Economics in Perspective: A Critical History


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In autumn Galbraith was an adviser and assistant to Nixon's rival candidate George McGovern in the election campaign for the American presidency. During this time September he travelled in to China in his role as president of the American Economic Association AEA at the invitation of Mao Zedong 's communist government with the economists Leontief and Tobin and in published an account of his experiences in A China Passage.


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Galbraith wrote that there was "no serious doubt that China is devising a highly effective economic system," "[d]issidents are brought firmly into line in China, but, one suspects, with great politeness," "Greater Shanghai In he served as president of the American Economic Association. During the shooting of The World at War , a British television documentary series —74 , Galbraith described his experiences in the Roosevelt war administration. Among other things, he spoke about the initial confusion during the first meeting of the major departmental leaders about kapok and its use.

Galbraith also talked about rationing and especially about trickery during fuel allocation. He advocated for minimal financial requirement and infrastructure projects. In he addressed Palau's legislature and participated in a seminar for the delegates to the Palau Constitutional Convention.

He became the first person to earn honorary citizenship of Palau. In , he visited the USSR, writing that the Soviet economy had made "great material progress" as, "in contrast to Western industrial economy," the USSR "makes full use of its manpower. He also was awarded an honorary doctorate from Memorial University of Newfoundland at the fall convocation of , [43] another contribution to the impressive collection of approximately fifty academic honorary degrees bestowed on Galbraith.

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In , he was awarded the Leontief Prize for his outstanding contribution to economic theory by the Global Development and Environment Institute. The library in his hometown Dutton, Ontario was renamed the John Kenneth Galbraith Reference Library in honor of his attachment to the library and his contributions to the new building.

On April 29, , Galbraith died in Cambridge, Massachusetts , of natural causes at the age of 97, after a two-week stay in a hospital. On September 17, , Galbraith married Catherine Merriam Atwater , whom he met while she was a Radcliffe graduate student. Their marriage lasted for 68 years. They had four sons: J.

Galbraith has been an American diplomat who served as Ambassador to Croatia and is a commentator on American foreign policy, particularly in the Balkans and the Middle East ; James K. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The Galbraiths also had ten grandchildren. A memorial plaque stands adjoining a stone inukshuk overlooking the Galbraith family farm on the Thompson Hogg Line just east of the Willey Sideroad, just north of the one room school he attended. The family home—a large white farm house—still stands, as do many of the original farm buildings. Even before becoming a president of the American Economic Association, Galbraith was considered as an iconoclast by many economists.

This is partly because he rejected the technical analysis and mathematical modelling of neoclassical economics as being divorced from reality. Following Thorstein Veblen , he believed that economic activity could not be distilled into inviolable laws, but rather was a complex product of the cultural and political milieu in which it occurs.

In particular, he posited that important factors, such as the separation between corporate ownership and management, oligopoly , and the influence of government and military spending had been largely neglected by most economists because they are not amenable to axiomatic descriptions.

In this sense, he worked as much in political economy as in classical economics. His work included several best selling books throughout the fifties and sixties. Written in a clear and concise style, they were comprehensible to lay readers, not just economists. After his retirement from Harvard as the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, Emeritus, [4] he remained in the public spotlight by continuing to write 21 new books, as well as completing a script in for a major series on economics for PBS and BBC television— The Age of Uncertainty , broadcast in 38 countries.

In addition to his books, he wrote hundreds of essays and a number of novels. Among his novels, A Tenured Professor achieved particular critical acclaim. Galbraith wrote book reviews, e. Galbraith was an important figure in 20th-century institutional economics , and provided an exemplary institutionalist perspective on economic power. Galbraith confided in Sharpe that "this is my best book", an assertion Galbraith delivered "a little mischievously. After the beginning of the Great Recession of , Galbraith's The Great Crash, and other books containing warnings about the dangers of an unrestrained speculative mood without proper government oversight found an attentive readership again.

In , the Library of America published a new edition of Galbraith's major works, edited by his son, James K. Galbraith about his father, his works, and his legacy. In American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power , published in , Galbraith concluded that the American economy was managed by a triumvirate of big business, big labor, and an activist government. Galbraith defined the actions of the industry lobby groups and unions as countervailing power.

He contrasted this arrangement with the period prior to the previous Depression, when big business had relatively free rein over the economy. His bestseller The Great Crash, describes the Wall Street meltdown of stock prices and how markets progressively become decoupled from reality in a speculative boom. The book is also a platform for Galbraith's humor and keen insights into human behavior when wealth is threatened. It has never been out of print.

In The Affluent Society , which became a bestseller, Galbraith outlined his view that to become successful, post—World War II America should make large investments in items such as highways and education, using funds from general taxation. Galbraith also critiqued the assumption that continually increasing material production is a sign of economic and societal health. Because of this Galbraith is sometimes considered one of the first post-materialists.

In this book, he popularized the old phrase " conventional wisdom ". In the print edition of The New Industrial State , Galbraith expanded his analysis of the role of power in economic life, arguing that very few industries in the United States fit the model of perfect competition.

A central concept of the book is the revised sequence. The 'conventional wisdom' in economic thought portrays economic life as a set of competitive markets governed, ultimately, by the decisions of sovereign consumers. In this original sequence, the control of the production process flows from consumers of commodities to the organizations that produce those commodities.

In the revised sequence, this flow is reversed and businesses exercise control over consumers by advertising and related salesmanship activities. The revised sequence concept applies only to the industrial system—that is, the manufacturing core of the economy in which each industry contains only a handful of very powerful corporations. It does not apply to the market system in the Galbraithian dual economy. In the market system, composed of the vast majority of business organizations, price competition remains the dominant form of social control. In the industrial system, however, composed of the 1, or so largest corporations, competitive price theory obscures the relation to the price system of these large and powerful corporations.

In Galbraith's view, the principal function of market relations in this industrial system is, not to constrain the power of the corporate behemoths, but to serve as an instrument for the implementation of their power. Moreover, the power of these corporations extends into commercial culture and politics, allowing them to exercise considerable influence upon popular social attitudes and value judgments. That this power is exercised in the shortsighted interest of expanding commodity production and the status of the few is both inconsistent with democracy and a barrier to achieving the quality of life that the new industrial state with its affluence could provide.

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The New Industrial State not only provided Galbraith with another best-selling book, it also extended once again, the currency of institutionalist economic thought. The book also filled a very pressing need in the late s. The conventional theory of monopoly power in economic life maintains that the monopolist will attempt to restrict supply in order to maintain price above its competitive level. The social cost of this monopoly power is a decrease in both allocative efficiency and the equity of income distribution. This conventional economic analysis of the role of monopoly power did not adequately address popular concern about the large corporation in the late s.

The growing concern focused on the role of the corporation in politics, the damage done to the natural environment by an unmitigated commitment to economic growth, and the perversion of advertising and other pecuniary aspects of culture. The New Industrial State gave a plausible explanation of the power structure involved in generating these problems and found a very receptive audience among the rising American counterculture and political activists.

A third related work was Economics and the Public Purpose , in which he expanded on these themes by discussing, among other issues, the subservient role of women in the unrewarded management of ever-greater consumption, and the role of the technostructure in the large firm in influencing perceptions of sound economic policy aims. In A Short History of Financial Euphoria , he traces speculative bubbles through several centuries, and argues that they are inherent in the free market system because of "mass psychology" and the "vested interest in error that accompanies speculative euphoria.

Galbraith cautions: "The world of finance hails the invention of the wheel over and over again, often in a slightly more unstable version. Galbraith's main ideas focused around the influence of the market power of large corporations. He further believed that market power played a major role in inflation.

He argued that in situations of excessive market power, price controls effectively controlled inflation, but cautioned against using them in markets that were basically efficient such as agricultural goods and housing. In The Affluent Society Galbraith asserts that classical economic theory was true for the eras before the present, which were times of "poverty"; now, however, we have moved from an age of poverty to an age of "affluence", and for such an age, a completely new economic theory is needed.


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Galbraith's main argument is that as society becomes relatively more affluent, so private business must create consumer demand through advertising , and while this generates artificial affluence through the production of commercial goods and services, the public sector becomes neglected. He points out that while many Americans were able to purchase luxury items, their parks were polluted and their children attended poorly maintained schools. He argues that markets alone will under-provide or fail to provide at all for many public goods, whereas private goods are typically "over-provided" due to the process of advertising creating an artificial demand above the individual's basic needs.

This emphasis on the power of advertising and consequent over-consumption may have anticipated the drop in savings rates in the US and elsewhere in the developing world. Galbraith proposed curbing the consumption of certain products through greater use of pigovian taxes and land value taxes , [60] arguing that this could be more efficient than other forms of taxation, such as labor taxes. Galbraith's major proposal was a program he called "investment in men"—a large-scale, publicly funded education program aimed at empowering ordinary citizens.

Galbraith's work in general, and The Affluent Society in particular, have drawn sharp criticism from laissez-faire supporters since the time of their publications. Nobel-Memorial-Prize -winning economist Milton Friedman in "Friedman on Galbraith, and on curing the British disease " views Galbraith as a 20th-century version of the earlyth-century Tory radical of Great Britain. He asserts that Galbraith believes in the superiority of aristocracy and in its paternalistic authority, that consumers should not be allowed choice, and that all should be determined by those with "higher minds":.

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Many reformers—Galbraith is not alone in this—have as their basic objection to a free market that it frustrates them in achieving their reforms, because it enables people to have what they want, not what the reformers want. Hence every reformer has a strong tendency to be averse to a free market. Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow , in a review of The New Industrial State , points at Galbraith's lack for empiricism and selectiveness in his use of evidence.

He points out that "It may be unjust and pointless to consider the degree of literal truth of each of the assertions that make up this argument. One would hardly discuss Gulliver's Travels by debating whether there really are any little people, or criticize the Grande Jatte because objects aren't made up of tiny dots.

Nevertheless, it may help to judge the truth of Galbraith's. Galbraith's primary purpose in Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power was, ironically, to show that big business was now necessary to the American economy to maintain the technological progress that drives economic growth. Galbraith knew that the "countervailing power", which included government regulation and collective bargaining, was necessary to balanced and efficient markets.

In The New Industrial State , Galbraith argued that the dominant American corporations had created a technostructure that closely controlled both consumer demand and market growth through advertising and marketing. While Galbraith defended government intervention, Parker notes that he also believed that government and big business worked together to maintain stability. Paul Krugman downplayed Galbraith's stature as an academic economist in In Peddling Prosperity , he places Galbraith as one among many "policy entrepreneurs"—either economists, or think tank writers, left and right—who write solely for the public, as opposed to those who write for other academics, and who are, therefore, liable to make unwarranted diagnoses and offer over-simplistic answers to complex economic problems.

Krugman asserts that Galbraith was never taken seriously by fellow academics, who instead viewed him as more of a "media personality". For example, Krugman believes that Galbraith's work, The New Industrial State , is not considered to be "real economic theory", and that Economics in Perspective is "remarkably ill-informed". Galbraith's account of his boyhood environment in Elgin County in southern Ontario was added in He considered it his finest piece of writing.

Galbraith memoir, A Life in Our Times was published in In , the publication of an authorized biography, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics [23] by a friend and fellow progressive economist Richard Parker renewed interest in Galbraith's life journey and legacy. He also was appointed to the Order of Canada in [42] and, in , awarded the Padma Vibhushan , India's second highest civilian award, for his contributions to strengthening ties between India and the United States.

In , he became the first economist to have his works included in the Library of America series. John Kenneth Galbraith received fifty Honorary Degrees from institutions around the world:. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other people named John Galbraith, see John Galbraith disambiguation. Iona Station, Ontario , Canada. Cambridge, Massachusetts , U. This list is incomplete ; you can help by expanding it. Biography portal Economics portal Liberalism portal International relations portal. December 28, "John Kenneth Galbraith understood capitalism as lived — not as theorized".

The Christian Science Monitor. Journal of Economic Issues. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. February 7, Harvard Gazette. Retrieved July 2, The Economist. May 4, Retrieved July 3, Harvard Crimson. April The Scotch. Toronto: Macmillan, Review of Political Economy. Archived from the original PDF on November 29, August 16, Journal of Farm Economics. Kennedy Library. Archived from the original PDF on January 6, The privatisation and nationalisation of European roads: Success and failure in public-private partnerships.

Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, p. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Gale Encyclopedia of U. Economic History. Detroit: Gale Group, The Guardian. Retrieved July 4, RES Newsletter, July , no. Royal Economic Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, The Rediff Special.

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Gyan Publishing House. Lexington Books. American Economic Association. Archived from the original on September 20, Retrieved October 10, Roman Tmetuchl: A Palauan Visionary. Roman Tmetuchl Family Trust. Stanford University Press. May 17, Archived from the original on May 17, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. October 21, Retrieved October 12, Retrieved July 12, The New York Times.

New York: IUniverse. The McLandress Dimension. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Economics in Perspective: A Critical History - Semantic Scholar

Archived from the original on February 14, Retrieved January 17, Accessed January 17, Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs. New York: The Library of America. February 22, Part 1—4 Video. November 17, BBC Radio 4. American Economic Review. Archived from the original PDF on March 26, Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved September 24, John Kenneth Galbraith and the Future of Economics.

Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, Retrieved September 26, Scranton, Pennsylvania: W. James K. Sorted Alphabetically by Name of Recipient June, Ambassador's Journal. New American Library. New York, NY. December 23, Knox College. Memorial University of Newfoundland. John Kenneth Galbraith. Catherine Galbraith wife Peter W. Galbraith son James K. Galbraith son. Institutional economics.

Bain Shimshon Bichler Robert A. Commons Richard T. Ely Robert H. Herfindahl Albert O.

Simon Frank Stilwell George W. Stocking Sr. Accelerator effect Administered prices Barriers to entry Bounded rationality Conspicuous consumption Conspicuous leisure Conventional wisdom Countervailing power Effective competition Herfindahl index Hiding hand principle Hirschman cycle Instrumentalism Kuznets cycles Market concentration Market power Market structure Penalty of taking the lead Satisficing Shortage economy Structure—conduct—performance paradigm Technostructure Theory of two-level planning Veblen goods Veblenian dichotomy.

Cultural economics Development economics Economic sociology English historical school of economics Evolutionary economics Evolutionary psychology French historical school Historical school of economics Legal realism Microeconomics Post-Keynesian economics. United States Ambassadors to India. An accomplished annalist as well as an acute analyst, Galbraith offers capsule commentary on significant contributors to the development of economic ideas from Aristotle through Keynes and beyond.

With comparatively few exceptions--Roman law which recognized private property , Aquinas who devoutly believed in a ""just price"" for goods and services , mercantilism, the French physiocrates originators of laissez-faire doctrine , et al.


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With the advent of the industrial revolution, however, Galbraith's roll call expands in agreeably digressive, often jocular fashion. At one point, he notes that, while Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and their contemporaries or successors influenced views of the socioeconomic order, ""Karl Marx shaped the history of the world.

The text affords an engaging, opinionated introduction to economic theory and practice down through the ages. There was a problem adding your email address. Please try again. Be the first to discover new talent! Each week, our editors select the one author and one book they believe to be most worthy of your attention and highlight them in our Pro Connect email alert. Sign up here to receive your FREE alerts. By clicking on "Submit" you agree that you have read and agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

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Economics in Perspective: A Critical History Economics in Perspective: A Critical History
Economics in Perspective: A Critical History Economics in Perspective: A Critical History
Economics in Perspective: A Critical History Economics in Perspective: A Critical History
Economics in Perspective: A Critical History Economics in Perspective: A Critical History
Economics in Perspective: A Critical History Economics in Perspective: A Critical History
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