Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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October 15th, 2010 11:12 AM

'A Crime Beyond Denunciation'

This appears in a new article in the New York Observer:

"The first thing that needs to happen, I think, is to get these people out of their homes," a man wearing a bespoke blue-striped shirt, a Hermés tie patterned with elephants and Ferragamo loafers said recently. "Correct! I'll explain," the veteran member of a bank restructuring and advisory team said...

"The question to me is not do you foreclose or do you not foreclose. The question is when and with what philosophy you foreclose," the man on the bank restructuring team said. "If you want to reduce the amount of leveraged homeowners you have, you need to ultimately kick them out of their homes." A colleague walked up: His recommendation was to burn houses. It would lower the supply.

This is a famous passage from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck about the evil of a system that required California farms to burn food during the Great Depression – since prices were too low to harvest it at a profit – even as people starved:

Behind the fruitfulness are men of understanding and knowledge and skill, men who experiment with seed, endlessly developing the techniques for greater crops of plants...These are great men...They have transformed the world with their knowledge...

The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten...

The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must dill in the certificates—died of malnutrition---because the food must rot, must be forced to rot...

In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

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