Eighty years ago, John Steinbeck’s best-known novel, the extraordinary The Grapes of Wrath was published, which told of the flight and plight, of the hundreds of thousands of families, mainly small farmers, who fled to a better life in California. This life, however, for many became a nightmare, as their own countrymen turned against the newcomers. Only World War II solved the problem.
Steinbeck wrote magnificently, incurring the ire of the U.S “establishment” in the north, and of the California salad barons and other big farmers, one married to his own sister, who turned on their own countrymen, fearing for their own security, way of life and profits. They felt threatened by the sheer number of incomers. Shades of today, all over the world perhaps.
Again, California is at heart of massive cultural change where the aptly-named F.A.N.G corporations (Facebook,Apple,Netflix,Google) and similar have become all powerful, more so than all but the superpower nation states. Again, greed is the ultimate driver.
Here, in the anything but United Kingdom, there is a parallel. Despite record current employment levels, hundreds of thousands of jobs are going in retail, banking, insurance companies and local government (largely through robotics), anywhere where computer and internet use are involved. Growth of the care industry for the elderly is adding a significant number of jobs, but in the United Kingdom, coupled with the tax credit system, the overall financial system is running out of money. Inevitably taxes will have to rise, or many functions of the state, will have to be suspended. How much of that extra revenue will be spent wisely? Who knows? For too long too we have been paralysed by a botched Brexit brawl, now so convoluted as to make U.S. politics seem a haven of relative calm, even with DT supposedly in charge.
Those in work, will cling to the jobs they hold, and whereas private industry will look keenly to cut wages and pension costs – will government, both local and national, be prepared to sniff out inefficiency, and also get a grip on mass immigration and its inevitable cost. Immigration uncontrolled, heaps additional pressure on education, health care, including for the elderly, and on our ever over crowded transport systems, be it road or rail or air.
The misery in some of Steinbeck’s books in the Thirties was horrific – it could and will happen again, if governments, both here and in America, fail to recognise future problems and grasp the nettle to deal with them, which they don’t seem to be doing. Where is the leadership we so badly need? As an early environmentalist Steinbeck would shudder at the speed of change, with which we are destroying our frail planet, mostly in the name of GREED.
Steinbeck used his massive popularity with his readership to make his mark on public opinion, even if it cost him his popularity in his native state. Sadly, in the overloaded social media world, we now live in, true titans of language are drowned by celebrity drivel and self-seeking short-term political hogwash.