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Business, Economics, and Literature

Fall 2018 Mondays 5:30-8:10 EH# CRN#

Office, Mondays after class, or by appointment

Course Description

Drawing on mostly modern and contemporary literature, this introductory course examines how major economic concepts, phenomena, and conditions are represented in select novels, stories, essays, and, indeed, films. Our working assumption is that every text and film, by definition, harbors economic models of private property, the commodity, wage labor, and capital, among others, and speaks to the ethical consequences that arise from these very models. These consequences include questions involving poverty, the unequal distribution of income and wealth, overconsumption, the depletion of natural resources, competition and conflict, and, social (in)stability.

ENG 3810 is not intended to replace any of the Business Foundations courses in the Goddard School of Business & Economics. Rather, it aims at exploring how economic principles are circulating in the materials of literature and film in ways that are accessible and entertaining, but sometimes also cryptic and invisible. Naturally, the more knowledge of economics and literature—both explicit and intuitive—you can bring to our class, the better, but we will assume little and introduce ideas about commerce and consumption, reading and writing, slowly over time. Welcome to the Club (and Sam’s Club, as the case may be)!

Our specific readings will help us define specific points of focus and discussion, but our course generally seeks to explore the following questions, among others:

  • What is economics? Do features common to all economic systems exist? Do humans exchange goods and services in different ways? Are all forms of exchange commercial? If not, what makes an exchange commercial?
  • Are there forms of living and/or thinking which could be said to be “natural” or “unnatural”? Can human beings adopt as natural practices which are harmful to them?
  • How do we define cost, labor, value, the value of a product, expenditure & income, capital, and social capital? How does gender and (sexual) identity play into these concepts?
  • How do the way people make a living influence their way(s) of looking at the world?
  • What is wage labor? Is “employee” the same as “wage laborer”? How do or could we define a fair or just wage? If so, how is it determined?
  • What is behind the term “consumer society”?
  • What are the social, cultural, and ecological costs behind every form of consumption?


Texts and Materials


  • Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861, short story)
  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906, excerpts)
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  • Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (1949)
  • Volker Schlöndorff, dir, Death of a Salesman (1985, film)
  • Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968, excerpts)
  • Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013)
  • Adam Mckay, dir, The Big Short (2015); alt: Jodi Foster, dir. Money Monster (2016)
  • Excerpts on the web

Let's Connect!

mwutz@weber.eduPhone  801-626-7011
Skype  michaelwutz007

LebenslaufCurriculum Vitae
Weber – The Contemporary West
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Mailing Address


Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
Editor, Weber - The Contemporary West
Department of English, 1404 University Circle
Weber State University
Ogden, UT 84404-1404 USA