Speaking "Economics"
A Blog...

... for conversations about the sometimes confusing vocabulary of economics and how to teach it.

From chapter 20, section 3.
Speaking economics: Economic Literature

Many novels deal directly with economic issues. Famous examples are Zola's Germinal, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) deals with economic issues both explicitly and movingly. The following passage captures some of what it meant to be unemployed in the 1930s:

And the migrants streamed in on highways and their hunger was in their eyes, and their need was in their eyes. They had no argument, no system, nothing but their numbers and their needs. When there was work for a man, the men fought for it--fought with a low wage. If that fella'll work for thirty cents, I'll work for twenty-five.

If he'll take twenty-five, I'll do it for twenty.

No, me, I'm hungry. I'll work for fifteen. I'll work for food. The kids. You ought to see them. Little boils, like, comin' out, an' they can't run aroun'. Give 'em some windfall fruit, an' they bloated up. Me, I'll work for a little piece of meat.

And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we'll have serfs again.

And now the great owners and the companies invented a new method. A great owner bought a cannery. And when the peaches and the pears were ripe he cut the price of fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for the fruit and kept the price of canned goods up and took his profit. And the little farmers who owned no canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners, the banks, and the companies who also owned the canneries. As time went on, there were fewer farms. The little farmers moved into town for a while and exhausted their credit, exhausted their friends, their relatives. And they too went on the highways. And the roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work.

And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom, and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. The granaries were full and the children of the poor grew up rachitic, and the pustules of pellagra swelled on their sides. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And money that might have gone to wages went to gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment (Chapter 21, Penguin Books, 1976, pp. 312-313).