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on 22 January 2007
This book is a pleasure to read, is crammed with original ideas and accessible explanations and offers a comprehensive insight into the economic landscape which simply makes a lot of sense. It is a particular joy that Galbraith does not stop at the traditional limits of economic discourse -- whenever he needs to stray into a related subject in order to construct a complete and persuasive explanation then he does so competently and without hesitation.

However, I would also like to mention the relationship between this book and "The New Industrial State" (NIS) which Galbraith wrote some years later. The NIS clearly covers much the same ground, whilst incorporating the further development and refinement of Galbraith's thoughts over the following decade. As a result, the NIS has a broader scope and offers a more complete picture of a modern (as of 1970ish) industrial economy -- but is also a little less accessible and undoubtedly a "heavier" read. If you have read and enjoyed "The Affluent Society", then the NIS would be an excellent next step, in which the ideas presented here are refined and expanded, but "The Affluent Society" is a great place to start.
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on 28 July 2001
The affluent society is a well written critique of established economic ideas by a brilliant writer. The book written in a clear and simple language is both insightful and thought provocking.
The author started by critically appraising established economic ideas which he called "conventional wisdom". He went on to discuss the inherent flaws in accepting production as the most important goal of society. He then examined the concept of want creation, the ever inceasing problem of consumer debt, economic security, economic inequality and poverty.
The main reason why i enjoyed the book it its language and message. I have never had the priviledge of reading a better written economics book. This is a book for all. Whether you an expert, a student or someone interested in the progress of his society, you will find this book interesting and worth the effort.
Finally, the concluding remark by the author is a message i strongly identify with. He called on society to make it its goal the eradication of poverty and to control the production of weapons of mass destruction. As someone who resides in a developing country, where affluence exist side by side with extreme poverty, the goal of eradicating poverty is one which i fervently hope the leadership of my country will adopt.
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on 22 February 2005
There hasn't been enough structure in the arguments against free-market economics recently and we are in serious need for some. Therefore, people like myself have to settle on books like this one; and what a gem it is.
Galbraith is an economist who is untouchable in his field of work and it shows in the Affluent Society. A stunningly written piece, full of intelligent answers to questions others daren't ask. What makes his work stand out is how he makes it relevent to every aspect of society and many famous economists of the past and present.
Any right-wingers or neo-liberals who dare to bad mouth Galbraith better read this book first and come up with some good answers as to why they disagree. I have read work from all positions of the economic spectrum and still havent found a single person that can outdo Galbraith and theres not a better example of his genius than here.
His work is also very accessible to even the most novice on the subject and theres not one boring page in the book. If you are a libertarian socialist looking for answers, don't get bogged down in Marx's Capital, go for this book, or at least start with it.
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on 29 June 2008
Galbraith's classic economics text has been influential, but not quite influential enough - in a world of unsustainable consumption and runaway debt, we really need some of the ideas in this book.

The central idea here is that the production model of the economy is fatally flawed. It is based, Galbraith believed, on a good idea that was no longer relevant. For lifting the US out of poverty and meeting people's needs, it had worked well. Now that people were affluent and their urgent needs were all met, it was foolishness. People aren't happy, they work too hard, there is still great inequality, and there is a growing rather than shrinking income gap between rich and poor. "In recent times" he writes, "no problem has been more puzzling to thoughtful people than why, in a troubled world, we make such poor use of our affluence." If he could say that in 1958, how much more so now.

The growth model served its purpose, but the focus needs to be turned back towards equality, and towards wellbeing. The Affluent Society remains highly relevant today. In Galbraith's own words:

"To furnish a barren room is one thing. To continue to crowd in furniture until the foundation buckles is quite another. To have failed to solve the problem of producing goods would have been to continue man in his oldest and most grievous misfortune. But to fail to see that we have solved it and fail to proceed hence to the next task would be fully as tragic."
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on 20 March 2013
To read "The Affluent Society", over 60 years after it was first published, is to be dazzled by John Kenneth Galbraith's erudition and wit. Unfortunately, it is also to come hard up against his almost unbelievable refusal (or perhaps inability) to face facts. "The Affluent Society" is based, from start to finish, entirely on the premise that the economics of scarcity must be replaced by a new economics of plenty. In 1958 that was a perfectly reasonable, and indeed forward-thinking, attitude. But since the 40th anniversary edition was published in 1998 - supposedly with a thorough revision and updating - the prospects for human progress and prosperity have been stood on their heads. It is for all the world as if the author had never heard of Peak Oil, The Limits To Growth, or the population crisis. Yet those trends mean that the era of ever-growing prosperity cannot last for long, and indeed it is going into reverse before our very eyes. If you doubt this, pick up a book by John Michael Greer (such as Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age or Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress), James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov, Rob Hopkins... That one of the world's most famous and distinguished economists should, so to speak, fail to see the nose on his own face seems to me an eloquent condemnation of the "dismal science" itself. (Not that it is anything like a science, if the truth be told).

Starting in the traditional way with an overview of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and Marx, Galbraith establishes that classical and Marxist economics share a lot of common ground - including the assumption that landowners, capitalists, and workers are inevitably and always deadly foes of one another. The question, to those writers, was always how a very limited cake should be shared out. Moving on briskly to a discussion of "economic security", Galbraith points out that modern life is exceptionally risk-free (contrary to what we are always being told). He explains, briskly and convincingly, how it came to be believed that production is the key problem of economics. Given enough production, there will be enough of everything for all of us. The great quest, then, must be for a way of ensuring that production continues growing, full steam ahead. This will guarantee price stability, high employment levels, social peace, and general continuing prosperity. So the big question, as Galbraith sees it, must be: how should we set about employing our new wealth most fairly and sensibly?

There is no mention, let alone analysis, of the growing gap between rich and poor in the USA and other "advanced" nations, apart from a brief mention in the Introduction. Admittedly, there is the true essence of Galbraithian venom in his heavily sarcastic remarks there. "Forty years ago I did not fully foresee the extent to which affluence would come to be perceived as a matter of deserved personal reward and thus fully available to the poor, were they only committed to the requisite effort. The resulting solution is to have them take charge of their own well-being; government aid is a damaging intrusion, the enemy of individual energy and initiative. It must be resisted, which, though unmentioned, also saves money and protects the affluent from taxation".

So I have deducted one star on account of this book's failure even to acknowledge the biggest problems that Western society is facing - and has faced since the 1970s. I originally meant to deduct two stars, but I could not do it. If you want to know what I mean, read the book! If you are at all interested in economics, politics, and how society should be run, you will find it fascinating, intelligent, instructive, and in places coruscatingly witty. Galbraith pats himself on the back for having coined, in this book, the now ubiquitous phrase "the conventional wisdom". I fear that "The Affluent Society"'s central thesis is wholly wrong - but otherwise, it is a great book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 October 2011
First published in 1958 this is a treatise on the nature and purpose of the economy, both as a producer of goods and distributor of goods. It was written in the aftermath of WW2, when the American economy flushed with its success during the war continued to grow both in terms of quantity and variety of output. So what's the problem?

Essentially that Capitalism was answering yesteryear's problem - making available goods and services that up until the age of mass production, where only available to an elite. Mass production was the answer to inequality and disenfranchisement. Now according to Galbraith, this approach to running an economy is the problem. The important issues are - why is the case and what can be done about it....

The book looks at a range of economists the usual suspects: Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx) to demonstrate the limitations of what he calls the 'Conventional Wisdom' aka: perfect competition. His essential argument is that Western's Societies obsession with production and productivity leads to a focus on non-essential and ultimately self defeating output of goods and services. He then proceeds to look at a variety of policies that he thinks can remedy the situation, so if you like left of centre economic policy solutions, you are in for a treat!

Firstly, Galbraith highlights the essential instability of Capitalist free market economies. That is boom flows bust- and the cycles of unemployment and inflation that follow invariably leading to all sorts of suffering for citizens and smaller business enterprises. The only winners from this process are corporate business and labour union, both unhealthily influential monopolists.

The Author also focuses on the waste of the unregulated market and the desperate under provision of 'public' goods such as health and welfare. Because of the power of corporate advertising and vested interest the acquisition of private goods - fur coats is seen by many as preferable to the provision of 'public' goods such as schooling and health care. What is particularly interesting about this book is the development of the environmental theme - i.e.: that the focus on output and exploitation of irreplaceable inputs is not a sustainable economic model. At least, in this area Galbraith was way a head of his fellow economists.

JKG is essentially a left of centre, mixed marketeer. His message assumes an Ameri-centric view of the world. This is because although he predicted the rise of American trans-national companies he did not anticipate the idea that this globalising process would lose its nation based focus, whereby large firms scoured the World in search of resources and markets and tax efficient bases from which to operate. Nor did he anticipate the rise of countries like China who took full advantage of this trend, but he would not be alone in this oversight.

Overall the great man's perspective is that of putting the 'citizen' first. By citizen he means a person 'free' from poverty, ignorance, over -work and the means to sustain a 'reasonable' life. He does not mean that citizens are to be be considered first and fore most as consumers whose sole purpose is to 'consume'. In other words for one person to be 'free' so must everyone else be 'free'. The only way to achieve this is through the actions of the state.

Read this book because it is wise, illuminating and witty. Whether you agree with JKG is another matter, but at least you know that in reading 'The Affluent Society' that you have been in the company of a master. This is no small privilege. I am a fan of Galbraith because I ultimately sympathize with his view that the economy should be at the service of mankind not the other way around. After reading 'The Affluent Society' you might agree with him as well.
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on 25 August 2012
This edition was brought out in 1998, forty years after the first one, and even now it still comes across to me as making a huge amount of sense. The author is of course one of the most influential liberal economists of the last century, second perhaps only to JM Keynes.
His main theme here is that we haven't adjusted our economic thinking to cope with a society that has become wealthy, and therefore we put too much emphasis on producing things, much of which is no longer necessary. The democracies of the west, especially the US and UK, do everything to encourage private enterprise, while at the same time neglecting the public sector, resulting in gross imbalances between rich and poor. No change there then.

Although there are a few areas where the text feels outdated, I was surprised by how much of it is still highly relevant to the present situation. The one weakness, I would suggest, is that because much of this was written in the 1950s, there is the feeling that we don't need to concentrate on manufacturing so much -- that the service sector can take over as the main source of employment in a wealthy society, which is what happened of course, but I think that process went too far and we are paying the price now.
Having recently re-read (and reviewed here) EF Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful', I would highly recommend both books to anyone looking for the real reasons behind today's economic problems.
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on 30 July 2011
JKG's storming of the capitalist Bastille is not meant to free the inmates but to Declare the Rights of Man to Decent Work! First he ponders the hypocrisy of conservatives who are always trying to impose fiscal probity and ergo a cut in aggregate demand yet whose mass production practices can only be profitable if aggregate demand is stimulated either by government spending or by the expansion of credit, usually recklessly. Galbraith affirms at least elliptically, that it is better to have a consumer society sustained on the greater production of non-urgent goods and services (a bigger house, a faster car, bling I suppose etc) if that also means employment for all who are able to and want to work. While the extra goods produced as a result of expanding demand are not really that necessary the income earned by those who are newly employed to produce these goods, and who would otherwise not have work, is vital to the newly employed. Which is obvious and true. This is only one of several good points JKG makes (another: the fact that advertising creates wants and desires that would otherwise not be there in order to support mass produced goods) as he contemplates the consequences of affluence. There's something faintly reminiscent here of Bernard Mandeville's The Fable of The Bees. Read and enjoy.
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on 3 July 2009
I strongly recommend this book, originally written in the 1950s but with Galbraith's comments in the light of events up to the late 1990s. At times, his prescience is eerie, given recent economic developments. He is a gifted ironist, a magisterial prose stylist and piercing thinker. His analysis concludes with the outlines of a programme of action that has not lost much relevance. I suggest 'The Culture of Contentment' and his book on the 'The Great Crash' to complement this.
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on 2 June 2005
i have read all works by the leading economists,past and present(i studied economics&politics),and i can say galbraith is in a league on his own.having read all his works i can say that he is consistent in his assertions about market capitilism.
in the affluent society he forsees the rise of the consumer society.he shows the freemarket system is imperfect.he explains why governments are important,he shows how the military is the third force.he explains the concept of conventional wisdom...and so on.
if you want an antidote to milton friedman(the free market nutcase)then galbraith is it.read the affluent society and ponder
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