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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scathing attack on modern capitalist society
This book by the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith is a scathing critique of modern society. In it, he wittily demolishes the myths that the market and big business are benign, that minimal intervention, inequality and greed are best for the economy, and that there can be accurate economic forecasts.

He writes, "What prevails in real life is not...
Published on 15 May 2009 by William Podmore

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3.0 out of 5 stars Last Will and Testament
This book is the last from one if the twentieth century's greatest economists. To my mind he was also one of the subject's great prose stylists, with great feel for a good phrase as seen in the words "innocent fraud" in the title. There also are flashes of wit and humour in his writing which even his opponents acknowledged. This book has the great man writing not long...
Published on 18 Sep 2012 by Graham Mummery


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scathing attack on modern capitalist society, 15 May 2009
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This book by the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith is a scathing critique of modern society. In it, he wittily demolishes the myths that the market and big business are benign, that minimal intervention, inequality and greed are best for the economy, and that there can be accurate economic forecasts.

He writes, "What prevails in real life is not reality but the current fashion and the pecuniary interest." But in the longer run, reality defeats conventional wisdom.

He describes "the effort to accord the owners, stockholders, shareholders, investors as variously denoted, a seeming role in the enterprise" (and now `stakeholders'). Yet, "the myths of investor authority, of the serving stockholder, the ritual meetings of directors and the annual stockholder meeting persist, but ... corporate power lies with management - a bureaucracy in control of its task and its compensation. Rewards that can verge on larceny." So stock markets and corporate sales fall, yet bonuses soar.

He denounces the folly of relying on cuts in interest rates to bring recovery. As he notes, "Business firms borrow when they can make money and not because interest rates are low." The Federal Reserve Bank's actions were irrelevant, through World War One, the depression, World War Two, and since.

He writes, "The one wholly reliable remedy for recession is a solid flow of consumer demand. Failure in such a flow is a recession. In the United States, especially with stagnation and recession, the lower-income citizen has an acute need for education, health care, a basic family income in one form or another. State and local governments, under the pressure of enhanced demand, cut social outlays. ... The overall effect has been reduced personal and family income and well-being - recession without effective curative action."

Galbraith points out that private firms, massively subsidised by the public, dominate `defence'. He observes, "As the corporate interest moves to power in what was the public sector, it serves, predictably, the corporate interest. That is its purpose. It is most important and most clearly evident in the largest such movement, that of nominally private firms into the defense establishment, the Pentagon. From this comes a primary influence on the military budget. Also, and much more than marginally, on foreign policy, military commitment and, ultimately, military action. War."

Of the attack on Vietnam, Galbraith writes, "During all this time the military establishment in Washington was in support of the war. This, indeed, was assumed. It was occupationally appropriate that both the armed services and the weapons industries should accept and endorse hostilities." So also of the attack on Iraq.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The banks, they're like cathedrals I guess casinos took their place", 3 Mar 2013
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Oliveman (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Despite a bizarre syntax and sentence structure (which at times one has to read 3 or 4 times to get an idea of what he is saying) his ideas and concepts make struggling with his prose worthwhile. Galbraith holds forth on the nature of economics, and their underlying assumptions. He then shows what impact this has on our ethics and morality.

What can we expect when the private sector's fetish for profit maximisation and infinite growth influences the public sphere and permeates the individual's way of thinking and indeed being.

This is nothing less than Galbraith exploding the myth of a benign market that is so beloved of politicians, media and of course big business.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grates rather than great -- but on target for all that, 26 July 2004
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This review is from: The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time (Hardcover)
Much of what Professor Galbraith has written has passed into the economic language of our time -- "the affluent society"; "conventional wisdom" are both phrases coined by him. It may be that "innocent fraud" will pass into the language in time -- but I doubt it. This book does not really have the sharpness and clarity of much of his earlier work -- the targets are being gummed rather than bitten. Forgivable for a man of his age but rather disappointing too. And the gnomic phrasing does not help the fluency of the read since Professor Galbraith adopts a sort of mitteleuropa stylistic device of losing verbs and or placing the verb in front of the subject that rather grates after the third repetition.
But all that having been said, his points are bang on target. And pretty pithily made too. There are lots of loquacious economists who could learn the art of succinctness from reading J K Galbraith
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5.0 out of 5 stars Honest admissions of a great economist, 5 Feb 2014
By 
T. D. Welsh (Basingstoke, Hampshire UK) - See all my reviews
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When I received the package containing this book, I thought it must be a CD - the book is so thin. It runs to a mere 55 pages, and maybe 15,000 words at the outside. On the other hand, it contains the frankest and most honest set of admissions you will ever see from a world-famous economist. Other reviewers have drawn attention to the author's idiosyncratic writing style; but how well will any of us write when we are 95? As he reminds us, Galbraith was in charge of US pricing policy throughout WW2, 60 years before this book was written! His English has always had a pronounced, rather mannered, personal flavour which some find opaque or irritating, but which I thoroughly enjoy. Occasionally this book reads rather like the work of Yoda, but that just adds to its piquancy while reminding us of the magnificent strength and courage it took to create it at all.

That said, there is not a single wasted word. After a lifetime spent battling through the sloughs of academe, business, and government, one gets the impression that Galbraith sat down one day to tell it like it is, and felt he had not a second to spare. The text doesn't look as if it has been revised much, and there is the occasional uncharacteristic error which an editor should certainly have removed - if indeed an editor didn't introduce it. Sincerity shines through every page.

The title is a lovely example of Galbraith's sardonic wit - in some ways, rather like Gore Vidal's. Of course, there is precious little of innocence in the various types and degrees of fraud that he describes. I felt that a more straightforward title would have been "The Systematic, Deliberate, Lucrative Frauds of Economics". In his Introduction, he immediately introduces his main theme: that the conventional wisdom (a phrase he originated) often clashes with reality, and often misleads the vast majority of people. But in the long run, reality always wins - a message strikingly similar to some of Richard Feynman's best-known insights. So it is a good idea to be aware of the errors of conventional wisdom, even if it is not always smart to mention them in public.

The 12 chapters cover a remarkable array of popular beliefs that Galbraith finds unreliable. As "perception is all", he explains why capitalism has come to be called "the market system" instead - even though most markets are rigged and unfair. He punctures the myth of consumer power, reminding us that consumers - like voters - are systematically brainwashed at great expense. With a graceful acknowledgement of Thorstein Veblen's wonderful "The Theory of the Leisure Class", he wonders why the word "work" means such entirely different things for the billions who toil at unpleasant, unrewarding tasks in return for a pittance, and the rich who can afford to enjoy their "work". Business does not escape Galbraith's condemnation, as he highlights the way in which managers have grabbed corporate power from the nominal owners (the shareholders) and denies that big corporations are any less bureaucratic than governments. Forecasts and predictions get short shrift - it was Galbraith who first noted that there are two kinds of forecasters, those who don't know what is going to happen and those who don't know that they don't know what is going to happen. "The men and women so engaged believe and are believed by others to have knowledge of the unknown; research is thought to create such knowledge". As for the generally accepted dichotomy between public and private sectors - well, there is less to that than meets the eye, as the private sector has been busily engaged in invading and taking over what used to be the public sector. Especially when it comes to starting wars for profit...

It is when he turns to the financial sector ("our most prestigious form of fraud, our most elegant escape from reality") that Galbraith really gets warm. He gives the Federal Reserve short shrift, declaring that it has always made important-sounding statements and promised decisive action, while actually accomplishing nothing at all. And he denounces the use of interest rate adjustments to control the economy, suggesting that such measures have little or no effect either.

If you have ever suspected that economists - up to and including those responsible for running our nations' affairs - may simply be replaying the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, this short but extremely pointed book by one of the greatest of them all will confirm your worst fears. But it is surely better to understand the trouble you are in than to go on living in a fool's paradise that must collapse some day soon.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Last Will and Testament, 18 Sep 2012
By 
Graham Mummery (Sevenoaks, Kent England) - See all my reviews
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This book is the last from one if the twentieth century's greatest economists. To my mind he was also one of the subject's great prose stylists, with great feel for a good phrase as seen in the words "innocent fraud" in the title. There also are flashes of wit and humour in his writing which even his opponents acknowledged. This book has the great man writing not long before his death on subjects he often touched upon through his long career, not least how economics could lose touch with reality by becoming too abstract. Much of this seems prescient coming just before the recent financial collapse. It's tempting to speculate on what he would have said about it.

That said, much of what is said in this essay has been said by the great man before. In his masterpiece The Affluent Society: Updated with a New Introduction by the Author (Penguin Business) he raised the matter of private affluence and public squalor, and that classical economics, in concentrating on scarcity, might not have the right answers for an economy where most basic needs were met. In the The New Industrial State He raised the question of large corporate power, and how multinationals could defy governments, and explanations of their behaviour were properly explained by theories of the free market. He was also an entertaining chronicler of the absurdities of financial behaviour which can be seen in as his book The Great Crash 1929 which remains an enlightening read to help understand the behaviour of financiers before the more recent crash.

All of these themes are touched upon in this book. Galbraith's oft quoted dismissal of economic forecasts: "there are those who don't know and those who don't know that they don't know" is consciously given a fresh airing. But Galbraith, though a believer in government action in economies, was also sceptical about government and central banks abilities to solve the current crisis, not least because they were caught up in ideas that had now dated.

All of this has become prescient, and perhaps we do need it now. But Galbraith expressed the ideas better in his earlier works, even if some of the data he used then has since become dated. For readers who want to see what was great about Galbraith, I would suggest looking there.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Agreeable but frustrating, 19 Jun 2005
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J. K. Galbraith is a giant in the field of economics, and thus his writings are given a great deal of respect. Unfortunately, his verbose, staid style does not equate too well with a book of such brevity. Admittedly this is not a fault of the Penguin series (the book was published as-is, previously), but it does make for a surprisingly frustrating read. Perseverance will reveal a number of insights into the flaws in current economic policy; but this reader was disappointed by the sheer effort involved in trying to discern what could have been explained in much clearer language. A shame.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Economical with the truth, 5 Oct 2006
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russ_w (London, England) - See all my reviews
The late Professor Galbraith argues against received wisdom on a number of aspects of contemporary capitalism. There are grains of truth in many of his assertions but, each time, he exaggerates the hell out of them in the hope of battering home his point. I was left resentful much of the time, when a less extreme analysis might have convinced me.

As for his style, one reviewer here calls him 'verbose', while another calls him 'succinct' and 'pithy'. They're both right, and it's all bad. He's succinct because he writes lots of sentences without verbs, leaving the reader to guess the missing word. But he also writes sentences like "Management behaviour can also be improved by thoughtful contemplation of the wholly real possibility of less than agreeable incarceration." Halving the number of words could have doubled the clarity of that remark, and of many others.
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The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time
The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time by John Kenneth Galbraith (Hardcover - April 2004)
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