Edward Bellamy was an economist who disliked the socio-economic conditions because many laborers got a subsistence pay. Bellamy wrote a book called Looking Backward, which focuses on Julian West who is an upperclassman, lived in Boston. It is important to note that Bellamy lived during the industrial revolution in the US. His book talks of West being induced to sleep because of his chronic Insomnia. The author records accounts of laborers striking because the capitalists and the landlords enjoyed all the profits and interests respectively. Bellamy writes, “The producers of the nineteenth century were not, like ours, working together for the maintenance of the community, but each solely for his own maintenance at the expense of the community (Bellamy 151).” Given the discovery of machinery during this time, it enabled an efficient system of production for the capitalists that increased their profits due to an accumulation of capital. Though the capitalists were contented with the high returns to scale, the laborers were oppressed by being given low wages for their skills and that people were laid off as a result of the industrial revolution. However, Bellamy writes that after 113years of sleep, West woke up to a new utopian America where there was social equity and the economy thrived. This paper aims at discussing the gilded age of America by looking at the importance of freedom from poverty in that there was a sharp division between socio-economic classes.
In the 19th century, social mobility in terms of one’s occupation did not change over time, which promoted poverty among the working class. This is because the capitalists kept on suppressing the working class into a more miserable life. Bellamy believed in a uniform society where there is no division of labor such that the wealth is evenly distributed among individuals. This is not the case. The author writes that, at the peak of the industrial revolution in America, the gap between the upper class and the lower class widened. This is because many were workers had to be laid off because the machinery innovations replaced their manpower. In addition, machinery were more efficient compared to human capital. Bellamy writes that, “The folly of men, not their hard-heartedness, was the great cause of the world's poverty (Bellamy 214).” Technological innovations increased the productivity level and also improved the average standard of living for those laborers who had the skill to operate the machinery. However, the upper class capitalists were mostly favored during the gilded age of America in that productivity due to economies of scale. The book indicates that the industrial period taught “fellow men to find gain in loss of others (Bellamy 180).” Bellamy believed that the capitalists took advantage of the laborers by paying them low wages regardless of working long hours. As Karl Marx, Bellamy advocated for a just society by believing that a utopian society is more efficient compared to a capitalistic society. Bellamy writes that there was a vast gap between the rich and the poor (Bellamy 36). It is evident that, during the gilded age, the inequality among social classes was as a result of uneven distribution of income in that the capitalists accrue all profits received as a result of human and physical capital. During the gilded age, industrialization benefits the capitalists who continued to be richer while the working class became more miserable.
The gilded period initiated the women suffrage movement because it gave them a chance to join the labor force. Women were stuck in their households in the 19th century because the society allowed only men to work. Gender liberation has become a prominent factor over the centuries because women were seen as inferior and forced to be submissive to their husbands. The sexism that was in place in the 19th century attributes by the social setting in that only men were allowed in the labor force. Bellamy believes that the inclusion of women into the overall labor force, they would contribute equally into the society. Bellamy writes, “Our women have risen to the full height of their responsibility as the wardens of the world to come, to whose keeping the keys of the future are confided (Bellamy 176).” This means that women could join the labor force and contribute to the society at large. If women were accepted in the labor force, the overall economy would rise sharply because of high productivity level as a result of increased human capital. The industrial revolution gave women a chance to become part of the greater community because they were allowed in the factories to work. Women needed to generate wages outside their home through finding employment. This prompted women to go on labor strikes that asked the capitalists to pay them fair and equal wages as the men. Bellamy uses Dr. Leete, who is a woman, a lead in his novel to signify that women would also achieve a high social status despite their gender. This shows that the gilded age in America contributed to women’s rights and movements in that Bellamy acted as an abolitionist by using women as the lead characters in his novel.
The 19th century was based on capitalism unlike the past era where the social systems were based on feudalism. Feudalism was also not supported by Bellamy because it favored one group of people as the capitalistic society. Due to the rigid social stratification embedded in the country, Bellamy believes that private capital brings about social inequity in a given society. Thus, a society should be based on equality where land is publicly owned, which will benefit the entire community. In addition, Bellamy argued that there will be a surplus of labor in the fields in that the supply of the laborers will be almost equal to the demand (Bellamy 77-8). This perspective is contrary to the private capital where the wealthy minority, capitalists, manipulates the working class. A socialist system would be more efficient according to Bellamy in that the capitalistic system suffer periods of shortages, recession among other economic factors. Thus, through a communal ownership of land which gives people an equal chance to contribute to the economy would be progressive according to Bellamy. In addition, Bellamy believed that people in a communal system would make ten times more profit out of the greater community by uniting with them than contending them (Bellamy 78).” Thus, it is evident that during the 19th century, the industrial period, the capitalistic system was already engrained in the society thereby, creating a sharp difference between the social classes. Bellamy explains the difference among social groups would be solved by public ownership of capital to benefit the society at large.
In conclusion, it is evident that Bellamy was anti-capitalism because it exploited the working class. Through his novel, Bellamy uses Juliani, who is an upperclassman to show how people are mistreated in the community. After, Juliani falls asleep, he dreams of a utopian society where people are happy because there is economic equity unlike the capitalistic society where the lower class is exploited by the capitalists for their labor. The gilded period is relevant era in the human history because of the industrial revolution in that productivity became efficient. In addition, women fought for their rights and freedoms after joining the labor force in that they wanted equal pay as the men. Though industrial period brought productivity, unemployment rates went high but also the average living standards improved. It is crucial to note that the capitalists benefited the most in the industrial era because of the type of system embedded in the country. Bellamy believes that a utopian society would be great during the industrial period because there would be equity among people and that people would live harmoniously. It is important to note that the industrial period may have legitimized capitalism because there was a rigid form of social stratification that was already in place in the society.
Bellamy, Edward, and John L. Thomas. Looking backward, 2000-1887. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967. Print.