Galbraith, John Kenneth 1908–2006

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Galbraith, John Kenneth 1908–2006

(Mark Epernay, Herschel McLandress)

PERSONAL: Born October 15, 1908, in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada; naturalized United States citizen, 1937; died April 29, 2006, in Cambridge, MA; son of William Archibald (a politician and farmer) and Catherine (Kendall) Galbraith; married Catherine Atwater, September 17, 1937; children: John Alan, Peter, James, Douglas (deceased). Education: University of Toronto, B.S. (agriculture), 1931; University of California, Berkeley, M.S., 1933, Ph.D. (economics), 1934; attended Cambridge University, 1937–38. Politics: Democrat.

ADDRESSES: Home—30 Francis Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; Newfane, VT (summer); Gstaad, Switzerland (winter). Office—207 Littauer Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.

CAREER: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor and tutor, 1934–39; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor of economics, 1939–42; U.S. Of-fice of Price Administration, Washington, D.C., administrator in charge of price division, 1941–42, department administrator, 1942–43; Fortune magazine, member of board of editors, 1943–48; Harvard University, lecturer, 1948–49, professor, 1949–59, Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, 1959–75, Paul M. Warburg Professor emeritus, 1975–.Reith Lecturer, 1966; Trinity College, Cambridge, visiting fellow, 1970–71. Director of U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, 1945, and Office of Economic Security Policy, U.S. Department of State, 1946; presidential adviser to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; U.S. Ambassador to India, 1961–63. Affiliated with television series The Age of Uncertainty, on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1977.

MEMBER: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (president, 1984–87), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Economic Association (president, 1972), Americans for Democratic Action (chairman, 1967–69), American Agricultural Economics Association, Twentieth Century Fund (trustee), Century Club (New York, NY), Federal City Club (Washington, DC), Harvard Club (New York, NY), Saturday Club (Boston).

AWARDS, HONORS: Research fellowship, University of California, 1931–34; Social Science Research Council fellowship, 1937–38; Medal of Freedom, 1946; Sarah Josepha Hale Award, Friends of the Richards Free Library, 1967; President's Certificate of Merit; honorary degrees include LL.D., Bard College, 1958, Miami University (Ohio), 1959, University of Toronto, 1961, Brandeis University, 1963, University of Massachusetts, 1963, University of Guelph, 1965, University of Saskatchewan, 1965, Rhode Island College, 1966, Boston College, 1967, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 1967, University of Paris, 1975, Harvard University, 1988 Moscow State University, 1988, Smith College, 1989 and Oxford University, 1990; Medal of Freedom Award, by the President of the United States, 2000; Padma Vibhushan Award (India's second highest civilian honor), by the Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh, 2001.


(With Henry Sturgis Dennison) Modern Competition and Business Policy, Oxford University Press, 1938.

A Theory of Price Control, Harvard University Press, 1952, reprinted with new introduction by Galbraith, 1980.

American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power, Houghton, 1952, reprinted with new introduction by Galbraith, M.E. Sharpe, 1980, revised edition, Transaction Publishers, 1993.

Economics and the Art of Controversy, Rutgers University Press, 1955.

The Great Crash, 1929, Houghton, 1955, reprinted with new introduction by Galbraith, 1988, reprinted Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

(With Richard H. Holton and others) Marketing Efficiency in Puerto Rico, Harvard University Press, 1955.

Journey to Poland and Yugoslavia, Harvard University Press, 1958.

The Affluent Society, Houghton, 1958, 4th edition, 1984.

The Liberal Hour, Houghton, 1960.

Economic Development in Perspective, Harvard University Press, 1962, revised edition published as Economic Development, 1964.

(Under pseudonym Mark Epernay) The McLandress Dimension (satire), Houghton, 1963, revised edition, New American Library, 1968.

The Scotch (memoir), Houghton, 1964, 2nd edition, 1985 (published in England as Made to Last, Hamish Hamilton, 1964, and as The Non-potable Scotch: A Memoir on the Clansmen in Canada, Penguin, 1964).

The Underdeveloped Country (text of five radio broadcasts), Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1965.

The New Industrial State, Houghton, 1967, 4th edition, 1985.

How to Get Out of Vietnam: A Workable Solution to the Worst Problem of Our Time, New American Library, 1967.

The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy, Houghton, 1968.

(With Mohinder Singh Randhawa) Indian Painting: The Scene, Themes and Legends, Houghton, 1968.

How to Control the Military, Doubleday, 1969.

Ambassador's Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years, Houghton, 1969.

(Author of introduction) David Levine, No Known Survivors: David Levine's Political Prank, Gambit, 1970.

Who Needs the Democrats, and What It Takes to Be Needed, Doubleday, 1970.

A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter (essays), edited by Andrea D. Williams, Houghton, 1971.

Economics and the Public Purpose, Houghton, 1973.

A China Passage, Houghton, 1973.

(Author of introduction) Frank Moraes and Edward Howe, editors, India, McGraw-Hill, 1974.

Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went, Houghton, 1975, revised edition, 1995.

The Age of Uncertainty (based on the 1977 BBC television series), Houghton, 1977.

The Galbraith Reader: From the Works of John Kenneth Galbraith, selected and with commentary by the editors of Gambit, Gambit, 1977.

(With Nicole Salinger) Almost Everyone's Guide to Economics, Houghton, 1978.

Annals of an Abiding Liberal, edited by Williams, Houghton, 1979.

The Nature of Mass Poverty, Harvard University Press, 1979.

A Life in Our Times: Memoirs, Houghton, 1981.

The Anatomy of Power, Houghton, 1983.

The Voice of the Poor: Essays in Economic and Political Persuasion, Harvard University Press, 1983.

A View from the Stands: Of People, Politics, Military Power, and the Arts, edited by Williams, Houghton, 1986.

Economics in Perspective: A Critical History, Hough-ton, 1987, published as A History of Economics, 1987.

(With Stanislav Menshikov) Capitalism, Communism and Coexistence: From the Bitter Past to a Better Present, Houghton, 1988.

A Tenured Professor (novel), Houghton, 1990.

The Culture of Contentment, Houghton, 1992.

(Editor and author of introduction) Thomas H. Eliot, Recollections of the New Deal: When the People Mattered, Northeastern University Press, 1992.

A Short History of Financial Euphoria: A Hymn of Caution, Whittle Books/Viking, 1993.

The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy, Houghton, 1993.

A Journey through Economic Time: A Firsthand View, Houghton, 1994.

The World Economy since the Wars: An Eyewitness Account, Houghton, 1994.

The Good Society: The Humane Dimension, Houghton, 1996.

Letters to Kennedy (correspondence), edited by James Goodman, Harvard University Press, 1998.

The Socially Concerned Today, Victoria University and the University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Name-Dropping: From F.D.R. On, Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

The Unfinished Business of Our Century, American College, 1999.

Contributor to books, including Can Europe Unite?, Foreign Policy Association (New York, NY), 1950, and The Past Speaks to the Present, by Yigael Yadin, Granada TV Network Limited, 1962. Author of drafts of speeches for political leaders, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Robert Kennedy. Editor of "Harvard Economic Studies" series, Harvard University Press. Contributor to scholarly journals. Reviewer, under pseudonym Herschel McLandress, of Report from Iron Mountain.

Galbraith's works have been translated into numerous languages.

SIDELIGHTS: John Kenneth Galbraith was considered one of the twentieth century's foremost writers on economics and among its most influential economists. A prolific and diverse writer, whose more than forty books range over a variety of topics, Galbraith was the author of such classic texts as The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State. In addition to his writings, he has also held positions as a government economist, presidential adviser, and foreign ambassador, and for more than fifteen years he was the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Galbraith's blend of skills make him a rarity among economists. "As a raconteur and a literary stylist, he stands with the best," stated James Fallows in the New York Times Book Review, while "as a thinker," noted Lowell Ponte in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Galbraith has made major contributions to the economic arguments of our time." In addition to originating several terms that are part of the vernacular of economists and laymen alike-such as "affluent society," "conventional wisdom," and "countervailing power"-Galbraith is famous as a witty guide to twentieth-century economics. A New Yorker reviewer called him "a wizard at packing immense amounts of information into a style so entertaining that the reader does not realize he is being taught." Eugene D. Genovese wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Galbraith "has admirably demonstrated that respect for the English language provides everything necessary to demystify economics and render its complexities intelligible."

Galbraith's writing abilities, including his accessibility to non-economist audiences, have at times overshadowed his achievements as an economist. "Galbraith's irreverent wit and lucid style lead many to underestimate his importance in the history of economic thought," Walter Russell Mead notes in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "Like Adam Smith … Galbraith has spent a career attacking the entrenched errors of conventional wisdom." Galbraith is well known as a formidable critic of modern economic policies and econo-mists. Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times depicted him as "liberal, witty, polemical and a man who tends to charm his antagonists because the dunce caps he fits on them are so finely made that they almost flatter." As a critic, Galbraith has made significant contributions to economics by highlighting its shortcomings. According to Genovese, Galbraith's "services" include: "his early warnings that Keynesians were paying inadequate attention to the danger of inflation; his thoughtful if not always convincing discussions of the political and economic relationship of the free market sector to the managed sector; his bold exploration of the possibilities and actualities of socialism; and his humane concern for the problems of women, the poor, the blacks and others conveniently forgotten by most academic economists." Godfrey Hodgson, in the Washington Post Book World, compared Galbraith to eighteenth-century French satirist Voltaire, "a man whose sardonic wit and careful urbanity are worn like masks to hide both the anger he feels for sham and complacent greed, and the pity he feels for their victims."

The son of a Canadian politician and farmer, Galbraith became interested in the study of economics during the Depression. In the 1930s and early 1940s, he taught at both Harvard University and Princeton University and became influenced by economist John Maynard Keynes. In 1941, at the age of 33, he was appointed administrator of the price operations of the U.S. Office of Price Administration and was responsible for setting prices in the United States. His 1952 book A Theory of Price Control outlines many of Galbraith's fundamental economic principles, as does another early book, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power, which explores postwar American economy and the role of labor as a countervailing force in a market economy. Samuel Lubell in the New York Herald Tribune Book World called American Capitalism "one of the most provocative economic essays since the writings of the late John Maynard Keynes," adding that "even where one disagrees, [Galbraith's] ideas stimulate a spring cleaning of old beliefs and outworn, if cherished, notions-which is perhaps all that can be asked of any new theory." Galbraith commented to Victor Na-vasky in the New York Times Book Review on his decision to write about economics: "I made up my mind I would never again place myself at the mercy of the technical economists who had the enormous power to ignore what I had written. I set out to involve a large community. I would involve economists by having the larger public say to them 'Where do you stand on Galbraith's idea of price control?' They would have to confront what I said."

Galbraith broadened his readership with his 1955 book The Great Crash, 1929, which recounts the harried days leading up to the stock market crash and Great Depression. Written at the suggestion of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who queried Galbraith as to why no one had ever written an economic account of the depression, The Great Crash, 1929 was praised for being both illuminating and readable. "Economic writings are seldom notable for their entertainment value, but this book is," C.J. Rolo commented in Atlantic Monthly, adding, "Galbraith's prose has grace and wit, and he distills a good deal of sardonic fun from the whopping errors of the nation's oracles and the wondrous antics of the financial community." R.L. Heilbroner wrote in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review: "Galbraith has told the tale of the great bust with all the verve, pace, and suspense, of a detective story…. For any one who is interested in understanding the recent past or attempting to achieve a perspective on the future of American economic history,… this book will be of great interest."

Following these books, Galbraith wrote the bestseller The Affluent Society. A major assessment of the U.S. economy, The Affluent Society questions priorities of production and how wealth is to be divided. As Galbraith stated in the book: "The final problem of the productive society is what it produces. This manifests itself in an implacable tendency to provide an opulent supply of some things and a niggardly yield of others. This disparity carries to the point where it is a cause of social discomfort and social unhealth." According to Heilbroner, Galbraith raised three important issues: "One of these is the moral problem of how an Affluent Society may be prevented from becoming merely a Rich one. A second is the efficacy of Mr. Galbraith's reforms to offset the inertia and the vested interests of a powerful social structure. A third is what form of social cohesion can replace our troublesome but useful absorption in Production." Heilbroner called The Affluent Society "as disturbing as it is brilliant … with which it is easy to cavil or to disagree, but which it is impossible to dismiss."

Galbraith's 1967 bestseller The New Industrial State, a sequel to The Affluent Society, examines the diminishing role of individual choice in the market enterprise. "I reached the conclusion that in 'The Affluent Society' I had only written half the book I should have," Galbraith commented to the New York Times Book Review. "'The Affluent Society' says the more you have the more you want. And for obvious reasons, as people become richer it is easier to persuade them as to their wants. But I hadn't really examined the role of the great corporations, the industrial system, in the persuasion process." Arthur Selwyn Miller commented in the New Republic: "If Galbraith is correct-and I am inclined to agree in large part with him-then we … are ruled by nameless and faceless managers in the technostructures of the private governments of the supercorporations and their counterparts in the public bureaucracy. That's an event of considerable significance." Raymond J. Saulnier in the New York Times Book Review called The New Industrial State "a tightly organized, closely reasoned book, notable for what it says about the dynamics of institutional change and for certain qualities of its author: a sardonic wit, exercised liberally at the expense of conservatives, and unusual perception."

In his 1973 book Economics and the Public Purpose Galbraith, according to Leonard Silk in the New York Times, goes "beyond his earlier books to describe the whole modern capitalist economy, which he sees as split roughly in twain between 'the planning system' and what he calls 'the market system'—a collection of imperfect competitors and partial monopolists that includes such producers as farmers, television repairmen, retailers, small manufacturers, medical practitioners, photographers and pornographers." The New Yorker's Naomi Bliven commented that Galbraith "offers his account of the American economic system and his ideas of how to correct—a word he uses frequently—its irrationality." She added that although "his intensity sometimes makes his wit painfully abrasive … because his work is intelligent, stimulating, and comprehensive—Galbraith knows (in fact, insists) that an economic theory implies an ethical system, a political purpose, and a psychological hypothesis—one forgives this unrelenting critic."

In addition to more than twenty-five other books on economics, the prolific Galbraith is also the author of novels and acclaimed volumes of memoirs. As in his other books, critics found that these writings display Galbraith's characteristic wit and insight. His 1968 novel The Triumph, set amidst a revolution in a fictional Latin American nation, depicts the bungled efforts of U.S. foreign policy officials to put an acceptable leader in power. Robert Brown in the New Republic, while expressing reservations about the novel's tone, which he described as "loftily condescending and relentlessly witty," called the book "quite devastating" and acknowledged Galbraith's "detailed knowledge of the scene." Galbraith's 1990 novel, A Tenured Professor, is the tale of a professor who, with his wife, develops a successful stock forecasting mechanism that makes them very wealthy. With their new money, the couple begins supporting various liberal causes, such as identifying companies that do not employ women in top executive positions. "Lurking in the background of his story is enough economics to satisfy Wall Street game players and enough of a cheerful fairy tale for grownups to please the most liberal dreamers," notes Herbert Mitgang in the New York Times. "A whimsical fellow is John Kenneth Galbraith, who knows that money makes people and institutions jump through hoops and over their own cherished principles." He added: "Readers who know and admire the author as an acerbic political voice are not shortchanged in his biting new novel…. Satirical one-liners and paragraphs fall lightly from the pen of the author and from the lips of his characters all through the story."

Galbraith's memoirs give insights into his diverse career as economist, writer, and participant in the political scene. Regarding A Life in Our Times, Ward Just commented in the Chicago Tribune Book World: "[Galbraith] has rarely been at the center of events, though he has been on the fringes of most everything, so this is not a memoir of the and-then-I-told-the-President variety…. The charm and consequence of this book is not the career as such, but the manner in which the author has chosen to describe it, with singular range, style, and wit, and a sure grasp of absurdity and pomposity, particularly as they apply to government and politics." Regarding the essays in A View from the Stands: Of People, Politics, Military Power, and the Arts, Richard Eder wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Galbraith "has a priceless sense of the absurd…. [Yet,] for someone who makes an art out of polite irreverence, Galbraith manages to be equally artistic in his strong admirations…. His portraits of, among others, Ambassador Chester Bowles, President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt are both warm and strikingly perceptive." A View from the Stands reveals a man, according to John Freeman in the Times Literary Supplement, who is "substantial, interesting, frequently perverse, occasionally silly, almost always stimulating—at least hardly ever a bore—opinionated, funny, fastidious, loyal, on the whole generous and magnificently infallible even when he is wrong."

In The Culture of Contentment, Galbraith "scathingly denounces a society in which the affluent have come to dominate the political arena, guaranteeing their continued comfort while refusing to address the needs of the less fortunate," claimed Victor Dwyer in Maclean's. Galbraith asserted that satisfied citizens—those whose earning are in the top twenty percent and who live a moneyed lifestyle—tend, by their very prosperity, to guarantee their eventual downfall by ignoring the fundamental requirements of the underclasses. Their blindness to social reform has historically led to inflation and the need for greater government intervention, the author maintained, thereby causing a resulting eventual decline in economic security even for the elite. Galbraith warned that the upper class ignores economic, political, and social necessities of the lower classes at its own peril. Galbraith told Dwyer that The Culture of Contentment exceeds the scope of his other books: "'What I am attempting is to formulate the political consequences of self-satisfied well-being,' said Galbraith. 'In the wake of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush,' he added, 'it seemed that the time was right.'" Robert N. Bellah observed in the New York Times Book Review, ""The Culture of Contentment' is certainly no savage jeremiad. It is a very amusing volume, but by the end one's laughter has turned hollow and one wants to weep. For all its gentle appearances, it is a bombshell of a book, and the story it tells is one of devastation." Aidan Rankin commented in the Times Literary Supplement: "The reassuring, old-fashioned elegance of John Kenneth Galbraith's prose is at once the most striking and the most disturbing feature of The Culture of Contentment. Striking, because it contrasts so markedly with the jargon and euphemism of modern economics, disturbing in the force and clarity of its critique of contemporary democracy."

About A Short History of Financial Euphoria: A Hymn of Caution, Robert Krulwich explained in the New York Times Book Review that it "is John Kenneth Galbraith's quick tour through four centuries of financial bubbles, panics and crashes, with an eye toward instructing today's investors on how to see cautionary signs before it is too late." The book describes, through myriad examples, a historic pattern of financial ebb and flow creating highs and lows in the economic climate. Galbraith denounces the oblivious attitude engendered by successful investments, blinding individuals to warning signs and potential disasters. As Krulwich put it, "How people become blockheads is the real subject of his treatise." He concluded that Galbraith reminds readers that "rich people aren't smart. They're just lucky."

A Journey through Economic Time: A Firsthand View traces economic development from the time of World War I (or the "Great War") through the highlights of the twentieth century, including other wars and military conflicts, the philosophies of influential pundits, and the practices and ideologies of various presidential administrations. "Somehow, with an astonishing and no doubt deceptive ease, Mr. Galbraith is able to compress eras, reducing their unwieldy bulk to graspable essence and extracting coherence from their thematic tangle," remarked Alan Abelson in the New York Times Book Review. Abelson admired the readability of the book, asserting, "He's opinionated, incorrigibly sardonic and murder on fools…. In a profession in which statistical surfeit, abused syntax and impenetrable prose are prerequisites to standing, Mr. Galbraith's lucidity and grace of articulation are excommunicable offenses." Donald McCloskey hailed Galbraith's tome in the Chicago Tribune Books, summarizing, "What makes it good is the Old Economist showing you page after page how to think like one," ultimately urging readers to "buy it or borrow it. You'll be a better citizen and will not believe so easily the latest economic idiocy from Washington or the Sierra Club or the other fonts of conventional wisdom."

William Keegan noted in New Statesman and Society that The World Economy since the Wars: An Eyewitness Account "can be thoroughly recommended to those interested in the economic debate, but [who are] not quite sure where to start." Galbraith's efforts involve "sifting and reducing a lifetime's observations to an essential core," described Keegan. While the reviewer suggested that much of this volume had already appeared in other forms in earlier books, he nevertheless maintained, "This is a highly engaging memoir, which holds the attention even of people, such as myself, who are thoroughly familiar with most of Galbraith's work."

Two years after the Republican party won control of Congress in the 1994 elections, Galbraith produced The Good Society: The Humane Dimension, reiterating his economic and political vision for the creation of a just and equitable society. While suggesting that big government and the welfare state are the products of historical forces rather than liberal policies, Galbraith advocated reform on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised, including health care, unemployment compensation, government regulation of working conditions, education, environmental protection, and progressive taxation. As Paul Craig Roberts summarized in the National Review, Galbraith "defines 'the good society' as one that is politically organized to coerce 'the favored' for the poor. The instrument for this coercion 'must be the Democratic Party'" According to Todd Gitlin in the Nation, "Galbraith has written perhaps the most chastened manifesto in American history. Deliberately so. His goal in this brief handbook is to sketch 'the achievable, not the perfect.'" The Good Society, as Matthew Miller observed in the New York Times Book Review, contains "Mr. Galbraith's vintage cultural complaints. He denounces the equation of wealth with intelligence, the role of advertising in ginning up consumer desire, the injustice of private affluence alongside public squalor … and, of course, the perils of bureaucracy."

For more than half a century, Galbraith has proven himself a brilliant writer, critical thinker, perspicacious so-cial analyst, and astute economic observer/commentator. Rankin opined in the Times Literary Supplement that "Galbraith has contributed substantially to the liberal tradition in the United States and the social democratic tradition in Western Europe." About the author's multiple interests and abilities, McCloskey commented in the Chicago Tribune Books, "As much as he would rather be a writer, converting people to his government-loving faith, he [is] an economist down to his shoes." Dwyer described Galbraith in Maclean's as "America's foremost liberal thinker," adding that he "is most passionate about the state of American society." McCloskey concluded, "We need more of him because he's an economist who can speak to non-economists…. Galbraith is one of a handful of professors who can make the Dismal Science sing."

An interview with Galbraith appears in Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 34.



Contemporary Issues Criticism, Volume 1, Thomson Gale (Detroit), 1982.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, The Affluent Society, Houghton, 1958.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, The Scotch, Houghton, 1964.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, A Life in Our Times: Memoirs, Houghton, 1981.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, A View from the Stands: Of People, Politics, Military Power, and the Arts, Houghton, 1986.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, A Journey through Economic Time: A Firsthand View, Houghton, 1994.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, The World Economy since the Wars: An Eyewitness Account, Houghton, 1994.

Reisman, D. A., Galbraith and Market Capitalism, New York University Press, 1980.

Reisman, D. A., Tawney, Galbraith, and Adam Smith, St. Martin's, 1982.

Stanfield, J. Ron, John Kenneth Galbraith, St. Martin's, 1996.

Parker, Richard, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, Farrar, Straus, 2005.


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