Chapter 14

Thus far, we’ve only seen the push west through the eyes of the tenant farmers.  But what about the people who were already living in California and had been for generations?  This chapter starts with the words, “THE WESTERN LAND, nervous under the beginning change” of larger governments, new taxes and growing labor unity.   I’m sure it was frightening to see all of the hungry people from the dustbowl coming into the state.  They were willing to work for less money and in some cases they would work in exchange for food.  It was heartbreaking to read about how the children in one of the camps just stood around the Joade’s fire hoping to get fed.  Even though the Ma Joade didn’t have enough food to fill up her own hungry family, she made sure to leave enough in the pot for some of the children to get a stick full.

This chapter also discusses how the banks run everything (not unlike Wall Street today) and how they want tractors on the land, not people.  Just like back then, banks foreclose on properties when people fall behind in their mortgage payments. Today people are run out of their homes just as the Oakies were run off their land.  Steinbeck says “There is little difference between a tractor and a tank.  The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both.  We must think about this.”  Today the foreclosed houses sit vacant while the numbers of those that are homeless grow.  I see them every day in our libraries and think, there but for the grace of God go I.  I was struck by one line in particular, “hungry for security and yet sensing its disappearance from the earth” which seems to fit the time we are currently living in.

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Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. Change was then, change is now.

    While the “great owners” talk about the effects of the change they feel coming, Steinbeck talks about the causes of the change: “a hunger in a stomach, multiplied by a million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied by a million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied a million times”. Steinbeck seems to believe that if people who own the things could separate causes from effects, they would be ok, they would survive. But he doubts that they can understand: “For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I”, and cuts you forever from the “we”.

    What are today the changes that we feel coming and how do they affect us?

    The article from Mark Thoma, dated March 10, 2009, gives us insights on changes in the U.S. labor market: “One of the most remarkable developments in the U.S. labor market of the past two and a half decades has been the rapid, simultaneous growth of employment in both the highest- and lowest-skilled jobs”.

    What are the causes of these changes?

    Mark Thoma suggests: “automation, computerization and offshoring are reducing the number of middle-wage, skilled occupations — stock clerks, inspectors, telemarketers, payroll workers, sales agents and software programmers — Autor finds. These jobs are particularly vulnerable to automation because their core tasks follow well-understood routines that can increasingly be codified in software and executed by machinery. Ironically, many jobs that require less formal education — such as construction workers, janitors, truck drivers, auto mechanics, home health workers and wait staff — are more difficult to automate than these white-collar positions because they demand physical flexibility and rapid adaptation to unpredictable circumstances (e.g., oncoming traffic, unhappy customers). Humans excel at this form of flexibility while current technology falls short. Demand also remains high for high-wage, high-skill jobs, such as attorneys, physicians, engineers and top managers — all of which perform analytic, interpersonal and problem-solving tasks requiring both expertise and intellectual flexibility”.

    The full article on changes in the labor market and the shrinking middle class can be found at

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2009/03/the-shrinking-middle-class.html


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