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The Culture of Contentment [Hardcover]

John Kenneth Galbraith
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 April 1992
The author's response to the political and economic condition of the West today, this book traces the growth of a new, stultifying contentment in our society. Galbraith contrasts the condition of the underclass to that of the self-serving, politically dominant classes. He looks at the causes and by-products of the current politico-economic stasis, such as short-term thinking and investment, and draws parallels between the crippling denial of trouble in Eastern Europe and that in our own backyard. The author also wrote "The Affluent Society" and "The New Industrialist State".


Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd; First Printing edition (27 April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1856191478
  • ISBN-13: 978-1856191470
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.5 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,266,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith is Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, Emeritus, of Harvard University. He was born in 1908 in Ontario, Canada. After graduating from university in Canada and taking a PhD at the University of California, he taught first there and then at Harvard and Princeton. During the Second World War he was in charge of wartime price control, for which he received the Medal of Freedom and the President's Certificate of Merit. Later he was a director of both the US Strategic Bombing Survey and the Office of Economic Security Policy in the Department of State. He has been closely identified with the Democratic Party and from 1961 to 1963 was American Ambassador to India. He became an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1987. He is a member for literature, and a recent past President, of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Professor Galbraith's books, many of which are published by Penguin, include American Capitalism; The Great Crash 1929; The Affluent Society; The Liberal Hour; The Non-potable Scotch; The New Industrial State; Ambassador's Journal; Economics and the Public Purpose; Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went; The Age of Uncertainty; The Nature of Mass Poverty; The Anatomy of Power; A View from the Stands; Capitalism, Communism and Coexistence (with Stanislav Menshikov); A History of Economics and The Culture of Contentment. He is also the author of a book of satirical sketches, two best-selling novels and a study of Indian painting (with M. S. Randhawa). His volume of memoirs, A Life in Our Times, was published in 1981. He delivered the Reith Lectures in 1966.

Professor Galbraith is married with three sons and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars J.K. Galbraith: "Don't say I didn't warn you" 4 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
Amazing how a few months can make a big difference to a reputation. The late J. K. Galbraith, until recently seen as some anachronistic old buzzard of the left, entirely out of touch with the latter-day world of neo-classical righteousness (sample quotes from an Amazon.com review: "a man who's been wrong so often and on almost every big issue over the last forty years" and whom "no self-respecting economist worth his or her salt would define as such"), is suddenly as popular, in his own field, as J. K. Rowling is in hers.

Suddenly, Galbraith's books, including this once-forlorn, last-ditch attempt to resuscitate the economics of a kinder age, are flying out of the stores.

Timing is everything. What might have seemed curmudgeonly moaning from an old pinko now, through the wreckage wrought on Wall Street and Main Street, has an air of cool, detached prescience. It reads like an eerily resonant prescription for our times. Suddenly, the folly of cycling no-handed down a hill seems obvious (it having hitherto escaped us).

We might not agree with Galbraith's underpinning leftist values - the objection still stands that it's hard to see how an uninformed, unskilled, own-agenda-pursuing bunch of politicians and civil servants could do any better with something as complex as an industrial economy - but then so does its counterpoint: it's hard to see how they could have done any worse.

For now the sanctuary of expertise is hollow, and the world less cares than it ever did what self-respecting economists, let alone highly paid financiers, have to say.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Dajx
Format:Paperback
Galbraith has a somewhat clunky style, but beneath the convoluted prose he clearly feels pretty strongly that all is less than well with American capitalism. Ten years on, much of his commentary on the real estate boom and S&L scandal of the late 1980's reads depressingly well today with the word "dotcom" substituted. His deadly de-construction of corporate greed and kleptocractic CEO's is drily written, but not without venom.
Overall, an interesting book of its time that still has pointed things to say about the US military-industrial complex on the eve of Gulf War II.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prescient insights! 16 Mar 2003
By JC in MN - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After reading this book I was struck with the profound nature of both the "Economic Accommodation I/II" and "Military Nexus I/II" chapters with regard to the current tax cut proposals and the impending war with Iraq. As Galbraith asserts in Economic Accommodation concerning questionable supply-side tax policy, "it must be emphasized, the required doctrine need not be the subject of serious empirical proof." When, oh when, are we going to realize as an overall society that the 80's boom was a deficit spending trick and the late 90's boom was the product of massive business productivity gains from global expansion after communism, computer/telecom technology and increasing consumer debt (not "the maestro"). As Galbraith points out, the long-term implications of these macro-economic policies are scary, but our culture seems incapable of thinking long-term. The Military Nexus section also makes you wonder about the "War on Terror". A conventional military war on an invisible (or nearly invisible) enemy - Hmmm? Excellent book!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 15 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This and all of Galbraith's books are classic. I noticed his books sometimes have gotten rather negative reviews. These seem to come from the same people who will be voting for Pat Buchanan for president. Galbraith is very much a Democrat. His ideas are "liberal". That does not stop him from being one of the most brilliant Economists of the 20th century. The joy of reading his books goes beyond just Gabraith's ideas. In reading his books one gets to know him. He is the sort of writer who lets the reader into his world. Some people may not like what he says. It is hard to take a look at yourself sometimes. Others will cherish his writing.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it for yourselves! 1 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's was the lying, reactionary hot air of mindless regurgitating tools like "Kevalgyan" which prompted me to buy and read this book for myself. Galbraith clearly points out (with credible sources and accurate detail) how the immediate greed and the relentless bigger, better, faster drive for ever-higher profits by the economic elite system (which basically run the government and control the media) are planting the seeds of its own destruction. I implore all to read this book. Turn off the reactionary distortion and open your eyes!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The author's practically vindicated by our times 8 July 2001
By Christopher Ranieri - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this book when it was first published and I can confidently assert, after reading a very detailed Congressional Budget survey on income growth over the past 20 years, through both the Reagan And Clinton years, and a throrough reading of the culural trends of the past decade that the author stands virtually vindicated. I suppose only a fairly steep recession will persuade the masses, especially those people of whom Professor Galbraith writes of, something's seriously awry today in many spheres of everyday life and only then might prompt serious consideration to bring the regulatory state back in to remedy these glaring problems. So kudos to Professor Galbraith for an extremely prescient piece of social commentary. Only the most devout free market acolytes could miss the significance of its message!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars J. K. Galbraith: "Don't say I didn't warn you". 4 Feb 2009
By Olly Buxton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Amazing how a few months can make a big difference to a reputation. The late J. K. Galbraith, until recently seen as some anachronistic old buzzard of the left, entirely out of touch with the latter-day world of neo-classical righteousness (sample quotes from a review below: "a man who's been wrong so often and on almost every big issue over the last forty years" and whom "no self-respecting economist worth his or her salt would define as such"), is suddenly as popular, in his own field, as J. K. Rowling is in hers.

Suddenly, Galbraith's books, including this once-forlorn, last-ditch attempt to resuscitate the economics of a kinder age, are flying out of the stores (in the UK at any rate - its Amazon.com sales rank suggests the mania hasn't spread to the US just yet).

Timing is everything. What might once have seemed curmudgeonly moaning from an old pinko now, through the wreckage wrought on Wall Street and Main Street, has an air of cool, detached prescience. It reads like an eerily resonant prescription for our times. Suddenly, the folly of cycling no-handed down a hill seems obvious, it hitherto having escaped us.

We might not agree with Galbraith's underpinning leftist values - the objection still stands that it's hard to see how an uninformed, unskilled, own-agenda-pursuing bunch of politicians and civil servants could do any better with something as complex as an industrial economy - but then so does its counterpoint: it's also hard to see how they could have done any worse.

For now, the sanctuary of expertise is hollow, and the world less cares than it ever did what self-respecting economists, let alone highly paid financiers, have to say. What John Kenneth Galbraith had to say about where we were headed, nearly twenty years ago now, look to be pretty much right on the money: An unacceptable skew of assets, wealth and resources toward that small section of the community least in need of them, the ensuing loss, through embrace of market fundamentalism, of parental control over the economy and the waging of an intractable, messy and unpopular war where, in all cases the large disenfranchised minority wear the the majority of risks and miss out on the majority of the rewards.

What he concludes will happen hasn't happened yet, but his accuracy so far ought to give some pause for thought: Suddenly, this disenfranchised mass will fail to see the funny side. And then all hell might break loose.

The result, though Galbraith isn't sensationalist enough to say it, would be puncture of the contented equilibrium: a dramatic realignment of the social pecking order. Revolution, so to say. Hyperbole? Perhaps - but with mass foreclosure and mass redundancy, nor is it entirely beyond the pale.

Galbraith's one possible road out of this - to which he assigns a very low probability - is the unexpected arrival of a new type of socially inclusive administration able to mobilise and constructively engage with said disenfranchised masses. Nearly twenty years ago Galbraith himself saw this prospect as vanishingly unlikely, but - fingers crossed - it looks like it might have happened along just at the critical moment. Perhaps - if President Obama can live up to his colossal billing - all is not quite yet lost.

You do get the sense that Galbraith takes a mean-spirited pleasure in his dreadful prescription, and the supercilious tone is jarring - and hardly calculated to win converts from the chattering classes: no-one likes to be told they're venal, after all, so reactions like the one mentioned above are not surprising.)

There is another operating cause of enfranchisement which might have given Galbraith hope had it been around at the time of writing, which might partly explain the improbable emergence of Barack Obama: the world wide web. Thanks to the net and associated technologies we all have, as never before, the ability to easily and painlessly engage in the political and economic process. Obama understood better than anyone in 2008 that it no longer an option to ignore the downtrodden. Galbraith can hardly be faulted for not foreseeing this, but it ought to be a game changer, both in ensuring engagement and, actually, pulling us all out of the current economic funk.

That's the hope, anyway. In the mean time, if you can bear giving an unreconstructed old leftie his druthers, albeit posthumously, this is an eye-opening read.

Olly Buxton
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