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on 15 September 2017
Excellent piece of writing, I remember Mr Galbraith from being on TV when I was a child many decades ago and he seemed very smart to me even then!
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on 19 February 2011
I would recommend this book without hesitation. Written by a man in his 90s who had led a remarkable life and who further was old enough, and established enough, to say what he wanted to. All in a spirit of uncompromising intellectual honesty, and with the undercurrent of dry humour for which he will long be remembered. An interesting complement to an earlier, quietly pessimistic work, The Culture of Contentment.
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on 22 February 2010
Galbraith has a brand and a wit and wisdom that is instantly recognisable. His writing is accessible and some of his thoughts are portentuous - in particular his interpretation of the internal dynamics of the modern corporation are thoughtful for an academic not schooled in the politics of the modern workplace. In other places, his thought is far from original - the well worn passages about the modern military/ industrial complex are 50 years old. So overall it is good, but for a small book there is too much chaff with the wheat, especially when there has been so much more to say on the subject.
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on 18 May 2017
Only cost 1 penny- what does that say about the economy? Read this, it won't answer the question but it may interest you in the subject.
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on 2 July 2017
Graham Mummery, in his review here, considers that JK Galbraith was "one of the subject's great prose stylists". Although I like and respect Galbraith very much, I disagree with Graham on that point. Galbraith's prose style was awful. He had a large collection of stylistic tics that he repeated ad nauseam, and he seems to have had a particular hatred of verbs.

Regarding the stylistic tics specifically, the book is full of archaisms and old-fashioned usage, both in choice of vocabulary and also in sentence structure. In the vocabulary, there is extensive use of "therein, herewith, thus", etc. and in sentence structure he is particulary fond of a prepositional_phrase - subject - object sequence that quickly becomes very grating, e.g. "of this state of affairs there are many examples". And then there is his dislike for verbs, e.g. "Here the innocent fraud."

I believe the publishers bear a great deal of the blame. His editor should have been honest with him about this and found someone to modernise his prose for him. I have a recommendation for the publishers: if you had spent a few quid on a editor to modernise the prose, the book might be selling on Amazon for more than the current price of one penny that it is being offered at. That's basic ecomomics ;-)
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on 15 May 2009
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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on 18 December 2009
As a fan of J K Galbraith's reflections on economic, social and political history I was keen to read what he had to say about capitalism and corporate management in the light of the Enron scandal shortly before this "book" was written. I was initially surprised and felt somewhat cheated when the "book" turned out to be a slim 74 pages of large print. I'm not sure whether he dictated, what he himself calls this "small book" and "extended essay", but there is - at least to my mind - evidence of repetition and some wandering of thought processes such that the main arguments in the book could be condensed into a precis of little more than 10 pages.

However I do not begrudge paying for the book one bit.

There is much of real value packed into these reflections and I think it is represents money well worth spending. It might only take a 1 hour commute to read but it will be the cause of much reflection for days if not months after.

The publication synthesises much of Galbraith's previous writings about capitalism, markets, the public/private dichotomy, the affluent society, countervailing power, conspicuous consumption (attributed to Thorstein Veblen), the industrial miltary complex (attributed to Eisenhower). It also draws on his experience in market regulation under the New Deal, his (sadly) quietly forgotten analysis of the failure of aerial bombing to affect industrial production in Germany during WWII and subsequent insight into the human tragedy that was Vietnaam and is Iraq (both of which demonstrate that the myth of "aerial supremacy" remains stronger than the reality. In fact much of the publication draws attention to the reality behind many similar modern day economic and financial myths that provide comfort to the culture of contentment.

Having recently re-read his prescient 1992 essay on "The Culture of Contentment" - which predicted and yet offers a plausible analysis of both the current financial collapse and widening inequality of our times - I was attracted by the prospect of further reflections some 18 months before his death in 2006. I was not disappointed.

The essay starts out by arguing that the term "market economy" has come to replace "capitalism" because it has few of the other's connotations with exploitation and stands on the myth of consumer sovereignty. It goes on to demonstrate that the modern corporation is in reality a bureaucracy; that the word "work" is now used for 2 different types of occupation - hard boring manual labour - often poorly rewarded - and the self serving pleasurable world of the leisure classes where innocent fraud rewards luck allied to an ability to deceive.

As is usual with JKG there are delightful tongue in cheek judgments about gullibility and deceit, but underlying it all is the considered wisdom of one who has both walked and talked in the real world. JKG presents a non distorting mirror to those who want to see the reality behind the economic, financial, corporate and political fraud of recent times.
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on 30 November 2011
As usual Galbraith is very funny to read. And, as usual, he put his finger on the on the the sore spot of the financial marked's policy. It is very revieling to read, now that the markedkapitalism is on its knees, and the banks have to ask governements to save them from bankrupsy.
The book is as up to date as can be !
olfred
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on 5 February 2014
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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on 30 November 2012
Clear as ever considering this was written in 2004 you can read it in a couple of hours there is no wasted effort in the text Our leaders should read it
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