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John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics Hardcover – 16 Feb 2005

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 16 Feb 2005
£22.05 £3.15
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 820 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (16 Feb. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281687
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.4 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,389,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Richard Parker has produced a rich, well-written and fittingly
large monument to this super-sized intellectual of the 20th century." -- Stephen Clarkson, Globe and Mail --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Richard Parker is an economist and senior fellow of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and children. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Richard Parker, a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, has written a superb biography of the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Parker sets Galbraith's career in its historical and intellectual contexts and relates the fascinating range of debates he was involved in.

In the 1930s, the orthodox response to crisis was, then as now, to cut wages and jobs. By contrast, the New Deal, which Galbraith worked for, aimed to restore consumer demand, not business confidence. Higher incomes increased investment. Similarly, China, seeing the growing protectionism around the world, in 2006 shifted focus from exports to increasing domestic demand. Galbraith thought that funding public spending through borrowing was fine, so long as the work produced real gains in productivity, growth and assets.

But the New Deal was never enough to end the depression. Federal spending, 7% of GDP in 1932, was only 10% by 1940. US unemployment was never less than 14% before 1939 rearmament. Only world war ended capitalism's depression.

In the 1960s, President Kennedy increased spending, but 75% of the rise was in the military and the space programme. Military spending rose from $46 billion to $54 billion, double all federal social spending. Galbraith repeatedly warned Kennedy that military spending, power and intervention all carried terrible costs, and in particular he warned Kennedy against attacking Vietnam.

Throughout his career, Galbraith supported a fair trade policy. He also backed direct and indirect regulation of polluters and of land and resource use, and called for an environmental excise tax to cut energy consumption.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well written review of Galbraith's contribution to economic thought follows the turbulent history of post war USA. The personalities emerge in a new light and one gets a glimpse of the working of US administration.

An insightful and entertaining read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x92658a20) out of 5 stars 21 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92631420) out of 5 stars An interdisciplinary biography 21 Aug. 2005
By Shawn S. Sullivan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Parker's John Kenneth Galbraith is an exceedingly well written and assiduously researched biography. Perhaps most impressive it the ease with which Parker weaves JKB's life, economic theories and beliefs, the development of Keynesian economics and virtually all post-WWI US history. While there is little doubt this work is about JKB and his influence on economic theory and policy, his extraordinary busy life, and political connections made initially at Harvard as an instuctor (and, later, as a tenured professor) Parker does a superb job integrating a prodigous amount of US history and policy in a very well annoted fashion and with a marvelous economy of prose.

Galbraith, always a controversial scholar, never could be accused of hiding any political agenda. A true believer in the New Deal and a Great Society, he obviously believed in a coordinated, but not limitless, goverenment role in a capitalistic society. Those who have studied economics to any degree have the Latin phase drilled in their heads, ceterus paribus - other things equal. Galbraith thought this analysis and seemingly erudite and complex other mathematical formulas pure rubbish. As an undergrad in the late 70's I distinctly remember a terrific professor of mine "catching" me reading An Affluent Society. He teased me about my "leftist leanings". But Galbraith always challenged my assumptions, and, obviously millions of others. Parker perhaps should be accused of a positive bias toward his subject. That said, he makes his arguments quite cogent and exceeding well annoted.

While I think this book is a must read for those interested in 20th century economic thought, policy or history I would certainly encourage ALL to read the antepenultimate chapter, Joy Fades. It is the finest 24 pages I have ever read on "conservative" vs. "liberal" economic beliefs and policy.

Richard Parker's John Kenneth Galbraith is a real winner. It should be read and on the book shelves of all US historians and economists. It is one terrific read on a truly remarkable intellectual.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9263166c) out of 5 stars Dense and interesting, but a little heavy on the economics 17 April 2005
By David J. Loftus - Published on
Format: Hardcover
John Kenneth Galbraith has been the most famous and widely read economist in the world. An engaging writer and drily quotable, he published four dozen books and countless articles, served as adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and regularly blasted subsequent Republican administrations. Galbraith served on a post-war commission that studied strategic bombing of Germany (and concluded that despite its tremendous moral cost, it had had little or no effect on the Nazi war machine-much to our military's embarrassment), had a successful two-year stint as ambassador to India, was an early and vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and even published three novels.

Richard Parker presents the first substantial biography of this six-foot-eight-inch, Canadian-born Harvard professor who refused to hide in academia. As co-founding editor and publisher of "Mother Jones" magazine, consultant and fundraiser for Democratic candidates and Greenpeace, and finally Harvard professor of economics and public policy himself, Parker was almost uniquely situated to draw a richly sympathetic portrait. Galbraith is not an inherently interesting man, nor do his life and theories present an especially compelling read. What makes the book worthwhile is its mosaic of the many worlds through which Galbraith moved: It offers an excellent review of recent political and economic history, though the slant is decidedly liberal.

It's good to be reminded that different political parties have repeatedly been thought dead (the Democrats in 1955 and 1985, Republicans in 1941 and 1965), only to rise again, and that the nation handled dire economic crises (inflation in 1971, the first oil crisis in 1973, the Depression itself), if uneasily and temporarily. Galbraith forecast the failure of Republican economic policies, the growth of corporate management that is unresponsive to shareholders and manipulates demand, and repeatedly scolded his profession for its increasing worship of complex mathematical modeling that ignores huge chunks of political and economic reality-such as burgeoning military budgets or the public good-to make the numbers work.

He saw the details as well as the big picture, and practiced what he preached. Galbraith froze his own Harvard salary after his books began to sell, and turned back the surplus to his department. He gave his longtime housekeeper a condo upon her retirement, directed a percentage of his books' royalties to his assistant and editor, and set up an anonymous fund to assist students who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant.

Parker seems to want to reach a broader, general audience, but his explanations of economic theory will leave lay readers lost. One would do well to keep a dummy's or complete idiot's guide to economics by one's elbow while reading this book.

Not terribly lively but solid, this book offers plenty of consolation for the mournful blue stater who chooses to scale it, and food for thought about where we might (and maybe should) be headed.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x926318ac) out of 5 stars Galbraith - An Economist's View 21 July 2005
By Rolf Zerges - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Paul Samuelson was one third correct about JKG. As Samuelson notes, Galbraith was an "economist for non-economists". But as an economist myself, JKG was also an economist for economists and for thinking people everywhere. He revolutionised and demystified economics within its political and social contexts for millions. Parker does an excellent job in capturing the genius of his thought and impact. Teaching economics, as I do, is so much more a pleasure now that Galbraith's perspectives can be added to the conventional wisdom. I'm afraid most of his critics have lacked the ability to generate an original thought, so Galbraith provides an easy target since he has produced so many of them.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92631c0c) out of 5 stars A superb biography of a great man. 4 Aug. 2005
By John Beasley - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have long been an admirer of Ken Galbraith, and on occasion, have labored in the same vineyard. We are indeed fortunate to have the talented Mr. Parker present us with this well documented, well scripted review of Ken Galbraith's life. The fact that Parker is himself well steeped in economics and shares with Galbraith the capacity to translate what can be viewed as arcane aspects of that science in language that lay persons can cope with makes this book even better than a simple retelling of aspects of a fascinating life, Galbraiths's intellectual growth and his towering role in public events make for an exciting story, and Parker tells it very well. Every "liberal" should love it; every conservative could benefit from it.
50 of 64 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92631e28) out of 5 stars The high tide of the Keynesian era 11 Feb. 2005
By John C. Landon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This colorful and anecdotal biography of Galbraith stretches across almost the whole of the twentieth century and in the telling leaves behind a cogent history of economics and American government, stretching from the Keynsian revolution to the breaking up of the classic liberalism of the Roosevelt era beginning with Nixon. Galbraith's life puts a lens to the fine grain of virtually all the significant developments since the decade of the thirties and the Depression and leaves behind a lot of insightful asides about the interaction of economists with politicians. The record of clear-headed advice given, but not always taken, has some grimmer moments, such as the repeated cautions and warnings from Galbraith about Vietnam, even as Kennedy was overtaken by events. The picture of the high-tide of Keynesianism is refreshing after two decades of economic sophistry from the post-Reagan generation. You would think that Republicans could manage economies, but the record shows a great fall, as the crackpots with their fancy models and the rest of the looters took over. We could use some the common sense and economic basics that Galbraith once provided (and he wasn't a kneejerk Keynsian). Instead we may be undone by the voodoo artists and their laffer curves, nothing to laugh at anymore as the American public gets swindled one more time. Superb double history, the man, and the American scene.
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