The Free Market and the Continuity of Change

Photo Source Torsten Scholz | CC BY 2.0

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s novelization of the plight of the working class in the early 20th century, ripples with gruesome tales of the exploitation of immigrants in Chicago’s meatpacking district. In half-Dickensian, half-Dantean factories where the daily fare for millions is processed, Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrant, arrives bereft, owning little more than an unshakable faith in the American Dream. He discovers a world of infinite promise, dangled by con men before him, his for the taking if only he will labor tirelessly on behalf of his family.

This he does, in the slaughterhouses and fertilizer plants of the Windy City, observing hellish working conditions, needless factory death, livelihood-crushing injuries, cruelties by bosses, indifference by owners, and intraclass competition among workers. His family falls apart, most dying tragically unnecessary deaths, at the workplace, in the mean streets, on the birthing bed. An infernal chain of events leaves Jurgis effectively destitute, before he stumbles into a kind of religious revival, except the Billy Sunday avatar in the pulpit is preaching socialism. Jurgis marvels at the almost spiritual intoxication of the man’s rhetoric. The ‘preacher’ mouths all of the adages and epithets that commonfolk had long hoped to realize–social justice, fairness, helping one another, mutualism and community.

After a week of such sermons, Jurgis experiences a kind of revelation, his…

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