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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Iron Heel.

Several days later the brief announcement was made that he had gone away on a vacation to recover from the effects of overwork.  So far so good, but there had been no hint of insanity, nor even of nervous collapse.  Little did I dream the terrible road the Bishop was destined to travel—­the Gethsemane and crucifixion that Ernest had pondered about.

CHAPTER VIII

THE MACHINE BREAKERS

It was just before Ernest ran for Congress, on the socialist ticket, that father gave what he privately called his “Profit and Loss” dinner.  Ernest called it the dinner of the Machine Breakers.  In point of fact, it was merely a dinner for business men—­small business men, of course.  I doubt if one of them was interested in any business the total capitalization of which exceeded a couple of hundred thousand dollars.  They were truly representative middle-class business men.

There was Owen, of Silverberg, Owen & Company—­a large grocery firm with several branch stores.  We bought our groceries from them.  There were both partners of the big drug firm of Kowalt & Washburn, and Mr. Asmunsen, the owner of a large granite quarry in Contra Costa County.  And there were many similar men, owners or part-owners in small factories, small businesses and small industries—­small capitalists, in short.

They were shrewd-faced, interesting men, and they talked with simplicity and clearness.  Their unanimous complaint was against the corporations and trusts.  Their creed was, “Bust the Trusts.”  All oppression originated in the trusts, and one and all told the same tale of woe.  They advocated government ownership of such trusts as the railroads and telegraphs, and excessive income taxes, graduated with ferocity, to destroy large accumulations.  Likewise they advocated, as a cure for local ills, municipal ownership of such public utilities as water, gas, telephones, and street railways.

Especially interesting was Mr. Asmunsen’s narrative of his tribulations as a quarry owner.  He confessed that he never made any profits out of his quarry, and this, in spite of the enormous volume of business that had been caused by the destruction of San Francisco by the big earthquake.  For six years the rebuilding of San Francisco had been going on, and his business had quadrupled and octupled, and yet he was no better off.

“The railroad knows my business just a little bit better than I do,” he said.  “It knows my operating expenses to a cent, and it knows the terms of my contracts.  How it knows these things I can only guess.  It must have spies in my employ, and it must have access to the parties to all my contracts.  For look you, when I place a big contract, the terms of which favor me a goodly profit, the freight rate from my quarry to market is promptly raised.  No explanation is made.  The railroad gets my profit.  Under such circumstances I have never succeeded in getting the railroad to reconsider its raise.  On the other hand, when there have been accidents, increased expenses of operating, or contracts with less profitable terms, I have always succeeded in getting the railroad to lower its rate.  What is the result?  Large or small, the railroad always gets my profits.”

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