Monday, May 01, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith Posted by Picasa
Prophet of the Consumer Society

So soon after Jane Jacobs, another great influence on how we can conceptualized Shopopolis passed away Sunday: John Kenneth Galbraith. He was 97.

It was my good fortune that the first book on economics I read was his The Affluent Society. It became central to my first college paper, and had no small influence on my book, The Malling of America.

Galbraith was not only an economist whose analysis of affluence and the place of corporate power in capitalism is perhaps more pertinent today than ever, but he was a great stylist--an economist, political observer and teacher "addicted to writing," and also very good at it.

His sense of style carried over into his life, and perhaps that also made him a natural for the Kennedy administration. He also served FDR and was a principal author of LBJ's Great Society, (he wrote LBJ's speech on it as well) though disagreement over Vietnam drove him away from government, and from keeping his ironic eye on implementation.

He remained an active and popular lecturer at Harvard for many years. A photo of him in 1998 shows more vitality than many others decades younger could muster. One of his 33 books--and another of my favorites--is called Economics, Peace and Laughter. That was John Kenneth Galbraith. Here's his lengthy and fascinating obit in the New York Times.