Sunday, May 07, 2006

Little to Say

Or actually, quite a lot about Galbraith, I'm sure. I sheepishly admit that while I think that Galbraith is brilliant, and clearly his place in the intellectual cannon of twentieth-century America has been painfully entombed by many of his peers, I am not an economist, and fear going down the road of extra-disciplinary grand-standing. A lot of his ideas make relatively reasonable sense to a reasonable person, and I think that is powerfully in their favor. The very fact that economists get so uppity about him demonstrates that he was on the right track. The most enlightening thing about reading The Affluent Society for me was in demonstrating how occluded any counter-arguments are in general (i.e. non-scholarly) economic discourse. The only real bone to pick I have with the sense I have of Galbraith is he had a little too much faith in government for my tastes. I utterly agree with the need to shift production from private to public sector goods, but I am not totally comfortable with the little that there is said about how one ensures good government and management of production. The major sticking-point for me in this problem is on education. I am adamantly opposed to the right-wing anti-public-education movement, which has, in the end, designs on mental and cultural genocide. BUT, I have little love for certain aspects of the Teacher's Union, and on a more theoretical level, am more of an anarchist when it comes to education. Galbraith simply takes it as a given that eduction must be a public good (commodity). And while he often seemed to think that was his strongest example, I actually think it may have been his weakest.

For the biography of Galbraith, an exhaustive explanation of his work, and a theory of why he has not influenced politics and academic economics as much as he should have, see Robert Parker's 820 page giant, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics.

For a quick summary of Parker's book, and a modified take, see Brad Delong's review in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005.

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