The grapes of wrath keep getting fatter | Opinion
Observing the contemporary panorama, the powerful message of social justice and environmental care of that cathedral of literature that is the grapes of wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck. It all sounds so current. The plague of dust storms caused by an absurd exploitation of the land with the cultivation of cotton comes to mind. The representatives of the owners who arrive by car at the plantations speak to the tenants without getting out of the vehicle, a terrible gesture of superiority, to inform them that they have to leave. The tractors, which can have more than 20 pairs of arms, which will work the land. And the frustrated will to fight. Whoever wanted to go hit the decision maker doesn't know where to go, because the bank in question is complex, and there are layers and layers of command and from a field in Oklahoma you can't see the end point. The will to resist is also frustrated. The tractor will knock down the farmers' huts. What follows is emigration, with its risks of abuse and exploitation, on the journey and on arrival.
Steinbeck's dust storms are now much worse climate change. After months in which drought has hit large parts of Europe, we are witnessing the arrival of torrential rains that have caused catastrophic damage in Italy, perhaps they could cause many problems in Spain as well. Drought and brutal and increasingly frequent adverse events are two sides of the same coin: man-made climate change. Forced migrations for these reasons already take place in many parts of the world, and perhaps the day is not far off when they begin in Europe itself. Meanwhile, it is time to verify certain reluctance of popular and liberal Europeans in the fight without quarter against harmful emissions.
Steinbeck's tractor is today the technological advance, especially artificial intelligence. They may end up creating more new jobs than they destroy. But even if it is, the new ones will not be for those who lost the old ones. As one expert said at a recent World Economic Forum conference, it will not be normal for artificial intelligence to take a job. It will be that candidates who know how to use it will displace those who do not. It is time to help large segments of the labor market to prepare for the new environment and outline support mechanisms for losers. It is better to start now.
And the socioeconomic problems that Steinbeck pointed out persist as well. As is well known, labor income has lost a lot of weight in the GDP pie in recent decades in the EU, while benefits have gained it. The 2008 crisis was largely paid for by the less prosperous classes. That, and the collateral effects, created a large pocket of discontent that largely explains the victories, years later, of Brexit, of Five Stars and the League, or of Trump on the other side of the ocean.
The EU learned the lesson and faced the pandemic crisis in a very different way, with expansive policies. Today, the economic disaster that many feared due to the impact of the war in Ukraine has been avoided. But the erosion of purchasing power has taken another big leap, and fair accounts tend to create unease.
Avoiding environmental catastrophes, social rifts or dangerous geopolitical dependencies, all at once, will require great efforts. It will take a lot of public investment and a high-minded, self-interested attitude from the private sector. In the name of principles of social justice or even just because the stability of the common project and prosperity depend on the fact that anger that gives wings to extremes does not erupt later on. He New Deal from Roosevelt who supported Steinbeck; the great construction of the welfare state in Europe; the EU post-pandemic plan; episodes of noble cooperation of the social parties. There are examples of the path that should be followed without hesitation. It is necessary to look for that "middle term of good sense that makes the future habitable", as Antonio Muñoz Molina wrote in these pages, referring to the environmental issue. The same goes for socioeconomics. History explains it to us. Great literature makes us feel it.
-Are there many people who feel the same? Tom Joad asked his mother, referring to the feeling of anger at injustice.
Several elections of the last decade show that there is enough. It must be avoided that it is too much, and that will not be achieved by the free market alone.
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