John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics Hardcover – 16 Feb 2005
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"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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
An insightful and entertaining read
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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