Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was a monumental masterpiece and a triumph of liberal literature. That said, Sinclair (who names their kid ‘Upton’?) was an idiot. While I’m sure he seemed intelligent enough on the surface, that was just a clever disguise. The thesis of his book, which was that Western countries should switch to communist systems of government, was a load of malarky on a scale of tax cuts to help the economy and Iraq in possession of nuclear bombs.
Communism is theoretically an economic system in which those who work are treated with respect, everyone works to their ability, and everyone who needs something (such as food or medicine) gets it. Money is taken entirely out of the equation. Incentive is provided in the form of “knowing you’re doing good”. Food and goods would be distributed via a fleet of magical winged monkeys who need neither rest nor food and know exactly where to send everything (or so I’ve pieced together). Everything that could possibly be done communally would be, for maximum efficiency, using machines and methods such as the mechanical dish-washing device in the last few pages of the book. War would be completely eliminated because of the waste it necessitates. Every issue would be voted on communally in direct democracies (every adult votes on every issue). Art would be paid for by those who enjoy it; if you like the guitarist, I guess you’re supposed to put a loaf of bread in his guitar case. As you can see, many facets remain unresolved.
The book itself uses a proof by showing the alternative doesn’t work. According to Upton, capitalism doesn’t work for several reasons. The lasseiz-faire economy fails because the wealthy can use unethical and monopolistic business practices to amass more money than they deserve. For example, using unhealthy ingredients in food, mass bribery, collaborating with the rest of the industry to fix prices (horizontal monopoly), and overcharging on their products. The poor stay poor and stupid (and thus under control) because the wealthy use bribery of public servants (police, judges) and newspaper propaganda to make sure they don’t organise. The rich get richer looting the poor by overpricing goods and underpaying workers. No one complains about wages because, on the surface, working hard leads to a higher salary and more prestigious work. No one complains about the products because, in theory, government regulation makes sure the food is healthy, and, if you don’t like it, you can always buy someone else’s. If no one provides the desired product or service, you can start a business that does. But government regulation is shoddy and corrupt, horizontal monopolies ensure products are overpriced, and intimidation and sabotage (even up to murder) prevent competitors. The poor, not without cause, live in filth and hopelessness.
The first, and largest, problem is the one that led to the end of Communism in Russia: no incentive. If I get 780 Rubles whether I work or not, why would I work? Russia is probably not the best example, because it was never an idealist democratic communism. But the same idea holds there: If I get two loaves of bread and a bottle of milk every day, regardless of how much I work, why would I do any work at all? What, are you going to give me no food? Under a capitalism, if I work, I can look forward to buying televisions, books, and hats. As long as people want power, that’s the best I can hope for.
Powerlust is the problem Communism cannot deal with. It works great if men were angels. But if that were the case, we would have no need for any government at all. Since power-hungry, immoral, lying/cheating/stealing (“evil”) people exist, the best we can hope to do is contain them. Communism just won’t cut it, because nothing prevents evil people from accumulating power. Money is power in capitalism, so work is power in communism. The evil people would probably get others to do work for them, would eat the best food, live in the best houses, treat others like dirt, and decide local government policy. Oops, an upper class in the classless system. No communist document has ever shown a method to control the power-hungry in a communism that wouldn’t work in a capitalism.
In fact, it might be easier to gain power in a communism. Assuming the country can avoid the early disaster of Stalin that befell Russia, goods-distributor positions would be obvious concentrations of power. Theoretically, if the goods-distributor is found to be corrupt, he would be ousted by the populace. But the same is true in any democracy, isn't it? Okay, but what if there are a large number of goods-distributor positions, so power is less concentrated? That also won’t work, because those people need to be fed: more overhead and dreaded waste, which The Jungle seems to be obsessed with eliminating.
Communism has myriad other problems. One is mass confusion over how art and personal freedom would be handled. According to The Jungle, people who like an art or artist support them. This means that a large number of people would have to be willing to support an artist (remember, no one person alone will be able to support an artist, because there are no rich). But, wait, doesn’t everyone get food? Do you only get food if you work? What counts as work? If I work at a factory that produces decorative windows, do I eat or not? What about at a guitar factory? Or what if I assemble computers? What if it’s decided that everyone gets food no matter what? Then we have the Russian problem where no one works at all. These aren’t just Devil’s Advocate questions. These are serious problems in the communist system that are logically impossible to solve.
The Jungle showed that the situation is completely hopeless for the lower class. After the loss of his son, Jurgis tramps around the countryside working at farms. This is where I shouted, “Yes! He finally figured it out!” But, of course, he hadn’t. Every Saturday he wasted all his money on drinking, whoring, and general carousing. This is the point in the book where all credibility departs. By this point, Jurgis has learned about the system. Now, he knows that winter will be horrible and he’ll need some money to survive on. AND YET he spends everything on drinking, whoring, and carousing. Sure enough, he almost dies several times that winter. The problem here is not the system: it’s Jurgis being an idiot. I believe that there is always, in every situation, something that can be done to improve the situation for oneself. Had Jurgis put all his money in a bank (which he claimed was too far away- ludicrous after having walked from Chicago to Texas), he would’ve been fine. Had he been smart enough to take advantage of his situation, he would’ve improved himself. Instead he suffered because he was inferior. Social and economic Darwinism is the rule of the day and the weak suffer in any system.
Reformers like Upton Sinclair saw that the current system wasn’t working, and so they wanted a change, any change will do. They wanted to move somewhere, even if their system is worse. While I will agree that free enterprise has problems, and the 1870s-1920s period was rife with corruption and some controls (such as stepping up meat inspection and anti-monopoly laws) were needed, I will not agree that we needed a complete change in the system. In summation, no system will ever be able to protect the proletariat against the greedy, intelligent, and unscrupulous. I prefer capitalism because it at least allows the poor the illusion of social mobility.