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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 22 | Summary



After dinner that evening, Julian West admits to Dr. Leete that he finds the new social order perfect in almost every way. However, he is certain his 19th-century contemporaries would see one main obstacle to adopting such a system: price. Julian asks Dr. Leete how the nation can afford to provide such a high standard of living to all its citizens. Dr. Leete answers that the nation economizes in many ways. The first of these is in running a much smaller government. It does not have a military to support, nor a taxation system, jails, or other such government institutions. It also economizes through cooperative ventures such as the public laundry and central distribution system. The nation's industrial system saves the waste that comes from "mistaken undertakings," competition, unregulated industry, "idle capital," unemployment, and a financial sector that creates "needless ... convulsions of business." It also avoids the waste of market volatility. Dr. Leete holds that apart from being "the only humane and rational basis for a society," the new social order is also better at creating actual wealth, an idea which he thinks might especially gall the wealthy of the 19th century.


Dr. Leete counters a possible argument against socialism when Julian West wonders about what he assumes would have to be its vast expense. Julian offers the objection he imagines his peers in the 19th century would have, that the government could not possibly pay for services and provide for all citizens at a satisfactory level. The author contends that a socialist system on the scale of the new nation in the novel is actually better at wealth production than a capitalist one. He goes to precise lengths to demonstrate how it economizes expenditures and avoids waste. It saves money firstly by having a much smaller government, so there are fewer federal entities to support. It also saves money by consolidating certain services, and its centralized regulation of production and distribution enables it to avoid many wasteful pitfalls of capitalism. Rather than individually owned business all trying to tempt consumers with variations of a single product, often resulting in a glut, the nation can produce exactly the quantity needed and thereby avoid waste. There is no longer any "idle" or stagnant capital or out-of-work laborers, nor waste from market fluctuations and financial crises. Far from costing too much to implement, the author claims his socialist utopia is even more prosperous and better at making money than the capitalism of the 19th century. Julian is convinced, and the author doubtlessly hopes readers are, too.

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