Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

Letters from a Chinese Official

Dickinson, Goldsworthy Lowes

G. Lowes Dickinson

(This little book, published anonymously, was taken for a genuine document by many critics, among others, Mr. William Jennings Bryan, who wrote an elaborate answer to it. The writer is an English university lecturer)

LIKE the prince in the fable, you seem to have released from his prison the genie of competition, only to find that you are unable to control him. Your legislation for the past hundred years is a perpetual and fruitless effort to regulate the disorders of your economic system. Your poor, your drunk, your incompetent, your aged, ride you like a nightmare. You have dissolved all human and personal ties, and you endeavor, in vain, to replace them by the impersonal activity of the State. The salient characteristic of your civilization is its irresponsibility. You have liberated forces you cannot control; you are caught yourselves in your own levers and cogs. In every department of business you are substituting for the individual the company, for the workman the tool. The making of dividends is a universal preoccupation; the well-being of the laborer is no one’s concern but the State’s. And this concern even the State is incompetent to undertake, for the factors by which it is determined are beyond its control. You depend on variations of supply and demand which you can neither determine nor anticipate. The failure of a harvest, the modification of a tariff in some remote country, dislocates the industry of millions, thousands of miles away. You are at the mercy of a prospector’s luck, an inventor’s genius, a woman’s caprice—nay, you are at the mercy of your own instruments. Your capital is alive, and cries for food; starve it and it turns and throttles you. You produce, not because you will, but because you must; you consume, not what you choose, but what is forced upon you. Never was any trade so bound as this which you call free; but it is bound, not by a reasonable will, but by the accumulated irrationality of caprice.