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Power, Prose, and PurseLaw, Literature, and Economic Transformations$
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Alison LaCroix, Saul Levmore, and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190873455

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190873455.001.0001

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The Grapes of Wrath, Economics, and Luck

The Grapes of Wrath, Economics, and Luck

Chapter:
(p.315) 13 The Grapes of Wrath, Economics, and Luck
Source:
Power, Prose, and Purse
Author(s):

Richard H. McAdams

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190873455.003.0014

Economic success and failure are always, to some degree, a matter of luck. The degree of randomness and luck involved in economic outcomes is, for most people, relevant to their support for schemes of social insurance. But a substantial amount of psychology research suggests that Westerners, especially Americans, systematically and significantly underestimate the role of luck in economic outcomes. Just world theory suggests that people are motivated to interpret good and bad outcomes in the world as more merited or deserved than they actually are. With this social science perspective, I interpret John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The novel is most obviously a story about the struggle of labor in a capitalist world, about which much has been written. But the story was provocative and subversive in another way: focused relentlessly on luck, it strongly counters the tendency to underestimate the role of luck in economic outcomes. Contrary to conventional storytelling, as well as the reactionary counter-novels it spawned, hard work and moral decency are not rewarded.

Keywords:   Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, luck, capitalism, moral luck, systems justification theory, just world theory, harmartia

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