13 thoughts on “Lanky Economist Dies”

  1. He spoke at U of C one time. He gave a liberal political rant, though done in the snide and condescending tones of the Northeast, not the modern moonbat style. When he was done, he asked for questions. A U of C guy stood up and said, “would please derive the Slutsky equation?” Galbraith laughed and took the next question. The point was made though — people in that room did not consider him to be a real economist.

  2. It’s unfortunate that he, and the intellectual crap he peddled all his life, were not both stillborn in 1908. The US, and the world, would have been the better for it.

  3. To the very retired folks at CHIBoyz:
    “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

    J.K. Galbraith

    Ouch…my Heat looked old and slow compared to the young and sleek Baby Bulls

  4. Mike, Nobody retired here, nobody searching.

    Selfishness, by which I assume Galbraith refers to capitalism generally, is superior practically and not necessarily morally. It may be superior morally too: What do I know?

    Capitalism (selfishness, if you will) in this republic has proven to be socially robust and effective in producing a good life for great numbers of people rather efficiently as well as pushing civilization forward in a rational manner. (As socialism continues to gain ground in the U.S. the good life is slipping and will slip further for a greater proportion of the population. Civilization will retrograde.)

    Socialism, communism, unions, directorates, and oligarchies haven’t done so well.

  5. I’ll see you and raise you.

    Lex says:

    “The modern Leftist (like JKG) is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in political, moral and intellectual corruption; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for stripping others of their freedom and obtaining control of the state on the pretext of superior wisdom or purported fitness to rule, so that the Leftist can play God with the lives, libery and property of other human beings.”

    “Selfishness” is a reality, like gravity. The only question in any politico-economic order is how the basic realities of human nature will be channelled by legal and cultural institutions. The American order does not try to creat a “New Man” who is not “selfish”. It takes him as he is, a mix of selfishness and other possibly more worthy motives, and channels his real, existing characteristics into productive paths.

    Galbraith is despicable because he lived well into the era when his vision had failed yet never had the moral courage to admit it.

  6. I don’t know economics. And I hear Galbraith’s opinion from others on a regular basis. Funny, though, those are generally people who are doing better than most, but keep complaining about people who are doing better than they.

    Socialism sounds a lot more altruistic than it has proved to be. Keeping an eye on other’s goods and wanting a more even dispersal does not bring out the best in us. With capitalism, we realize that the guy over there may have a nicer car, but it may be because he doesn’t go on cruises or he went without for all those expensive years in med school or he works eighty hour weeks. Most of all, he got it because he made choices that gave him what he values. We’ve made other choices at other points. We are living with the consequences of those choices. Maybe some of them were stupid, but, hey, we’re the ones that made them. And if we’re honest, we’ve probably got a lot of what we want.

    The more freely we make those choices the more productive we are likely to be–mainly because we’ll also be happier. I’m not going to argue morality, but it seems to me any system which encourages covetousness is likely to lead to neither happiness nor morality.

    I also don’t see how an open marketplace of ideas or religion can be truly free if it isn’t accompanied by an open marketplace of goods.

  7. It really is a triumph of propaganda that words like “selfishness,” or even “competition” have come to be associated with the free market system. What it really is is the only wholly non-coercive method for cooperation in productive enterprise.

    Throughout the last century, centralized planning produced great wars, catastrophic famines, and impoverished serfdom for those unlucky enough to be trapped in the coercive plan-implementing societies. By contrast, the failures of capitalism at most include the always-trumped-up excesses of a few “robber barons,” and an occasional, preventable, market bubble.

    Long ago, one might be forgiven for theorizing about how to rationally control an economy from the top-down. But Galbraith was surely in or past the last generation with such an excuse.

  8. After Debreu-Mantel-Sonnenschein there’s hardly any point to the Slutsky Equation and other constructs applicable only to the fairy tale of general equilibrium of Walrasian type.

    The person who asked the question has no idea what being an economist is.

  9. I agree that Galbraith was misguided as an economist and polemicist. However, I think that some of the comments here have been unfair to him. He was a dirigiste in an age of dirigisme. His ideas have long since been eclipsed. He was not taken seriously as an economist by other economists. But as far as I know he was a decent man who had many friends, including friends who did not share his views on politics or economics. I think that tolerance and decency are important, not just on a personal level but also as lubricants of public discourse. How much better our public life would be today if more of the people who share Galbraith’s politics, and even some who do not, shared his personal qualities as well.

  10. Jonathan,

    That and a buck and a half will get you a small coffee.

    It is nice that Galbraith himself was maybe a nice, though egotistical, man. However, the results of his teaching led to some truly bad public policies that hurt a whole lot of people. That part also needs to be remembered and we need to make sure that his legacy in that area gets publicized enough that we won’t have to go through that all over again. If you look at our LLL moonbats they have not realized the fallacies of his teaching and if they get in power we will suffer that mess again.

    Tell us all over again how nice he was and also how nice Rev Sloan Coffin was, but also tell us how misguided they both were as well. Their misguidedness is still dangerous to the welfare of this nation.

  11. Lex,
    JKG is not a modern leftist, considering we are in the post-modern era (as much as G.W.Bush is a modern conservative – which he is not).

    I think the word leftist can be substituted with multinational corporation and the meaning of your idea would reflect the same conclusion.

    The reality of selfishness is unlike gravity. One is a reality of human behavior, the other is an inmutable law of science. Selfishness is not a law of human nature. Many people choose to be unselfish with varying (sp?) degress of success (ex: Mother Teresa). Selfishness involves choices as does economics. Burke’s definition of Natural Law is perhaps closer to your idea: refering to ethics, law, politics, and human behavior.

    By the American order, do you mean capitalism? Please clarify.

    Despicable is a tough word to use. In what manner did his vision fail?

    “Although often not acknowledging it explicitly, many economists have since pursued themes raised by Galbraith. The issue of political capture has been followed up by Buchanan and “Public Choice” economics, the objectives and conduct of the firm by Simon and the “New Institutionalist” schools, the failure of consumer sovereignty by Scitovsky and others. Even the game- theoretic developments in industrial organization have replayed Galbraithian themes.”

    I look forward to your thoughts.

  12. I meant to type “immutable” as in ” the other is an immutable law of science”.

    My vision is failing, never mind JKG’s. :)

  13. A&L notes an obit capturing Galbraith’s charm, while still seeing his ideas as blindered & narrow.

    John Harris is more friendly to the ideas in an elegaic “Friends Who Fit Together Smartly”, describing the relationship between Galbraith and his neighbor, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. This warm remembrance shows, at the same time, the rigidity & narrowness of such observers. While Harris’ (and those he interviewed) feel a warm glow when contemplating that leisurely & amiable world of the fifties, when “everyone knew everyone else” and certainly he is right to deride the glibness television encourages, he ignores much of what “public intellectuals” do today.

    Where are the heirs of the Galbraiths and Schlesingers? The generation immediately in their wake is itself already in retirement, having produced no obvious successors. And it seems apparent the generation after that will not, either.Brad DeLong, a 45-year-old Berkeley economist who has studied Galbraith and writes a popular liberal blog, agreed that the two men “bestrode this narrow world like titans compared to our puny contemporary selves.”

    There is the irony, for instance, of complaining Paul Krugman can not fill these shoes because he is too “partisan.”As they note, these two

    steered the Democrats and rallied the fight against the Republicans, and when their side won, they occupied coveted positions in the government. . . . They were especially close to the family — the Kennedys — that epitomized the merger of celebrity and politics.

    Crook, on the other hand, argues that Friedman (never mentioned by Harris) combined the true, trained & academic intellectual with the public writer & advocate in a more satisfying way. He concludes, in what might be a description of Harris’ vision:

    It reflects a tenacious reluctance to concede the ethical and material superiority of the capitalist system. For an intelligent and pragmatic liberal (in the American sense of that word) this surely ought to be a minimal, painless concession, barely any concession at all. Obviously, a radical, ambitious, and productive agenda of social and economic reforms could still be spread out before voters. . . Much of the Left still longs to sneer at the very idea of capitalism, especially at the claim that it has real ethical foundations (all the more so, in comparison with the attempted alternatives). There is still a wish to regard the whole thing as a scam: gulled and witless consumers; scheming and rapacious businesses; phony markets and bogus “competition”; politicians, media hacks, and other assorted apologists for “the system,” all cozily in the pockets of the people in charge. It is a comprehensively false diagnosis.

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