted that every reader of The New Age recognises the advantages to the public, as individuals, in the whole of the railways being worked with the sole view of the maximum of use and enjoyment of the people, so far as is consistent with the safety and well-being of the great army of employees, which will itself tend to secure the safety of the public; while to the nation, this complete unity of organisation and management will be of incalculable advantage as a safeguard against foreign invasion.

    But these, and many other collateral advantages will accrue, just as certainly, and even more rapidly, by the State taking over the fixed and rolling stock of the whole of the railways, to be managed and worked in the public interest, while continuing to pay to the present owners of the railways--the shareholders and possessors of every kind of railway stock--that proportion of the net profits to which they are now equitably entitled.

    It is, I believe, generally estimated that the economies which would be effected by the co-ordination of the whole system would amount to many millions annually, and this great saving would all be expended in reduced fares, better services, higher wages, and shorter hours of work, by which all shareholders and employees, as well as the whole of the public, would greatly benefit.

    But the increased facilities to all who use the railways, [[p. 418]] and the abolition of the needless and often irritating restrictions of most of the existing managements, would certainly lead to a large increase of traffic, and thus render any considerable discharge of existing railway employees unnecessary, while the position of all would be much improved.

    It is needless here to go into the question of the exact future status of the shareholders. As one mode of dealing with them, I would suggest that the relative market-value of each kind of railway security having been ascertained, with due regard to the condition of the line and rolling-stock, the holders of these securities should be offered in exchange government annuities for their own lines, and that of the legal heirs, in the direct line, living at the time of the owner's death, these annuities to be for amounts approximately equal to the dividends or interest they had received on an average of the three preceding years. This fixed and certain annuity would be fully equal in value to the less secure and fluctuating railway stocks. Those who declined to accept this mode of payment would receive whatever dividends the Government should declare to have accrued, after full provision for the upkeep of the line, efficiency of the service, and reduction of debt.

    I believe myself that a majority of railway shareholders would accept the annuities, and this would lead to the possibility of the railways becoming unencumbered national property in two or three generations. Debenture-holders would, of course, be gradually paid off at par out of profits.

    The special advantage of such a mode of nationalising our railways is, that it involves no vast financial operation of valuation and purchase, certain to be disadvantageous to the public--an operation which so many people think an insuperable objection to nationalisation. It secures all the advantages of public management, and at the same time safeguards the equitable interests of the shareholders.

    The method is, of course, applicable to the acquisition of every kind of property in the hands of corporations, which should belong to the community.

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