John Kenneth Galbraith passes away

He was 97 years old.  Here are a few blogger reactions.  Here is a lengthy New York Times obituary.  Here is an earlier Brad DeLong review.

His analytic legacy? He much overrated corporate power.  But he kept alive the notion that the exercise of consumer demand and consumer sovereignty do not alone guarantee a good outcome.  The market failures of the past were when consumers did not get what they want.  The market failures of the future will come when consumers do get what they want.  We can expect to see an intensifying arms race: suppliers will attempt to persuade people and grab their attention; the meta-rational parts of consumers will build up preemptive defenses.


Galbraith is, in my opinion, a classic case of staying too long at the fair. I understand that he had good solutions to the problems of the 30s and 40s (government stimulating the economy in recessions, government economic management during World War II). But by the time I began paying attention to economics, he was embarrassingly out of touch, repeating his old solutions (higher taxes, more government power) for the new problems of the 70s and 80s (stagflation caused by too much government, inept government management of the economy, and too few markets). He was also shamelessly egotistical, talking about himself most of the time when I saw him on TV. I never read, by him, a laudatory statement about a capitalist or a critical comment about a communist. His Affluent Society book reeks of contempt for the rising working class who don’t like his housing projects and subways and want to live in the suburbs, drive big cars, and own their own homes. Galbraith seems to be saying ‘Don’t these smelly proles realize that only tenured Harvard Professors like me should have those things?† He and intellectuals like him turned the Democratic Party from the majority party in this country into the minority one. I think in his last decades he was almost a pathetic buffoon, the best argument for mandatory retirement at age 65.

So, Brad DeLong argues that the decline of Galbraith's influence can be largely attributed to the cultish adherence of brainwashed Americans to Horatio Alger's myth of upward mobility. Good work Brad.

It is a pity that GM did not file its Chapter 11 before Galbraith died.

Wow! The wingnuts are out tonight!

Galbraith wrote _The Affluent Society_ when he was 49, by the way--sixteen years short of 65.

Brad DeLong does have some currency among economists. I haven't read anything from him in the last couple of years, but he's done some good economic history work.

Galbraith, on the other hand, only has currency in the following sense: the behavioral economists find some inspirations and insights in him. But they'd never give him more than a murmur of recognition.

Galbraith's work was not 'real' economics in the sense that has been done since 1945. It's jumped-up sociology.

A Brief Three-Part Conversation On Economics, Over Two Decades

Galbraith, 1984: "Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower."

DeLong, 2005: Woe is us, for we have forsaken this genius of our time.

Non-Leftists, 2006: Huh? Did you miss the 1990s?

DeLong, 2006: Wingnuts!!

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