Fawning Over Galbraith – to a Point

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The
New York Review of Books is a well-edited magazine and the
writing in it is of high quality. That's not to say the writers
tell it like it is, unfortunately, so the recent kudos, delivered
in the way of a review of a book about the famous Harvard "economist,"
manages to avoid saying perhaps what's most interesting about John
Kenneth Galbraith's recent intellectual development.

Professor
Galbraith has been as avid a socialist in the American academy as
that's possible to be without coming off utterly ridiculous. He
has managed to cling to his Leftist-statist dreams about how a society
should be organized by blaming everything that's gone wrong in the
country on capitalism, never mind that blaming the mixed economy
and the absence of bona fide free markets would have been much more
credible and defensible. Of course, because when it comes to truths
about social affairs testing them is difficult – we cannot run experiments
sticking a few millions into fascist, another few into socialist,
then yet another into welfare states and into capitalist laboratories – dreamers
can fare well enough.

Now
you may believe that I am engaging here in some distortion – isn't
it to beg the question to call Galbraith and his American socialist
pals "dreamers"? Well, not if you listen to, you guessed
it, Galbraith himself.

This
famous champion of nationalization of much of American industry
– in one of his books in the 1970s, The
New Industrial State
– and the fierce regulation of
corporate commerce, as well as the view that consumers are imprisoned
by way of advertising (check out his The
Affluent Society
for this one), ultimately changed his mind,
shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. I recall reading an
interview in Alitalia Airlines' in-flight magazine, as I flew from
Rome to Athens some years ago, where Galbraith stated unequivocally
that capitalism is the winner between the two major alternatives
in contemporary political economy. He was asked, in an interview
published in the October 1996 issue of the magazine, "You spoke
of the failure of socialism. Do you see this as a total failure,
a counterproductive alternative?" To this question he replied
as follows:

"I'd
make a distinction here. What failed was the entrepreneurial state,
but it had some beneficial effect. I do not believe that there are
any radical alternatives, but there are correctives. The only alternative
socialism, that is the alternative to the market economy, has failed.
The market system is here to stay."

Nothing
about this appeared in the fawning review in The New York Review
of Books; the piece makes it appear that Galbraith, who is now
97, has remained an unreconstructed socialist (of the "democratic"
variety). One may, I believe, assume that this has less to do with
what Galbraith actually believes now than with what the author of
the review, Jeffrey Madrick, an economist at the New School for
Social Research and editor of Challenge Magazine, believes.

(Nor
did Mr. Madrick report one of Galbraith
most perceptive remarks
, namely, "You will find that the
State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things
badly, does small things badly, too."

I
recall, in this connection, that when Robert Heilbroner, another
long time champion of socialism, died recently, none of the obits
reproduced his famous declaration, made in The New Yorker Magazine,
namely, "Ludwig von Mises…had written of the u2018impossibility'
of socialism, arguing that no Central Planning Board could ever
gather the enormous amount of information needed to create a workable
economic system…. It turns out, of course, that Mises was right…."

You
need to watch out when current dreamers laud the thinking of older
ones: Do they reveal the whole truth or only the portion that gives
their dreams some measure of respectability?

May
19, 2005

Tibor
Machan [send
him mail
] is
R. C. Hoiles Professor of business ethics at Chapman University,
Orange CA. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and
advises Freedom Communications, Inc., on libertarian issues. He
is author of 30+ books, most recently, Objectivity:
Recovering Determinate Reality in Philosophy, Science, and Everyday
Life
and his memoir, The
Man Without a Hobby
.

Tibor
Machan Archives

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