The Predator State by James K. Galbraith
In The Affluent Society (1958), a biting critique of America’s postwar economic boom, the late John Kenneth Galbraith maintained that the ease and comfort of one class had been gained at the expense of everybody else. The book, which spent a year on the New York Times best-seller list, is still required reading in many high-school and college classrooms. One of its most caustic and frequently quoted passages imagines a prototypically affluent American family “out for a tour” in their “mauve and cerise, air-conditioned, power-steered, and power-braked automobile.” The car, in Galbraith’s nightmare vision,
passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground. . . . [The travelers] picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night at a park, which is a menace to public health and morals. Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect on the curious unevenness of their blessings. Is this, indeed, the American genius?
About the Author
Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, a new contributor, worked for ten years as an editor and columnist at Barron’s. She is now teaching at Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism