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The story is this. On the night of May 14, , Julian West, a rich and educated Bostonian, barely 30, who had inherited his money and did no useful work, and who was betrothed to a similarly situated beautiful and graceful lady, was sequestered in his personal hideaway in the basement room, sealed against water seepage, of his Boston mansion. Julian awoke years, three months, and eleven days later, in the solicitous care of a Dr.

Taken to the belvedere at the top of the house they were in, Julian saw the utterly transformed city of Boston. Only then did he believe what had happened to him. Gradually, in conversations across many days and weeks, Dr. Leete and his appealing daughter describe to Julian the transformed American society that his trance has borne him into. While at first incredulous, Julian always approves the new system despite his previous status as a minor plutocrat.

In time, romance blooms between Julian and the daughter, who is connected to his life in the 19th century, it turns out, in a special way. Much of the power of Looking Backward comes from the eloquence and ethical passion with which Dr. Leete, his daughter, and, eventually, Julian condemn the now-dead system of industrial corporate capitalism. Leete teaches that in a private economic system workers should get not only the results of their own labor, but also their share of the earnings enabled by and coming from the operations of the accumulated social and technological inheritance of society—the social fund.

In Boston in , according to Dr.

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Leete, everyone realizes that people who, under the lash of their want and need, had to work for capitalists and their corporations were not free. Did not have liberty. That the wages system as the Knights of Labor were also teaching in the s was ethically akin to the old master-slave relationship.

Leete and Julian come to agree that the extraordinary wealth of a few and the misery and wretchedness of the masses was the natural outcome of capitalism. Leete informs Julian that Americans early in the 20th century adopted, in a peaceful revolution, a system eerily premonitory, to us now, of the fascist and communist solutions that dominated, or sought to dominate, much of the 20th century.

In analysis prefiguring the structural similarities between corporate capitalism and state socialism, Dr. The people of the United States concluded to assume the conduct of their own business, just as one hundred-odd years before they had assumed the conduct of their own government, organizing now for industrial purposes on precisely the same grounds that they had then organized for political purposes. Its controlling features are the all-producing federal government, which did find equivalents in the USSR and its satellites, and economic equality, a standard and system which has not been practiced or aspired to, as far as I know, in any modern nation-state.

Everybody who works receives exactly the same annual share of the national output in the form of a credit recorded on a card. Poverty, personal economic insecurity, and wealth are over, provided you work. No part of the annual share each American receives is transferable. The people spend their credits for services or for goods of uniform quality at pleasant and conveniently situated government stores, which receive their stocks from the government-run manufacturers or providers in a national system of direct distribution.

Because of a much higher standard for what is deemed to be an acceptable abode, housing has spread across the countryside, and Boston, for instance, has just a fourth as many people as before. People still have personal property, but the federal government owns and operates all the means of production; there are no private businesses, no merchants. The government is hierarchical, as an army is, and organizes all work and public activities and provides for all the physical and mental needs of the citizens. Doctors work for the government and they are all qualified.

The government spends surplus wealth to enhance the livability of cities, improve parks, or protect the environment. Everybody works for the nation. Presumably the press, prophetically characterized as having been dominated in the private system by self-serving plutocratic owners and corporations, is now government-owned, too, but Dr. Leete states there is no censorship, activating, as often he does in a present-day reader, disbelief in the plausibility of his tale. Schooling through university and professional training until one reaches 30 are free. Citizens obey the commands of the industrial officers.

Unions are nowhere in sight. He would have…in a word, committed suicide.

Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887

Women hold one among a dozen or so cabinet positions; they work just like men except when absent for maternal reasons; it is not clear whether they vote. The states no longer exist because they would get in the way of the uniform administration of the industrial army and there are so few functions left for government, anyway.

After 45, citizens are free to devote all their time to whatever they want to. They may realize their potentialities—participate in artistic, literary, intellectual, or civic affairs, travel, whatever. Music, theater, and public events are available to everyone on radio and television the coming of which Bellamy prophesied in the comfort of home. Since capital is all publicly held, there is no market. Since there are no wholesalers or retailers, there is no buying and selling and no advertising.

Since the law under the old order was a system of casuistry concerning property and relations of personal and commercial dependency and in the new society only a few simple legal maxims are needed, there are no lawyers. The other nations having followed the new American model of society, there are no wars, no military. There are no taxes-taxation was an excrescence of the capitalistic system. And there are no jails. The few criminals who persist despite the guarantee of abundant maintenance are restrained in hospitals, although their punishment is doubled if they lie about their offenses.

No defense lawyers?

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Leete intones. I think Bellamy could not have attracted his millions of readers had he not practiced a mesmerism of his own to match the defiance of the laws of nature by the quack who put Julian in a trance for a century. To make his vision plausible Bellamy pictured an entirely contented, undissenting population.

People have no individual antagonism and give gladly for what they take. None of the dogmatic religions survives, almost everybody is a rationalist and an altruist, almost nobody is a dominator, a liar, a hog, a zealot, or a libertarian, and nobody at all owns a farm or a business. Because everyone is expected to work to his fullest potential even without monetary incentives every person receives an equal share of the wealth.

Everyone gets the same compensation because everyone tries their hardest at their respective jobs. People are encouraged to stay in school until, at age 21, they became enlistees in the industrial army. Everyone has the opportunity to receive a college-level education and is free to choose a career after serving as a common laborer for three years.

At age 24, people are given tests and asked questions to determine their abilities and job preferences. Although most people select their occupations after three years of common service, others attend professional schools to become physicians, teachers, etc. In Looking Backward , work is seen as a disagreeable, painful, and necessary duty to be performed until retirement at age 45 when one begins to really enjoy life.

October 15 is Muster Day when the year-olds enter the industrial army and the year-olds depart from it.


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Leete explains that, because incomes are equal, incentives take the form of adjustments to hours of labor and working conditions and in the form of public recognition. These adjustments serve to make a job more or less attractive. One idea is to make the hours of labor vary in different trades according to their difficulty.

This, of course, results in differential hourly wage rates.

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Looking Backward

Leete tells Julian that workers are motivated by honor, distinction, national pride, devotion to the common good, and pride in the job itself. A worker can receive advancement as a reward based on his efforts to achieve the common good. Every industry has emblems, badges, and ribbons.

There exist numerous gradations and minor promotions meant to convey gratitude and esteem to the workers according to the service rendered to the community. There are also punishments for those who do not want to work. Those refusing to work find themselves in solitary confinement in prison with only a bread and water diet. Handicapped individuals are assigned tasks that they are capable of performing. Those too handicapped or too ill to work make up an invalid corps and receive the same amount of credit as everyone else.

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However, ironically, we never see anyone actually working, striving, pursuing, or producing anything. Red ribbons make up the highest honors for those employed as artists, authors, engineers, inventors, physicians, teachers, and so on. The reward systems in the arts and professions are more complex than the system for other jobs. For example, an author is permitted to reduce his regular work hours by any earned royalties.

All books and newspapers are published by the government. There is no censorship and the state is obligated to publish any work as long as the author pays for the first printing.

Things that look cool backwards

According to Dr. Leete, credit cards are given to all citizens enabling them to acquire goods and services necessary for a comfortable life.


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Each citizen is provided with an annual allotment of goods and services. Money is used only as a unit of account. Identical amounts are deposited by the U.

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Different people consume different combinations of goods and services. When excess demand or supply occurs, prices or production levels are adjusted. When funds are needed for investment purposes, government officials remove the required amount from the pool to be distributed among the citizens.