Did Galbraith and Steinbeck Ever Discuss This?
By David Henderson
John Kenneth Galbraith was well aware that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agricultural policy was to pay farmers not to grow in order to drive prices up and to destroy various crops to drive prices up. One obvious consequence was that–prices were increased. Which meant that some people starved during the 1930s or at least went without.
But if Galbraith’s friend, John Steinbeck, was aware of FDR’s policies, he never said so. Instead, he attributed the crop destruction policies to farmers rather than the feds.
In The Grapes of Wrath, after describing a scene in which orange growers spray oranges with kerosene to make them inedible, Steinbeck writes:
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 fill in the certificates–died of malnutrition–because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
Galbraith and Steinbeck were friends. I wonder if Galbraith ever told Steinbeck the truth: the criminal here was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He’s the man against whom Steinbeck should have directed his wrath.
HT to Troy Camplin.