Monday, May 01, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, RIP at Age 97

A ripe old age

Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most famous economists of our lifetime, a bestselling author, like the recently departed Robert Heilbroner. May he Rest in Peace.

Gailbraith did a good job at attacking the unthinking consumerism that the 'affluent society' has become. He was also aware of the social injustices that business in bed with government has wrought. But I guess the question is, why, if he knew that this type of crony capitalism is wrong did he call for more government spending? It is the same illogical thinking that says if a government program is working, or isnt working as intended, well just give it some more funding.

He was a bon-vivant, much like his fellow 'third way' travellor John Maynard Keynes, who also called for government management of the economy. To take it to the extreme, Noam Chomsky has also done an excellent job of critiquing government's mismagement of the economy leading to government sponsored monopolists and imperialism. But Chomsky does not claim to be an economist, of which scientific rationality is a principle. These normative values, and no doubt passion and sympathy for the common man, have gotten in the way of excellent positive critique.

But Galbraith also did alot of harm (ahh the duality of modern life), putting into place the price controls of the New Deal, which just exacerbated the lagging economy. Sometimes the heart can be a bad guide. This is ok, but as long as it effects only oneself. Price controls hurt everyone. But he was (as are we all) a product of his time.