John Kenneth Galbraith
(1908- ) Canadian-born U.S. economist, writer
John Kenneth Galbraith
Canadian-born U.S. economist, writer
1908, in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada
BS, University of Toronto, and
MS, PhD, University of California, Berkeley
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
Speech at Helsinki by Galbraith
Galbraith Page in Canada
Interview with Galbraith at Berkeley
J.K. Galbraith Page at Laura Forgette
"Free Market Fraud," Progressive Magazine article
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
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.
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.
... 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By all but the pathologically romantic, it is now recognized that this is not the age of
the small man.
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.
Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.
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.
Few can believe that suffering, especially by others, is in vain. Anything that
is disagreeable must surely have beneficial economic effects.
... 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.
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.
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.
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,
If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.
In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict
the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even
In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority
than to be right alone.
In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also
a deep desire for respectability.
In economics, the majority is always wrong.
In the choice between changing one's mind and proving there's no need to
do so, most people get busy on the proof.
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.
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.
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.
It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on
the troubled seas of thought.
It would be foolish to suggest that government is a good custodian of aesthetic
goals. But, there is no alternative to the state.
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.
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.
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.
Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.
Money differs from an automobile or mistress in being equally important to those
who have it and those who do not.
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.
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.
Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.
Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.
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.
One of the greatest pieces of economic wisdom is to know what you do not know.
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.
People who are in a fortunate position always attribute virtue to what makes
them so happy.
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the
disastrous and the unpalatable.
The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character building values of the privation
of the poor.
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.
The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.
The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.
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.
The happiest time of anyone's life is just after the first divorce.
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.
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.
The Metropolis should have been aborted long before it became New York, London
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose.
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.
There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes
its pursuit so interesting.
There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.
There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is
worth a billion dollars.
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.
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
We all agree that pessimism is a mark of superior intellect.
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.
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.
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.
Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of
Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although
it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.
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.
You roll back the stones, and you find slithering things. That is the world of
You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does
big things badly, does small things badly, too.
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