Sunday, April 30, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith 1908-2006

John Kenneth Galbraith died yesterday at age 97. One of the giants of US liberal economics, Galbraith wrote for a mass audience - his controversial ideas on advertising and on the 'revised sequence' whereby large corporations, not consumers, were seen as deciding what would be produced, turned standard economic theory on its head.

I think it is fair to say that academic economists did not generally accept Galbraith's arguments but the critical tone of his theories had a significant impact on modern economics. His books 'The Affluent Society' and 'The New Industrial State' were the first introduction many undergraduates had to 'political economy'. One of my earliest essays, as an economics undergraduate, was to evaluate the critique that James Meade made of Galbraith's views on advertising. On balance, I sided with Meade but Galbraith left a significant impression. He was a big thinker.

Update: A discussion of his life is here. I will gather more links as they come to hand. John Quiggin posts here. A nice tribute is here, Crooked Timber's tribute here and Joshua Gans makes a statement here that parallels my own experience.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Like joan robinson he was a wonderful writer but as an economist he didn't rate to shine her shoes.

The Great Crash is a great book.

civitas said...

You hate to speak ill of the dead, but realistically, Galbraith did make a career of being proven wrong while reaping accolades and livin’ large misadvising less developed nations.

hc said...

Anonymous and Civitas, JKG was one of the first to alert me (as a student of neoclassical economics) that the economy might not perform to the advantage of all. He was concerned with social justice.

He wrote with wit and elegance. I also think many of his criticisms stimulated debate.

civitas said...

Harry, no economy performs to the advantage of all. Anywhere, anytime.

It would be hard to match JKG's long career of being wrong about so much. And debate would have occurred if JKG had never existed. Debate a natural inclination of the human existence.