The Diane Rehm Show devoted some time to discussing John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and several times during the show there were attempts to relate the story to our contemporary woes on inequality and impoverishment. Diane Rehm suggested at one point that every member of Congress should be given a copy of the book to read as it might change their attitude toward the plight of the disadvantaged.
I actually think it would be a good thing if members of Congress read The Grapes of Wrath, as I have been using the book in my own teaching for close to 30 years. However, there are a few things I would like to suggest. First, I wonder how people read the book if they understand that economics, especially price theory, is not optional. If economics is not mere political opinion, but instead a science, and the law of demand is analogous to the law of gravity in physics, how then will reason give shape to the historical narrative of the 1930s? Second, while getting the good folks in DC to read The Grapes of Wrath is a good conversation starter, a really vibrant public discourse would be one with contending perspectives. So I'd like to suggest to Diane Rehm that in addition to Steinbeck's famous novel, we provide every member of Congress with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. This is what I have done in my teaching for over 30 years. In fact, often I have introduced before Steinbeck, Charles Dickens -- especially his work, Hard Times. That way the students get to discuss the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression as well as the consequences of the effort to substitute government planning and regulation of economic activities as opposed to exchange and production guided by the market. In this teaching exercise, economic theory serves as the basis for literary analysis in much the same way that philosophy, or psychological theory, or critical theory has in more traditional literature classes.
If Diane Rehm is willing to supply the books, then I will gladly volunteer to teach and lead the discussion. We just need 15 weeks, a willing and excited audience, and the following required texts:
Charles Dickens, Hard Times.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
Paul Heyne, Peter Boettke and David Prychitko. The Economic Way of Thinking, 13th edition.
I can imagine a great public discourse emerging from such an educational experience related to wealth and poverty; inequality and injustice; power and the powerless; freedom and free enterprise; etc.
I'll Be There!
'We're the [economists that think rationally about emotional issues]. They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever ... cause we're the [economists that think rationally about emotional issues].'