The Talking Dog

April 30, 2006, In the long run, we're all dead

That observation was famously by the late John Maynard Keynes; the economist believed to be the greatest of all Keynesians, American giant John Kenneth Galbraith (for more reasons than his 6'8" stature.) has died, at age 97.

Galbraith gave our vocabularies terms like "conventional wisdom" and "countervailing power," he gave our libraries The Affluent Society, he gave our nation service as an advisor of Presidents from FDR to Clinton, and as Ambassador to India in the 1960's, and he gave academia decades of service as an economics professor at Harvard, not to mention numerous seminal works of economics, including probably popularizing the field more than anyone else.

In my younger days, before exposure to many of the formative trials and tribulations that a grown-up in this country (and its workforce) endures, I thought somewhat less of Professor Galbraith than I do now (of course, my pet motto is "If you're not a liberal at 21, you have no heart; if you are a liberal at 40, you have no money...")

But it appears that Galbraith was invariably right, right and right again... about just about everything. The fact is, the American life-style is intrinsically self-destructive in any number of ways: environmentally, socially, politically...
We get to the point now where we measure our well-being by just how rapidly we can despoil everything and everyone else...

Consider this flowing prose, written in the 1950's:

The family which takes its mauve and cerise, air-conditioned, power-steered, and power-braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground."

"They picnic," he added, "on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night in a park which is a menace to public health and morals. Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings."

Well, well. In other words, there is a limit to unbridled capitalism... externalities, be they environmental degradation, or social inequity, or provision of adequate public services, must be responsibly addressed, or the quality of overall existence will be duly compromised. Can you imagine that?

And Galbraith was from an era when even humor was at a level somewhat higher than our current era's (I'm referring to the pathetic and whiny Bush part, not to the Colbert part, which was, of course, brilliant.)

Anyway, when a 1961 New York Times profile referred to him as "arrogant", Galbraith complained to President Kennedy that "I didn't see why they had to call me arrogant," the president answered, "I don't see why not. Everybody else does."

The liberal elite is one powerful voice weaker, now. R.I.P. Professor Galbraith.


He was a real touchstone of the times, and his dry wit and brilliant observations will certainly be missed. Who can take his place? Do people even read books like Mr. Galbraith's any more?

Posted by Ms Cornelius at April 30, 2006 7:54 PM

A lot of warm remembrance for a guy who had heen coasting for about the last 40 years. More like a one hit wonder of economics. Can't say my life has been impacted much by this genius.

Posted by Look Again at April 30, 2006 8:50 PM

Look Again,

Bet you said the same about Einstein.

Posted by Rob G at May 4, 2006 2:04 PM

We memorialized him at MercuryRising. I've put the link in the URL box, but if it doesn't show up, it's

But the best eulogy was written by Randall Holhut:

Posted by Charles at May 4, 2006 7:24 PM