Galbraith memorial thread
April 29, 2006 11:26 PM   Subscribe

John Kenneth Galbraith, an influential and unorthodox economist, has died, at age 97.
posted by mr_roboto (47 comments total)
 
Damn. He was as old as dirt.
posted by raysmj at 11:29 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by longdaysjourney at 11:32 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by louigi at 11:35 PM on April 29, 2006


And there goes the last New Dealer.
posted by arkhangel at 11:40 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by greycap at 11:44 PM on April 29, 2006


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(although I'm more into the orthodox economists.)
posted by Balisong at 11:47 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by dopeypanda at 11:51 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by wilful at 11:51 PM on April 29, 2006


I always liked him. Good guy. I am going to read more of his books now.
posted by blacklite at 11:53 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by blacklite at 11:53 PM on April 29, 2006


An obituary from the NY Times.
posted by wilful at 11:55 PM on April 29, 2006


Balisong, how you knew searching for 'orthodox economists' would yield tons of single Russian girls is beyond me. (i.e. women belonging to the Russian orthodox church, and working as economists).

Anyway, the guy lived a long time. I Hope I make it that long.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 PM on April 29, 2006


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posted by brujita at 12:18 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by Sonny Jim at 1:36 AM on April 30, 2006


shit.

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posted by thethirdman at 1:47 AM on April 30, 2006


good night, Professor, and thanks for all your work.

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posted by matteo at 1:56 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by By The Grace of God at 2:15 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by ruelle at 2:57 AM on April 30, 2006


The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness

and

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.

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posted by elpapacito at 3:38 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by Pseudonumb at 4:18 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by nj_subgenius at 4:46 AM on April 30, 2006


A fearless man & thinker; he shall be missed.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:00 AM on April 30, 2006


I 'will always recall lhis saying that in America there is Socialism for the large corporations--taken care of by the govt--and Capitalism for the average citizen--he or she is on their own.
posted by Postroad at 5:48 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by Smart Dalek at 6:21 AM on April 30, 2006


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posted by dflemingdotorg at 6:38 AM on April 30, 2006


The interesting thing about Galbraith is that he was wrong about absolutely everything. As an economist, his every prediction failed to come true. He is utterly mistaken about everything. His only legacy is collection of lukewarm apothegms, carefully cherry-picked from the pile of wrong-headed urgings for state control. He was in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a moral justification for government control of people's lives and fortunes.
posted by Faze at 7:43 AM on April 30, 2006


"We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promise best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem."

--- J.K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society.
posted by gd779 at 7:57 AM on April 30, 2006


...contrast the sleazy, dishonest Galbraith, with the honorable, gentlemanly (and only recently deceased) Robert Heilbroner, a socialist with the grace and sensibility to correct himself when it became necessary, and possibly the best writer in a non-literary theoretical field until Richard Dawkins.
posted by Faze at 7:58 AM on April 30, 2006


"We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest... "

This is just what I mean by lukewarm apothegms. A completely obvious and unsurprising observation, uttered in clumsy, economistic language. If you want to read read red-hot, superbly crafted, cynical aphoristic observations on self interest, check out Chamfort or LaRouchefoucauld (eh, y2karl?) Not the mealy mouthed utterances of the dribbling, wooly headed Galbraith.

posted by Faze at 8:08 AM on April 30, 2006


Sorry about those italics.
posted by Faze at 8:09 AM on April 30, 2006


JKG was truly a great man, who continued to write and speak with wit and candor until very recently.
posted by foodeater at 8:11 AM on April 30, 2006


faze: Grace and sensibility can apparently occur if you eventually agree with my views!
posted by foodeater at 8:14 AM on April 30, 2006


The second link is brutal. He has a lot to answer for.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:21 AM on April 30, 2006


I agree. That second link IS brutal. It's creator DOES have a lot to answer for!
posted by foodeater at 8:28 AM on April 30, 2006


Vested interest??? From the second links "about me" page:

...I have given lectures at schools and have run courses at the university (for bankers, management people and real estate agents)
posted by foodeater at 8:31 AM on April 30, 2006


....not that there's anything wrong with bankers, management people and real estate agents!
posted by foodeater at 8:32 AM on April 30, 2006


wrong about absolutely everything

of course. I mean, all the stuff he talked about 50 years ago -- welfare for big corporations and ruthless savage capitalism for the poor, undue pervasive political influence of the military-industrial complex, omnipresent lying ads designed to make people buy things they don't need with money they don't have, the death of independent stores and the birth of corporate megachains -- I mean, shit, nothing of all that stuff really happened. Nothing.

you just need to read his Great Crash book -- in print since, what, the early Fifties? -- to understand Enron. but then, Galbraith simply dared to speak the unspeakable (for Americans -- no wonder he was Canadian) truth: the system is rigged, in favor of the rich and powerful, and pretending that it is otherwise makes you, well, a tool.

Galbraith made the right enemies (I mean, Milton Friedman?), and still has the right enemies.
their squealing, this morning, even here, demonstrates this very point.
posted by matteo at 8:54 AM on April 30, 2006


Let's hear it from Professor Sen:
The Affluent Society is a great insight, and has become so much a part of our understanding of contemporary capitalism that we forget where it began. It's like reading Hamlet and deciding it's full of quotations. You realise where they came from"
posted by matteo at 9:06 AM on April 30, 2006


A great thinker and critic. Not sure his proposals were as good, however...
posted by ParisParamus at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2006


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Read the long NYT obit this morning, and highly recommend reading it rather than the second post in the FPP.
posted by bumpkin at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2006


I like Robert Lekachman's comment on the quality of Galbraith's discourse as "witty, supple, eloquent, and edged with that sheen of malice which the fallen sons of Adam always find attractive when it is directed at targets other than themselves".

I think the corporation is a dangerously flawed system that is replacing elected government as a political power and agree with Galbrainth when he said: "One of the most questionable distinctions in our time is that between the public and private sectors. It has concealed the extent to which the private sector, particularly corporate management, has moved to take over or otherwise nullify public responsibility".

While Galbraith appeared elegantly concerned, underlying that was an ugly snobbery. Friedman expressed it bluntly, "Galbraith believed in the superiority of aristocracy and in its paternalistic authority." You're right hoverboards, the second link is brutal.

Reading some of Galbraith's interviews now he seems to have a gift for sounding benevolently educated while stating partial truths.

For example he says, "No matter how disastrous independence may be, nobody wants to go back to colonial subordination. Look at Uganda, nobody can possibly say that this has been a happy country in these last 20 years. It was certainly more peaceful, and almost certainly more prosperous when it was a British colony. But amidst all those disasters, you never hear anybody suggesting that it go back under colonial guidance -- not that anybody, I think, would want it." He doesn't mention that "a number of United States firms did a profitable business with Uganda, particularly during the Amin period...In 1973, the United States became Uganda's chief trading partner for a short time...while United States firms supplied the government with security equipment used by the army and the notorious Ugandan intelligence service." It would be unlikely in 1986, the time of the interview mentioned above, that Galbraith did not know about the United States' economic interests in Uganda under Amin.

In Galbraith's statements about countries that have sought and won their independence from paternalistic, colonial governments there is some nasty smugness. He quietly implies those countries were actually better off as colonies. What he doesn't mention is the part certain developed countries, including the USA, had in undermining the independence of former European colonies, economically supporting the regimes of post-independence dictators, like Zia-ul-Haq, with devastating repercussions.
posted by nickyskye at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2006


Galbraith's life and work were amazing. He was extremely prolific, and thus said a lot of things that were smart and a number of things that were stupid. As a quote above indicated, some of his work was so influential it become unnecessary to read it because we all have absorbed it elsewhere. Reading The Affluent Society is like watching a legendary movie which feels like many other movies you've seen because all the other movies copied the legendary movie's tricks.

I had Galbraith as a lecturer for one of my college classes, and he was still a great communicator. Galbraith hated econimic gobbledygook; he wanted to explain economics in a way that would have impact beyond the ivory tower. He refused to compromise his ideas for poltical purposes. When many economists looked narrowly at the American economy as its own system, Galbraith saw the importance of the world economy. He understood how capitalism leads to its own corruption without regulation, and why society cannot let the economically powerful batter the economically weak.

Certainly, Galbraith had plenty of weaknesses. He was far from being the most precise economist. He often did not see the drawbacks of the policies he advocated. He didn't seem to realize that the government action should be narrow anf focused rather than hammer-like. He was indeed somewhat too elitist.

But at the same time he was one of a very few who brought important intellectual ideas into the public sphere. Nowadays, there is almost no one who can make a similar claim.
posted by spira at 11:51 AM on April 30, 2006


Upper class leftism may be amusing for some but it's pathetically ineffectual.

spira: But at the same time he was one of a very few who brought important intellectual ideas into the public sphere. Nowadays, there is almost no one who can make a similar claim.

Oh please, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn for starters.
posted by nickyskye at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2006


Chomsky and Zimm are hardly in the same ballpark as Galbraith. But then, no one could be today, the media simply doesn't allow it. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston are the important intellectual ideas of today.
posted by spira at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2006




you just need to read his Great Crash book... to understand Enron. but then, Galbraith simply dared to speak the unspeakable (for Americans -- no wonder he was Canadian) truth: the system is rigged, in favor of the rich and powerful,

This is certainly not the message of The Great Crash, which is a seminal work written with insight and wit on the madness of crowds.
posted by storybored at 6:48 PM on April 30, 2006


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posted by russilwvong at 10:45 PM on April 30, 2006


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