Galbraith?s Obit Distortions
Tibor R. Machan
Not even the obituaries can be trusted now. Having been told of the death
of John Kenneth Galbraith, the famed socialist economist?who taught at
Harvard University for most of his life and was once John Kennedy?s
ambassador to India?I read his obituary in The New York Times (both print
and on line) and on several Web sites, including MSN.com, via my Hotmail
I have been following the works of Galbraith for many years, since the
1960s after his The Affluent Society was published in 1958 in which, among
other things, he aired his oft-reprinted attack on advertising. This is
the piece that presented the view that ads produce desires in us which we
then must satisfy, thus becoming addicted to products and services we do
not need and taking resources from important public projects and diverting
them into the coffers of greedy corporations. It is also where Lyndon
Johnson?s idea of the Great Society, following such previous utopian
statist experiments as FDR?s New Deal and JFK?s New Frontier, got its send
Galbraith was one of the most prominent and widely published defenders of
a form of socialism dubbed in political economic circles as ?democratic.?
Although he was always easier on the Soviet Union?s version of centrally
planned, dictatorial socialism than even some other democratic socialists,
Galbraith was more eager to promote the notion?a very simple, even
dogmatic one?that capitalism is captive to corporate greed and that the
government must barge in to rescue us from this insidious, wild beast in
the market place. This was his eruditely produced but ultimately boring
mantra in nearly every one of his essays and books.
But none of the obituaries made any mention of Galbraith the socialist.
Instead every one I read called him a liberal. Why?
In America and some other countries the term ?liberal? used to refer to
someone who advocated individual liberty, including free trade?the liberty
to engage in voluntary economic exchanges without anyone allowed to
intrude, be it a criminal or a cop. But during the 19th century the
meaning of ?liberal? has been changed by theorists who saw how much favor
a policy gained when regarded as liberal, never mind that theirs wasn?t at
all the genuine article but in fact a mercantilist or socialist pretender.
There was, however, one bit of intellectual support for this: sometimes
we do use ?liberty? or ?freedom? in the sense in which such folks mean it,
namely, to come to be rid of impediments to our actions. ?I am free of
this headache, finally,? or ?He is now at liberty to by that home.? And
that notion rests on having obtained the support or resources whereby the
headache was overcome and the home could be purchased, never mind whence
So it became kosher to say that someone who wants the government to steal
from Peter to enable Paul to get rid of his headache or buy a home is,
well, a liberal, a supporter of a certain sort of liberty or freedom, very
different from what used to be meant by ?liberal.? All sorts of statists
jumped at the chance to call themselves liberals henceforth, thus
eschewing the dirty word ?socialist? which came to be associated with
dictatorial regimes such as the Soviet Union.
This was essentially a ruse?these liberals, including Galbraith,
advocated massive government intervention into the lives of citizens, with
the delusional belief in how pure of heart and bright of mind politicians
and bureaucrats are, in comparison to you and me and the rest of us simple
and mean blokes doing work in markets. Not one of the obituaries, however,
pointed this out about Galbraith but made him out to be a grand champion
of human liberty, an unqualified liberal!
Well, when even obituary writers join in on the distortion of the news so
as to support a political agenda such as whitewashing the record of an
avid fan of government supremacy, we are in deep trouble. Especially when
not long after the fall of the Soviet Union that avid fan actually
admitted that capitalism is superior to socialism.
When Galbraith was asked in October 1995 about capitalism, he said ?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."