Affluence, Galbraith, the Democrats
AT THE recent Republican convention, Senator Barry Goldwater varied the occasion’s ritual excoriation of Democrats by accusing them of having abandoned Jefferson and Jackson in favor of: “Bowles, Galbraith, and Reuther.” And the country’s newspaper columnists-with James Reston of the New York Times in the lead-have been telling us for some time now that Professor John Kenneth Galbraith’s intellectual labors will surely exert great influence on future Democratic policies. A major political impact, in fact, has been ascribed to Galbraith’s The Affluent Society by the cognoscenti; a fresh look at this 1958 bestseller may therefore be in order-quite apart from its intrinsic interest.
Recently, too, Professor Galbraith has brought out The Liberal Hour,* a book less ambitious than The Affluent Society, but no less entertaining. Contrary to what the title may suggest, The Liberal Hour does not offer a political program but a string of essays ranging from “Economics and Art” to “Was Ford a Fraud?” They show Galbraith at his best: a deft and clever writer, full of erudite biases, and never dull. But the more political his biases become, the less they bear serious examination. Thus, in the most programmatic of the present essays, we are told that ” Inflation . . . is not without conservative appeal,” though it is no secret that the conservative right (Republicans, Tories, French rightists) always has been less tolerant of inflation, and more of depression, than the liberal left (Democrats, Laborites, French Socialists), which has traditionally been more sensitive to depression than to inflation. Sometimes, apparently, Galbraith writes more as a Democrat than a historian or economist; at other times, he seems to write purely as a Galbraithian-for example when he proposes government price control of our big industries as the foremost remedy for inflation: Galbraith was in charge of price control during the war and has had a weakness for it ever since-not shared, to my knowledge, even by his fellow Democrats.
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