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John Kenneth Galbraith


(1908- ) Canadian-born U.S. economist, writer
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    John Kenneth Galbraith
    Canadian-born U.S. economist, writer
    Born:
    1908, in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada
    Education:
    BS, University of Toronto, and
    MS, PhD, University of California, Berkeley
    Work:
    Taught at Princeton and Harvard
    National Defense Advisory Commission
    Deputy Administrator, U.S. Office of Price Administration
    Editor, Fortune magazine (1943-1948)
    Director of the Strategic Bombing Survey (1946)
    Director of the Office of Economic Security (1946)
    Warburg Professor of Economics, Harvard University since 1949
    American ambassador to India (1961-63)
    National Chairman of Americans for Democratic Action (1967-69)

    Other Galbraith Sites

    Bio at Harvard

    Galbraith Bio

    Speech at Helsinki by Galbraith

    Galbraith Page in Canada

    Interview with Galbraith

    Galbraith seminar, 1998

    Interview with Galbraith at Berkeley

    J.K. Galbraith Page at Laura Forgette

    Review of Good Society

    PBS Interview

    "Free Market Fraud," Progressive Magazine article


    Galbraith Works

    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 Photos
    Click on photo for larger version.

  • All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. The violence of revolutions is the violence of men who charge into a vacuum.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    ... almost 60-odd years ago in Canada. I was studying agriculture, how to produce better chickens, better cattle, better horses horses in those days better fruit, better vegetables. This was in the early years of the Great Depression, and the thoughts crossed my mind that there wasn't a hell of a lot of use producing better crops and better livestock if you couldn't sell them, that the real problem of agriculture was not efficiency in production but the problem of whether you could make money after you produced the stuff. So I shifted from the technical side to, first, the study of agricultural economic issues and then on to economics itself.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Among all the world's races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    An important antidote to American democracy is American gerontocracy. The positions of eminence and authority in Congress are allotted in accordance with length of service, regardless of quality. Superficial observers have long criticized the United States for making a fetish of youth. This is unfair. Uniquely among modern organs of public and private administration, its national legislature rewards senility.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Any consideration of the life and larger social existence of the modern corporate man begins and also largely ends with the effect of one all-embracing force. That is organization the highly structured assemblage of men, and now some women, of which he is a part. It is to this, at the expense of family, friends, sex, recreation and sometimes health and effective control of alcoholic intake, that he is expected to devote his energies.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Both we and the Soviets face the common threat of nuclear destruction and there is no likelihood that either capitalism or communism will survive a nuclear war.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Broadly speaking, [Keynesianism means] that the government has a specific responsibility for the behavior of the economy, that it doesn't work on its own autonomous course, but the government, when there's a recession, compensates by employment, by expansion of purchasing power, and in boom times corrects by being a restraining force. But it controls the great flow of demand into the economy, what since Keynesian times has been the flow of aggregate demand. That was the basic idea of Keynes so far as one can put it in a couple of sentences.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, interview with Brian Lamb, November 13, 1994

    By all but the pathologically romantic, it is now recognized that this is not the age of the small man.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Few can believe that suffering, especially by others, is in vain. Anything that is disagreeable must surely have beneficial economic effects.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    ... get the process of negotiation away from the small specialized group that some people have called the "nuclear theologians" ... Only a few people can understand the nature of these weapons ... This kept the whole discussion to a very limited group of people who, in a way, had assumed responsibility for saying whether we should live or die.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Going back to the most ancient times, national well-being, the national prestige depended on territory. The more territory a country had, the more income revenue there was, the more people there were to be mobilized for arms strength. So we had an enormous sense of territorial conflict and territorial integrity, and that was unquestionably a part of the cause of war, coupled with the fact that there was a disposition in that direction by the landed class, a disposition to think of territorial acquisition and territorial defense and to think of the peasantry as a superior form of livestock which could be used for arms purposes.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, interview with Brian Lamb, November 13, 1994

    I react to what is necessary. I would like to eschew any formula. There are some things where the government is absolutely inevitable, which we cannot get along without comprehensive state action. But there are many things -- producing consumer goods, producing a wide range of entertainment, producing a wide level of cultural activity where the market system, which independent activity is also important, so I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I'm for that. Where the government is necessary, I'm for that. I'm deeply suspicious of somebody who says, "I'm in favor of privatization," or, "I'm deeply in favor of public ownership." I'm in favor of whatever works in the particular case.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, interview with Brian Lamb, November 13, 1994

    I write with two things in mind. I want to be right with my fellow economists. After all, I've made my life as a professional economist, so I'm careful that my economics is as it should be. But I have long felt that there's no economic proposition that can't be stated in clear, accessible language. So I try to be right with my fellow economists, but I try to have an audience of any interested, intelligent person.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, interview with Brian Lamb, November 13, 1994

    If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In economics, the majority is always wrong.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In the choice between changing one's mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In the first place I identify this [continuing poverty] with primitive agriculture, and two factors have been at work there. One is, of course, population growth. If you were a poor farmer in India, Pakistan, or in much of Africa, you would want as many sons as possible as your social security. They would keep you out of the hot sun and give you some form of subsistence in your old age. So, you have pressure for population growth that is, itself, the result of the extreme economic insecurity. This is something which hasn't been sufficiently emphasized.

    In the United States, though power corrupts, the expectation of power paralyzes.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    In the usual (though certainly not in every) public decision on economic policy, the choice is between courses that are almost equally good or equally bad. It is the narrowest decisions that are most ardently debated. If the world is lucky enough to enjoy peace, it may even one day make the discovery, to the horror of doctrinaire free-enterprisers and doctrinaire planners alike, that what is called capitalism and what is called socialism are both capable of working quite well.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Increasingly in recent times we have come first to identify the remedy that is most agreeable, most convenient, most in accord with major pecuniary or political interest, the one that reflects our available faculty for action; then we move from the remedy so available or desired back to a cause to which that remedy is relevant.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    It would be foolish to suggest that government is a good custodian of aesthetic goals. But, there is no alternative to the state.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Let's begin with capitalism, a word that has gone largely out of fashion. The approved reference now is to the market system. This shift minimizes-indeed, deletes-the role of wealth in the economic and social system. And it sheds the adverse connotation going back to Marx. Instead of the owners of capital or their attendants in control, we have the admirably impersonal role of market forces. It would be hard to think of a change in terminology more in the interest of those to whom money accords power. They have now a functional anonymity.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, "Free Market Fraud," Progressive Magazine article, January, 1999

    Man, at least when educated, is a pessimist. He believes it safer not to reflect on his achievements; Jove is known to strike such people down.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Meetings are a great trap. Soon you find yourself trying to get agreement and then the people who disagree come to think they have a right to be persuaded. However, they are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Money differs from an automobile or mistress in being equally important to those who have it and those who do not.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Much literary criticism comes from people for whom extreme specialization is a cover for either grave cerebral inadequacy or terminal laziness, the latter being a much cherished aspect of academic freedom.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard professor of economics

    Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Once the visitor was told rather repetitively that this city was the melting pot; never before in history had so many people of such varied languages, customs, colors and culinary habits lived so amicably together. Although New York remains peaceful by most standards, this self-congratulation is now less often heard, since it was discovered some years ago that racial harmony depended unduly on the willingness of the blacks (and latterly the Puerto Ricans) to do for the other races the meanest jobs at the lowest wages and then to return to live by themselves in the worst slums.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    One of the greatest pieces of economic wisdom is to know what you do not know.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    People are the common denominator of progress. So... no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated. It would be wrong to dismiss the importance of roads, railroads, power plants, mills, and the other familiar furniture of economic development. ... But we are coming to realize ... that there is a certain sterility in economic monuments that stand alone in a sea of illiteracy. Conquest of illiteracy comes first.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (1958)

    People who are in a fortunate position always attribute virtue to what makes them so happy.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character building values of the privation of the poor.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The contented and economically comfortable have a very discriminating view of government. Nobody is ever indignant about bailing out failed banks and failed savings and loans associations. But when taxes must be paid for the lower middle class and poor, the government assumes an aspect of wickedness.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The great dialectic in our time is not, as anciently and by some still supposed, between capital and labor; it is between economic enterprise and the state.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The happiest time of anyone's life is just after the first divorce.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The huge capacity to purchase submission that goes with any large sum of money, well, this we have. This is a power of which we should all be aware.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The man who is admired for the ingenuity of his larceny is almost always rediscovering some earlier form of fraud. The basic forms are all known, have all been practiced. The manners of capitalism improve. The morals may not.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The Metropolis should have been aborted long before it became New York, London or Tokyo.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    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.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The real accomplishment of modern science and technology consists in taking ordinary men, informing them narrowly and deeply and then, through appropriate organization, arranging to have their knowledge combined with that of other specialized but equally ordinary men. This dispenses with the need for genius. The resulting performance, though less inspiring, is far more predictable.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    The traveler to the United States will do well to prepare himself for the class-consciousness of the natives. This differs from the already familiar English version in being more extreme and based more firmly on the conviction that the class to which the speaker belongs is inherently superior to all others.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    There are few ironclad rules of diplomacy but to one there is no exception. When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, ambassador to India under President Kennedy

    There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    There is an insistent tendency among serious social scientists to think of any institution which features rhymed and singing commercials, intense and lachrymose voices urging highly improbable enjoyment, caricatures of the human esophagus in normal and impaired operation, and which hints implausibly at opportunities for antiseptic seduction as inherently trivial. This is a great mistake. The industrial system is profoundly dependent on commercial television and could not exist in its present form without it.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is worth a billion dollars.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable, much more so than we allow ourselves to imagine. A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

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

    We all agree that pessimism is a mark of superior intellect.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had much.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    We now in the United States have more security guards for the rich than we have police services for the poor districts. If you're looking for personal security, far better to move to the suburbs than to pay taxes in New York.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Where humor is concerned there are no standards - no one can say what is good or bad, although you can be sure that everyone will.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It's a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    You roll back the stones, and you find slithering things. That is the world of Richard Nixon.
    Adlai Stevenson speech in Los Angeles, 1956, writen by John Kenneth Galbraith

    You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too.
    John Kenneth Galbraith


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