Fawning over Galbraith?to a Point
Tibor R. Machan
The New York Review of Books is a well edited magazine and the writing in
it is of high quality. That?s not to say the writers tell it like it is,
unfortunately, so the recent kudos, delivered in the way of a review of a
book about the famous Harvard ?economist,? manages to avoid saying perhaps
what?s most interesting about John Kenneth Galbraith?s recent intellectual
Professor Galbraith has been as avid a socialist in the American academy
as that?s possible to be without coming off utterly ridiculous. He has
managed to cling to his Leftist-statist dreams about how a society should
be organized by blaming everything that?s gone wrong in the country on
capitalism, never mind that blaming the mixed economy and the absence of
bona fide free markets would have been much more credible and defensible.
Of course, because when it comes to truths about social affairs testing
them is difficult?we cannot run experiments sticking a few millions into
fascists, another few into socialist, then yet another into welfare states
and into capitalist laboratories?dreamers can fare well enough.
Now you may believe that I am engaging here in some distortion?isn?t it
to beg the question to call Galbraith and his American socialist pals
?dreamers?? Well, not if you listen to, you guessed it, Galbraith himself.
This famous champion of nationalization of much of American industry?in
one of his books in the 1970s, The New Industrial State?and the fierce
regulation of corporate commerce, as well as the view that consumers are
imprisoned by way of advertising (which out his The Affluent Society for
this one), ultimately changed his mind, shortly after the fall of the
Soviet Union. I recall reading an interview in Alitalia Airlines?
in-flight magazine, as I flew from Rome to Athens some years ago, where
Galbraith stated unequivocally that capitalism is the winner between the
two major alternatives in contemporary political economy. He was asked, in
an interview published in the October 1996 issue of the magazine, "You
spoke of the failure of socialism. Do you see this as a total failure, a
counterproductive alternative?" To this question he replied as follows:
"I'd make a distinction here. What failed was the entrepreneurial state,
but it had some beneficial effect. I do not believe that there are any
radical alternatives, but there are correctives. The only alternative
socialism, that is the alternative to the market economy, has failed. The
market system is here to stay."
Nothing about this appeared in the fawning review in The New York Review
of Books; the piece makes it appear that Galbraith, who is now 97, has
remained an unreconstructed socialist (of the ?democratic? variety). One
may, I believe, assume that this has less to do with what Galbraith
actually believes now than with what the author of the review, Jeffrey
Madrick, an economist at the New School for Social Research and editor of
Challenge Magazine, believes.
(Nor did Mr. Madrick report one of Galbraith most perceptive remarks,
namely, ?You will find that the State is the kind of organization which,
though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too? [[
I recall, in this connection, that when Robert Heilbroner, another long
time champion of socialism, died recently, none of the obits reproduced
his famous declaration, made in The New Yorker Magazine, namely, ??Ludwig
von Mises...had written of the ?impossibility? of socialism, arguing that
no Central Planning Board could ever gather the enormous amount of
information needed to create a workable economic system....It turns out,
of course, that Mises was right....?
You need to watch out when current dreamers loud the thinking of older
ones: Do they reveal the whole truth or only the portion that gives their
dreams some measure of respectability?