”Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

As economists go, John Kenneth Galbraith probably ranks right up there with the likes of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Thorstein Veblen and John Maynard Keynes. He also served as an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and was Kennedy’s Ambassador to India and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been on the board at Harvard University since 1948.

Born in Canada in 1908 and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, JKG, similar to the economists listed above, is considered somewhat of a renegade. While some of his work has been disproved, almost all of it has been provocative.

During World War II Galbraith acted as head of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Office of Price Administration. It was his experience in that role that led him to develop a theory that the use of price controls could be used as a tool against inflation. He also argued that America’s economic success after the war didn’t arise from getting prices right, rather but getting them wrong. This allowed for a concentration of industry and technological advancement. Galbraith argued this advancement was only successful because it was countered by trade unions, corporate watchdogs and government regulations. He argued that those three entities would curtail corporate abuse and thereby “have a “countervailing power.”

In 1958 he published what is probably his best known work, The Affluent Society. It’s main argument was an attack the theory of “consumer sovereignty”. This can probably best be described as consumers having the final say in choices thereby giving them final economic power. He based his argument on corporations such as General Motors which at one time commanded about 50% of the market share for automobiles. His theory was such that if a corporation could command such a large share of the market, consumers were ultimately being dictated to rather than being afforded real choices.

To sum it up, John Kenneth Galbraith has always flown in the face of current economic theory. This is mainly because of its preoccupation with growth simply for growth’s sake. It does not take into account the production of waste along the way nor does it take in to account the need for public services. He has argued that in modern day economies, more consideration should be given to the distribution of products among the classes of people. At the same time, he believes that many economists of today are guilty of being caught up in conventional schools of thought and are losing touch with the “real world.”

Major works of John Kenneth Galbraith

Modern Competition and Business Policy, 1938
A Theory of Price Control, 1952.
American Capitalism: The concept of countervailing power, 1952.
The Great Crash, 1929, 1954.
The Affluent Society, 1958.
The Liberal Hour, 1960
The New Industrial State, 1967
. The Triumph, 1968.
Ambassador's Journal, 1969.
Economics, Peace and Laughter, 1972.
"Power and the Useful Economist", 1973, AER
Economics and the Public Purpose, 1973
Money, 1975.
The Age of Uncertainty, 1977.
Annals of an Abiding Liberal, 1979.
A Life in Our Times, 1981.
The Tenured Professor, 1990.
A Journey Through Economic Time, 1994.
The Good Society: the humane agenda, 1996.

John Kenneth Galbraith departed this world for what will hopefully be greener pastures. He died at the ripe old age of 97 on April 30, 2006.

Brace yourselves, ladies. (Other people, just hang on.) He is the first economist to take into account housework, houseplants, and pets. This is the man who made economics, sexy. You heard me, so listen.

He's a seducer, this man. Don't let the dry humor and the grey hairs fool you, listening to one of his lectures, (let alone, watching his videos or reading his books) masks the sly look and feel -- "I could have you, you know. Any one of you....I just have to ask. I know about sex..I'm a cattle farmer, and sex is my business...Every sip of milk you drink is the result of (very much thwarted) sex. Beef is negated sex, or sex that didn't pan out.We don't have much sex, we Highlanders, but mind me...I've been to India, another great cattle country, and they have sex down. Just remember..." And he'll tell another great story about Canada, or being Scotch, or the fact that the sporran is, literally, "where the money is"... And you’d read his bright eyes and the long limbs (he's 6'8" with everything 10% larger than normal -- or so he says) and think: regimental? Oh, yes, and oh yes, and very much so. And money, mere money, doesn’t seem so frightening or complex, it's as delicious as new bread, as alive as new Angus calves from good cows, as glittering as silver coins and diamonds ever falling from the hands of Fortune...and, whatever he's selling, deficit spending, the modern corporation, socialism, whatever, you'll never forget and (at least temporarily) believe.

And I remember. He's about a hundred years old, and going to die any day now, and he's more an apologist for what has happened than what might happen, and my liking for him is based more on a wistful groupie wish he'd rumple my hair and call me 'lassie' than anything I've read...and still, give me his latest book and I'll believe and believe and believe...

No one lives forever. Neither did Neo-Keynesism. But my heart isn't going to forget it, him, whatever...

Update! And this is merely heresay, but...um...I ran this by a fellow at Yale who listened to my puzzlement. His only comment was: "So he ran a cattle ranch?"

"Well a farm, really. But yes, with cattle."

"Gentleman farmer, or hands-on?"

"Oh very much the latter."

"From the Sixties or so?"

"Maybe before. So what does this have to do with him being...like that, far older than most men?"

"Ah...teleny. I've been a doctor's son, in cattle country. Most cattle in this country is on one kind of hormone treatment or another, and you don't know how many young guys we've had to pull out of trouble because they figured what was great for their bulls was good enough for them."

"But...that's kind of Faustian. It's just borrowed time. I mean, steroids eventually turn you into a steer."

"But, by then, he was ninety years old...."

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