Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Evil That Men Do...

Perhaps responsible for the demise of cars like the classic 1957 Chrysler 300 pictured above, one of the worst of the 20th century's pop socialist economists passes away at age 97:

John Kenneth Galbraith, the iconoclastic economist, teacher and diplomat and an unapologetically liberal member of the political and academic establishment that he needled in prolific writings for more than half a century, died yesterday at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He was 97.

....Mr. Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics; among his 33 books was "The Affluent Society" (1958), one of those rare works that forces a nation to re-examine its values. He wrote fluidly, even on complex topics, and many of his compelling phrases — among them "the affluent society," "conventional wisdom" and "countervailing power" — became part of the language.

An imposing presence, lanky and angular at 6 feet 8 inches tall, Mr. Galbraith was consulted frequently by national leaders, and he gave advice freely, though it may have been ignored as often as it was taken.

Not ignored as often as he deserved unfortunately, as he was an important figure in both FDR's wartime price control office and adviser (and speech writer) to LBJ's Great Society programs (which are largely the source of the Federal government's future budget woes) .

His major positive contribution to economics was to provide Nobelist George Stigler with an unending series of opportunities for use of his rapier wit. Such as this from Do Economists Matter directed at Galbraith's silly claim that advertising existed solely to create a desire in consumers for unnecessary products:

...consumers generally determine what will be produced and producers make profits by discovering more precisely what consumers want and producing it more cheaply. Some may entertain a tinge of doubt about this proposition, thanks to the energy and skill of Professor Galbraith, but even his large talents hardly raise a faint thought that I live in a house rather than a tent because of the comparative advertising outlays of the two industries.

Unfortunately Stigler did not live to be 97.

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