Joseph Heller's "Picture This"

In Chapter VII of the book, Heller gives a stylized biography of Rembrandt, who lived in the Dutch "Golden Century." In Heller's account, that started when a Dutchman perfected the science of preserving herring at sea, leading to the growth of a dominant Dutch maritime and mercantile economy. Heller makes some very astute observations:

Happily for the national economy, refugees from Flanders and other war-torn lands nearby streamed into the Dutch Republic to escape the sieges and battles of eighty years of war and helped keep wages low enough to preserve the competitive advantages that Dutch industry and commerce enjoyed.

The poverty of the people made prosperity possible....

Rich is the country that has plenty of poor...

It is fortunate for the progress of civilization that there are always plenty of poor. Nobody else does the dirty work.

The Dutch, to their credit, were the most enlightened people in the world in matters of social warfare.

In 1646, when the rest of the money on Rembrandt's house was due, children in Holland could no longer be forced to work more than fourteen hours a day.

And Amsterdam bakers of fancy cakes were prohibited from displaying overdecorated wares in their windows "lest they bring sadness to people too poor to buy them and stimulate covetous instincts to arise in their hearts."

It doesn't take a genius to link Heller's description of 17th-century Amsterdam to 21st-century America.