“Corporate power is the driving force behind US foreign policy – and the slaughter in Iraq.”
John Kenneth Galbraith, a towering figure in the intellectual landscape of the 20th century, died Saturday at the age of 97. Born in Canada, he moved to the States when Roosevelt was President – and he stayed here. He was an economist, author, professor, frequent presidential counselor, U.S. ambassador to India, editor of FORTUNE magazine (1943–48), and was the driector of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. He foresaw what has now happened in America. He was insightful, eloquent, and witty – and had that rare talent of being able to express his ideas in ways that non-academics could understand. He had rural roots and a moral imperative: the common good. His lectures (for some 25 years at Harvard professor) routinely drew standing-room-only audiences. He authored some 40 books and was granted some 50 honorary degrees.
He warned that corporations were becoming too powerful. His famous 1958 work “The Affluent Society” argued that while market forces could produce great wealth, it was at a social and environmental cost that wasn’t so obvious. More specifically, while the American economy produced wealth, it did not adequately address public needs such as schools – it did not meet the social contract in proportion to its wealth. Overproduction of consumer goods was already harming the public sector and depriving Americans of such benefits as clean air, clean streets, good schools and support for the arts. An unfettered free market system and capitalism without regulation would fail to meet basic social demands.
The New Industrial State (1967) argued that the rise of giant multi-national corporations had also created a bureaucratic “technostructure” that exercised a powerful influence over the economy. In Economics and the Public Purpose (1973) he discussed a bureaucratic reciprocity between big government and big business that often worked against the public interest.
“The family which takes its mauve and cerise, air-conditioned, power-steered, and power-braked automobile out for a tour 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. They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night in 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 vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings.”
On trickle-down economics:
“If you feed the horse enough oats, the sparrow will survive on the highway.”
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”
Capitalism vs Communism:
“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”
A few years ago, I saw an interview with him in which he was asked what was different about the Bush administration. He said something to the effect that for the first time, corporations are running our government directly.
(If anyone can find that quotation or a reference, please comment – I’d appreciate it.)