Monday, May 01, 2006

For a Bit of Balance

Alex Singleton, Globalisation Institute, 30 April, offers a bit of balance for one-way eulogies about Galbraith:

He will, perhaps, be best remembered for his infamous praise of the Soviet economy in the 1980s. Writing in The New Yorker, he said: "That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene... One sees it in the appearance of well-being of the people on the streets...Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower." Separately, he said that that standing on the Berlin Wall: "Looking in either direction it really makes no great difference". But by this point Reagan and Thatcher were both in power who recognised the failure of the state command-and-control economic ideas followed in post-war period. The Soviet economy collapsed, and Galbraith was out of fashion.”

It’s always amazing what one cannot see for looking in making sweeping judgements about economies or societies or their politics if you have a certainty about your theory of how the world works. It’s much the same with a lot of anti-Americanism today - only the bits consistent with your world view are seen; the abundant contrary evidence dims in comparison. To lighten this up a bit, stern football fans of a particular team see every slight knock by another team as warranting the referee’s dismissal.

Galbraith in this judgement was woefully wrong, much like Karl Marx, for all his studying of 19th century capitalism and his conclusions that it would collapse under the strain of falling living standards for the already starving workers. But in Galbraith’s case, to err is human, to forgive divine. He did so much more that to make the odd serious mistake hardly condemns his life’s work out of hand. And it is still worth reading to see how economics might be written.

Read Alex Singleton’s article at:


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