The corporation income tax law was really an act of popular dislike of corporations exercising great monopolies. Grouping all the little corporations with them was an absurdity and a cruelty.
Corporations have no feelings. They are not wounded by the hostility of legislatures. The managers of corporations of large capital have feelings, and some of them are wounded in their pride by this hostility. But they need not suffer in their pockets. They are abundantly able to protect their own property; they know how to make money on the short side of the market as well as the long side. But the managers of the concerns of small capital are seldom able to do this. Oppressive laws cause suffering to them, to the mere holders of stock in all corporations, to the creditors of all, to the employees, and to the customers. Many of these laws profess to be meant to favor small people as against big people—to restrain the rich corporations so that the poor ones may have more liberty. There is no evidence to show that this result is attained, or that the country would be better off if it were attained. But there is plenty of evidence to show that half the people of the country are suffering from these legislative attacks on their property. The men who manage the great corporations, whatever their faults, are men of enterprise and courage. They are the true progressives; the prosperity that they diffuse among the whole people is ordinarily more than can be destroyed by our progressive politicians. They are now beginning to feel that their rulers are discriminating against them as a class, and are uneasy and disheartened, and reluctant to embark in new enterprises; and the progress of the country is halted by their apprehension. It is not the rich who suffer most: it is “the unemployed,” and the millions of dumb, helpless, struggling thrifty men and women whose hard earned savings constitute a large part of the capital of the corporations; and who are already alarmed at the shrinking value of these savings. It is, perhaps most of all, the mass of ignorant unthrifty poor, whose chief wealth is the wages paid them by the corporations which they are taught to look on as their oppressors.
In his illuminating essay on The Lantern-Bearers, Stevenson complains of the vacuity of that view of life which he finds expressed in the pages of most realistic writers. “This harping on life’s dulness and man’s meanness is a loud profession of incompetence; it is one of two things: the cry of the blind eye, I cannot see, or the complaint of the dumb tongue, I cannot utter.” And then, with a fine flourish, he declares:—“If I had no better hope than to continue to revolve among the dreary and petty businesses, and to be moved by the paltry hopes and fears with which they surround and animate their heroes, I declare I would die now. But there has never an hour of mine gone quite so dully yet; if it were spent waiting at a railway junction, I would have some scattering thoughts, I could count some grains of memory, compared to which the whole of one of these romances seems but dross.”