Few of us now deny the Socialist’s main criticisms of existing society; most of us question his remedies. Some of us go so far as to feel a sneaking curiosity to see railroads and similar purely public utilities government-owned, just to find how it would work. Down on the Canal Zone they have a sort of modified socialism where one can watch much of this under a Bell jar. There one quickly discovers that a locomotive with the brief and sufficient information “U.S.” on her tender flanks—or more properly the flanks of her tender—gives one a swelling of the chest no other combination of letters could inspire. Thus far, too, theory seems to work well. The service could hardly be better, and recalling that under the old private system the fare for the forty-seven miles across the Isthmus was $25 with a charge of ten cents for every pound of baggage, the $2.40 of today does not seem particularly exorbitant.
The official machinery of this private government strip also seems to run like clockwork. To be sure the wheels even of a clock grind a bit with friction at times, but the clock goes on keeping time for all that. The Canal Zone is the best governed district in the United States. It is worth any American’s time and sea-sickness to run down there, if only to assure himself that Americans really can govern; until he does he will not have a very clear notion of just what good American government means.
But before we go any further be it noted that the socialism of the Canal Zone is under a benevolent despot, an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent ruler; which is perhaps the one way socialism would work, at least in the present stage of human progress. The three Omnis are combined in an inconspicuous, white-haired American popularly known on the Zone as “the Colonel”—so popularly in fact that an attempt to replace him would probably “start something” among all classes and races of “Zoners.” That he is omnipotent—on the Zone—not many will deny; a few have questioned—and landed in the States a week later much less joyous but far wiser. Omniscient—well they have even Chinese secret-service men on the Isthmus, and soldiers and marines not infrequently go out in civilian clothes under sealed orders; to say nothing of “the Colonel’s private gum-shoe” and probably a lot of other underground sources of information neither you nor I shall ever hear of. But you must get used to spies under socialism, you know, until we all wear one of Saint Peter’s halos. Look at the elaborate system of the Incas, even with their docile and uninitiative subjects. In the matter of Omnipresence; it would be pretty hard to find a hole on the Canal Zone where you could pull off a stunt of any length or importance without the I.C.C. having a weather-eye on you. When it comes to the no less indispensable ingredient of benevolence one glimpse of those mild blue eyes would probably reassure you in that point, even without the pleasure of watching the despot sit in judgment on his subjects in his castle office on Sunday mornings like old Saint Louis under his oak—though with a tin of cigarettes beside him that old Louis had to worry along without.