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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars J.K. Galbraith: "Don't say I didn't warn you"
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"...
Published on 4 Feb. 2009 by Olly Buxton

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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ponderous prose, but a sharp critique that is still relevant
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...
Published on 28 Aug. 2002 by Dajx


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10 of 11 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
This review is from: The Culture of Contentment (Penguin economics) (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. 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 punctuation 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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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ponderous prose, but a sharp critique that is still relevant, 28 Aug. 2002
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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The Culture of Contentment (Penguin economics)
The Culture of Contentment (Penguin economics) by John Kenneth Galbraith (Paperback - 27 May 1993)
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