John Kenneth Galbraith

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I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I'm for that. Where the government is necessary, I'm for that. I'm deeply suspicious of somebody who says, "I'm in favor of privatization," or, "I'm deeply in favor of public ownership." I'm in favor of whatever works in the particular case.

John Kenneth Galbraith (15 October 190829 April 2006) was a Canadian-American economist and author.

Quotes[edit]

There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.
When you see reference to a new paradigm you should always, under all circumstances, take cover.
I believe the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.
  • In the usual (though certainly not in every) public decision on economic policy, the choice is between courses that are almost equally good or equally bad. It is the narrowest decisions that are most ardently debated. If the world is lucky enough to enjoy peace, it may even one day make the discovery, to the horror of doctrinaire free-enterprisers and doctrinaire planners alike, that what is called capitalism and what is called socialism are both capable of working quite well.
    • "The American Economy: Its Substance and Myth," quoted in Years of the Modern (1949), ed. J.W. Chase
  • You roll back the stones, and you find slithering things. That is the world of Richard Nixon.
    • Adlai Stevenson speech, Los Angeles (1956), written by Galbraith
  • There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.
  • Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
  • In the really hard cases you're choosing between the disastrous and the catastrophic, and it's hard to tell someone which one is which.
  • Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable, much more so than we allow ourselves to imagine. A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does.
    • Foreword to The Beach Book by Gloria Steinem (1963); reprinted in Galbraith's A View from the Stands (1986)
  • Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay.
    • Made to Last (1964), ch. 4
  • People are the common denominator of progress. So, paucis verbis, no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated. It would be wrong to dismiss the importance of roads, railroads, power plants, mills, and the other familiar furniture of economic development. At some stages of development — the stage that India and Pakistan have reached, for example — they are central to the strategy of development. But we are coming to realize, I think, that there is a certain sterility in economic monuments that stand alone in a sea of illiteracy. Conquest of illiteracy comes first.
    • Economic Development (1964), ch. 2
  • Then the shit hit the fan.
    • Ambassador's Journal (1969), p. 45. Galbraith claimed to have originally coined this phrase in A Life In Our Times (1981), p. 274
  • Meetings are a great trap. ... they are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.
    • Ambassador's Journal (1969), p. 84
  • You will find that [the] State [Department] is the kind of organisation which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly too.
    • Quoted in conversation with Charles Frankel, High on Foggy Bottom: an outsider's inside view of the Government (1969), p. 11
  • In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.
  • Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
    • Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971), p. 50
  • Do not be alarmed by simplification, complexity is often a device for claiming sophistication, or for evading simple truths.
    • The Age of Uncertainty (1977), BBC Television series (also published in book form, non verbatim version)
  • Much literary criticism comes from people for whom extreme specialization is a cover for either grave cerebral inadequacy or terminal laziness, the latter being a much cherished aspect of academic freedom.
    • "H.L. Mencken," The Washington Post (1980-09-14); reprinted in A View from the Stands (1986)
  • Any country that has Milton Friedman as an adviser has nothing to fear from a few million Arabs.
    • on Friedman's advising of the Israeli government, "The Private Man and the Public Life; Interview With Galbraith", The Washington Post' (1981-04-26)
  • Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy—what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.
    • "Recession Economics," New York Review of Books, Volume 29, Number 1 (1982-02-04)
  • Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence.
  • Any consideration of the life and larger social existence of the modern corporate man... begins and also largely ends with the effect of one all-embracing force. That is organization — the highly structured assemblage of men, and now some women, of which he is a part. It is to this, at the expense of family, friends, sex, recreation and sometimes health and effective control of alcoholic intake, that he is expected to devote his energies.
    • "Corporate Man," The New York Times (1984-01-22)
  • Increasingly in recent times we have come first to identify the remedy that is most agreeable, most convenient, most in accord with major pecuniary or political interest, the one that reflects our available faculty for action; then we move from the remedy so available or desired back to a cause to which that remedy is relevant.
    • "The Convenient Reverse of Logic in Our Time," commencement address, American University (1984); reprinted in A View from the Stands (1986)
  • In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.
  • In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.
  • There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.
  • In the first place I identify this ["the equilibrium of poverty"] with primitive agriculture, and two factors have been at work there. One is, of course, population growth. If you were a poor farmer in India, Pakistan, or in much of Africa, you would want as many sons as possible as your social security. They would keep you out of the hot sun and give you some form of subsistence in your old age. So, you have pressure for population growth that is, itself, the result of the extreme economic insecurity. This is something which hasn't been sufficiently emphasized.
    • Interview with John Newark (1990) from Interviews with John Kenneth Galbraith (2004), ed. James Ronald Stanfield and Jacqueline Bloom Stanfield [2]
  • One must always have in mind one simple fact — there is no literate population in the world that is poor, and there is no illiterate population that is anything but poor.
    • Interview with John Newark (1990) from Interviews with John Kenneth Galbraith (2004), ed. James Ronald Stanfield and Jacqueline Bloom Stanfield
  • We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had much.
  • The great dialectic in our time is not, as anciently and by some still supposed, between capital and labor; it is between economic enterprise and the state.
    • A History of Economics (1991), ch. 21
  • People who are in a fortunate position always attribute virtue to what makes them so happy.
  • There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is worth a billion dollars.
  • The contented and economically comfortable have a very discriminating view of government. Nobody is ever indignant about bailing out failed banks and failed savings and loans associations... But when taxes must be paid for the lower middle class and poor, the government assumes an aspect of wickedness.
  • We now in the United States have more security guards for the rich than we have police services for the poor districts. If you're looking for personal security, far better to move to the suburbs than to pay taxes in New York.
  • It is my guiding confession that I believe the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.
    • A Journey Through Economic Time (1994)
  • Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.
    • Interview with Lorie Conway (1997) from Interviews with John Kenneth Galbraith (2004) ed. James Ronald Stanfield and Jacqueline Bloom Stanfield. Conway saw these words on a framed needlepoint, entitled "Galbraith's First Law," at Galbraith's home
  • When you see reference to a new paradigm you should always, under all circumstances, take cover. Because ever since the great tulipmania in 1637, speculation has always been covered by a new paradigm. There was never a paradigm so new and so wonderful as the one that covered John Law and the South Sea Bubble — until the day of disaster.
    • Quoted in Ben Laurance and William Keegan, "Galbraith on crashes, Japan and Walking Sticks," The Observer (1998-06-21)
  • Let's begin with capitalism, a word that has gone largely out of fashion. The approved reference now is to the market system. This shift minimizes — indeed, deletes — the role of wealth in the economic and social system. And it sheds the adverse connotation going back to Marx. Instead of the owners of capital or their attendants in control, we have the admirably impersonal role of market forces. It would be hard to think of a change in terminology more in the interest of those to whom money accords power. They have now a functional anonymity.
  • Hitler also anticipated modern economic policy . . . by recognizing that a rapid approach to full employment was only possible if it was combined with wage and price controls. That a nation oppressed by economic fear would respond to Hitler as Americans did to F.D.R. is not surprising.
  • 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.
  • The drive toward complex technical achievement offers a clue to why the US is good at space gadgetry and bad at slum problems.

The Great Crash, 1929 (1954)[edit]

In the autumn of 1929 the mightiest of Americans were, for a brief time, revealed as human beings.
  • Writing is a long and lonesome business; back of the problems in thought and composition hover always the awful questions: Is this the page that shows the empty shell? Is it here and now that they find me out?
    • Introduction, Section I, p. ix
  • I never enjoyed writing a book more; indeed, it is the only one I remember in no sense as a labor but as a joy.
    • Introduction, Section I, p. x
  • SOME YEARS, like some poets,and politicians and some lovely women, are singled out for fame far beyond the common lot, and 1929 was clearly such a year.
    • Chapter I, A Year To Remember, p. 1
  • No one was responsible for the great Wall Street crash. No one engineered the speculation that preceded it. Both were the product of free choice and decision of hundreds of thousands of individuals.
    • Chapter I, A Year To Remember, p. 4
  • In the autumn of 1929 the mightiest of Americans were, for a brief time, revealed as human beings.
    • Chapter I, A Year To Remember, p. 5
  • This view that the action of the Federal Reserve authorities in 1927 was responsible for the speculation and collapse which followed has never been seriously shaken. There are reasons why it is attractive. It is simple, and it exonerates both the American people and the economic system from substantial blame... Yet the explanation obviously assumes that people will always speculate if only they can get the money to finance it. Nothing could be farther from the case. There were times before and there has been long periods since when credit was plentiful and cheap -- far cheaper than in 1927-29 -- and when speculation was negligible. Nor was speculation out of control after 1927, except that it was beyond the reach of men who did not want in the least to control it. The explanation is a tribute only to a recurrent preference, in economic matters, for formidable nonsense.
    • Chapter I, "Vision and Boundless Hope and Optimism" p.10
  • Of all the weapons in the Federal Reserve arsenal, words were the the most unpredictable in their consequences.
    • Chapter III, Something Should Be Done?, Section IV, p. 38
  • In 1929 the discovery of the wonders of the geometric series struck Wall Street with a force comparable to the invention of the wheel.
    • Chapter IV, In Goldman Sachs We Trust, Section VI, p. 63
  • However, it is safe to say that at the peak in 1929 the number of active speculators was less — and probably was much less — than a million.
    • Chapter V, The Twilight of Illusion, Section V, p. 83
  • Of all the mysteries of the stock exchange there is none so impenetrable as why there should be a buyer for everyone who seeks to sell.
    • Chapter VI, The Crash, p. 104
  • Men have been swindled by other men on many occasions. The autumn of 1929 was, perhaps, the first occasion when men succeeded on a large scale in swindling themselves.
    • Chapter VII, Things Become More Serious, Section VIII, p. 130
  • Clerks in downtown hotels were said to be asking guests whether they wished the room for sleeping or jumping. Two men jumped hand-in-hand from a high window in the Ritz. They had a joint account.
    • Chapter VII, Things Become More Serious, Section VIII, p. 131-132
  • In the early days of the crash it was widely believed that Jesse L. Livermore, a Bostonian with a large and unquestionably exaggerated reputation for bear operations, leading a syndicate that was driving the market down.
    • Chapter VIII, Aftermath I, Section III, p. 141
  • At best, in such depression times, monetary policy is a feeble reed on which to lean.
    • Chapter X, Cause and Consequence, p. 190
  • But now, as throughout history, financial capacity and political perspicacity are inversely correlated. Long run salvation by men of business has never been highly regarded if it means disturbance of orderly life and convenience in the present. So inaction will be advocated in the present even though it means deep trouble in the future. Here, at least equally with communism, lies the threat to capitalism. It is what causes men who know that things are going quite wrong to say that things are fundamentally sound.
    • Chapter X, Cause and Consequence, p. 199

The Affluent Society (1958)[edit]

  • Authorship of any sort is a fantastic indulgence of the ego. It is well no doubt, to reflect on how much one owes to others.
    • Foreword p. x
  • Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.
    • Chapter 1, Section I, p. 13
  • The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.
    • Chapter 2, Section IV, p. 21
  • Ideas are inherently conservative. They yield not to the attack of other ideas but to the massive onslaught of circumstance with which they cannot contend.
    • Chapter 2, Section VI, p. 26
  • Even the word depression itself was the terminological product of an effort to soften the connotation of deep trouble. In the last century, the term crisis was normally employed. With time, however, this acquired the connotation of the misfortune it described.
    • Chapter 4, Section IV, p. 45
  • Ideas do not respect national frontiers, and this is especially so where language and other traditions are in common.
    • Chapter 5, Section I, p. 47
  • Marx profoundly affected those who did not accept his system. His influence extended to those who least supposed they were subject to it.
    • Chapter 6, Section III, p. 63
  • The massive reduction in risk that is inherent in the development of the modern corporation has been far from fully appreciated.
    • Chapter 8, Section II, p. 87
  • More die in the United States of too much food than of too little.
    • Chapter 9, Section II, p. 103
  • We do not manufacture wants for goods we do not produce.
    • Chapter 9, Section VI, p. 113
  • One man's consumption becomes his neighbor's wish.
    • Chapter 11, Section II, p. 125
  • It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.
    • Chapter 11, Section IV, p. 130
  • In recent times no problem has been more puzzling to thoughtful people than why, in a troubled world, we make such poor use of our affluence.
    • Chapter 12, Section VII, p. 145
  • A businessman who reads Business Week is lost to fame. One who reads Proust is marked for greatness.
    • Chapter 13, Section V, p. 155
  • Very important functions can be performed very wastefully and often are.
    • Chapter 17, Section I, p. 190
  • The family which takes it 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.
    • Chapter 18, Section I, p. 199
  • The greater the wealth the thicker will be the dirt.
    • Chapter 18, Section II, p. 201
  • In a community where public services have failed to keep abreast of private consumption things are very different. Here, in an atmosphere of private opulence and public squalor, the private goods have full sway.
    • Chapter 18, Section II, p. 203
  • Simple minds, presumably, are the easiest to manage.
    • Chapter 19, Section V, p. 218
  • "Poverty" Pitt exclaimed "is no disgrace but it is damned annoying." In the contemporary United States it is not annoying but it is a disgrace.
    • Chapter 23, Section VI, p. 258

The New Industrial State (1967)[edit]

  • Only men of considerable vanity write books; consistently therewith, I worried lest the world were exchanging an irreplaceable author for a more easily purchased diplomat.
    • Foreword p. vii
  • In economics, unlike fiction and the theater, there is no harm in a premature disclosure of the plot: it is to see the changes just mentioned and others as an interlocked whole.
    • Chapter I, Section 3, p. 6
  • By all but the pathologically romantic, it is now recognized that this is not the age of the small man.
    • Chapter III, Section 5, p. 32
  • Only in very recent times has the average man been a source of savings.
    • Chapter IV, Section 2, p. 37
  • In the assumption that power belongs as a matter of course to capital, all economists are Marxians.
    • Chapter V, Section 2, p. 49
  • The real accomplishment of modern science and technology consists in taking ordinary men, informing them narrowly and deeply and then, through appropriate organization, arranging to have their knowledge combined with that of other specialized but equally ordinary men. This dispenses with the need for genius. The resulting performance, though less inspiring, is far more predictable.
    • Chapter VI, Section 2, p. 62
  • There is no name for all who participate in group decision-making or the organization which they form. I propose to call this organization the Technostructure.
    • Chapter VI, Section 7, p. 71
  • Men are, in fact, either sustained by organization or they sustain organization.
    • Chapter VIII, Section 5, p. 96
  • Economic theory is the most prestigious subject of instruction and study. Agricultural economics, labor economics and marketing are lower caste fields of study.
    • Chapter X, Section 5, p. 122 (Mr. Galbraith was originally an agricultural economist...)
  • That one never need to look beyond the love of money for explanation of human behavior is one of the most jealously guarded simplification of our culture.
    • Chapter XII, Section 1, p. 142
  • The notion of a formal structure of command must be abandoned. It is more useful to think of the mature corporation as a series of concentric circles.
    • Chapter XIII, Section 1, p.149
  • While it will be desirable to achieve planned results, it will be even more important to avoid unplanned disasters.
    • Chapter XV, Section 2, p. 169
  • Oligopoly is an imperfect monopoly. Like the despotism of the Dual Monarchy, it is saved only by its incompetence.
    • Chapter XVI, Section 2, p. 182
  • There is an insistent tendency among serious social scientists to think of any institution which features rhymed and singing commercials, intense and lachrymose voices urging highly improbable enjoyment, caricatures of the human esophagus in normal and impaired operation, and which hints implausibly at opportunities for antiseptic seduction as inherently trivial. This is a great mistake. The industrial system is profoundly dependent on commercial television and could not exist in its present form without it.
    • Chapter XVIII, Section 5, p. 208
  • It is not the individual's right to buy that is being protected. Rather, it is the seller's right to manage the individual.
    • Chapter XIX, Section 4, p. 217
  • THE INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM requires that prices be under effective control. And it seeks the greatest possible influence over what buyers take at the established prices.
    • Chapter XX, Section 1, p. 219 (Caps as per text...)
  • In fact, the wage-price spiral is the functional counterpart of unemployment. The latter occurs when there is insufficient demand; the spiral operates when there is too much and also,unfortunately, when there is just enough.
    • Chapter XXII, Section 4, p. 255
  • The overall effect of the rise of the industrial system is greatly to reduce the union as a social force. But it will not disappear or become entirely unimportant.
    • Chapter XXIV, Section 1, p. 275
  • Agreeable as it is to know where one is proceeding, it is far more important to know where one has arrived.
    • Chapter XXVIII, Section 3, p. 321
  • A drastic reduction in weapons competition following a general release from the commitment to the Cold War would be sharply in conflict with the needs of the industrial system.
    • Chapter XXIX, Section 7, p. 339-340
  • All, the intelligent and stupid, diligent and idle, have been swept along on a current of increased output that, in the usual case, owed nothing whatever to their efforts.
    • Chapter XXX, Section 7, p. 353
  • THE GENIUS of the industrial system lies in its organized use of capital and technology. This is made possible, as we have duly seen, by extensively replacing the market with planning.
    • Chapter XXXI, Section 1, p. 354
  • Educators have yet to realize how deeply the industrial system is dependent upon them.
    • Chapter XXXIII, Section 4, p. 375
  • Nothing in our time is more interesting than the erstwhile capitalist corporation and the erstwhile Communist firm should, under the imperatives of organization, come together as oligarchies of their own members.
    • Chapter XXXV, Section 2, p. 390
  • No grant of feudal privilege has ever equaled, for effortless return, that of the grandparent who bought and endowed his descendants with a thousand shares of General Motors or General Electric.
    • Chapter XXXV, Section 3, p. 394
  • But it can be laid down as a rule that those who speak most of liberty are least inclined to use it.
    • Chapter XXXV, Section 5, p. 398

The United States (1971)[edit]

"The United States" in New York magazine (1971-11-15); reprinted in A View from the Stands (1986)
  • Among all the world's races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.
  • The Senate has unlimited debate; in the House, debate is ruthlessly circumscribed. There is frequent discussion as to which technique most effectively frustrates democratic process. However, a more important antidote to American democracy is American gerontocracy. The positions of eminence and authority in Congress are allotted in accordance with length of service, regardless of quality. Superficial observers have long criticized the United States for making a fetish of youth. This is unfair. Uniquely among modern organs of public and private administration, its national legislature rewards senility.
  • In the United States, though power corrupts, the expectation of power paralyzes.
  • The traveler to the United States will do well, however, to prepare himself for the class-consciousness of the natives. This differs from the already familiar English version in being more extreme and based more firmly on the conviction that the class to which the speaker belongs is inherently superior to all others.
  • Once the visitor was told rather repetitively that this city was the melting pot; never before in history had so many people of such varied languages, customs, colors and culinary habits lived so amicably together. Although New York remains peaceful by most standards, this self-congratulation is now less often heard, since it was discovered some years ago that racial harmony depended unduly on the willingness of the blacks (and latterly the Puerto Ricans) to do for the other races the meanest jobs at the lowest wages and then to return to live by themselves in the worst slums.

Power and the Useful Economist (1973)[edit]

"Power and the Useful Economist" (1973); also in Annals of an Abiding Liberal and The Essential Galbraith
  • When the modern corporation acquires power over markets, power in the community, power over the state and power over belief, it is a political instrument, different in degree but not in kind from the state itself. To hold otherwise — to deny the political character of the modern corporation — is not merely to avoid the reality. It is to disguise the reality. The victims of that disguise are those we instruct in error. The beneficiaries are the institutions whose power we so disguise. Let there be no question: economics, so long as it is thus taught, becomes, however unconsciously, a part of the arrangement by which the citizen or student is kept from seeing how he or she is, or will be, governed.
  • The decisive weakness in neoclassical and neo-Keynesian economics is not the error in the assumptions by which it elides the problem of power. The capacity for erroneous belief is very great, especially where it coincides with convenience. Rather, in eliding power — in making economics a nonpolitical subject — neoclassical theory destroys its relation to the real world. In that world, power is decisive in what happens. And the problems of that world are increasing both in number and in the depth of their social affliction. In consequence, neoclassical and neo-Keynesian economics is relegating its players to the social sidelines where they either call no plays or use the wrong ones. To change the metaphor, they manipulate levers to which no machinery is attached.
  • This is what economics now does. It tells the young and susceptible (and also the old and vulnerable) that economic life has no content of power and politics because the firm is safely subordinate to the market and the state and for this reason it is safely at the command of the consumer and citizen. Such an economics is not neutral. It is the influential and invaluable ally of those whose exercise of power depends on an acquiescent public. If the state is the executive committee of the great corporation and the planning system, it is partly because neoclassical economics is its instrument for neutralizing the suspicion that this is so.

Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went (1975)[edit]

  • There is wonder and a certain wicked pleasure in these giddy ascents and terrible falls, especially as they happen to other people.
    • Chapter I, Money, p. 4
  • The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is the one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it.
    • Chapter I, Money, p. 5
  • The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.
    • Chapter III, Banks, p.18
  • The pioneering instrument of reform was the Bank of England. Of all institutions concerned with economics none has for so long enjoyed such prestige. It is; in all respects, to money as St. Peter's is to Faith.
    • Chapter IV, The Bank, p. 30
  • In 1736, Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette printed an apology for its irregular appearence because its printer was "with the Press, labouring for the publick Good, to make Money more plentiful." The press was busy printing money.
    • Chapter V, Of Paper, p. 54
  • Why is anything intrinsically so valueless so obviously desirable?
    • Chapter VI, An Instrument of Revolution, p. 62
  • In numerous years following the war the Federal government ran a heavy surplus. It could not pay off it's debt, retire its securities, because to do so meant there would be no bonds to back the national bank notes. To pay off the debt was to destroy the money supply.
    • Chapter VIII, The Great Compromise, p. 90
  • Truth has anciently been called the first casualty of war. Money may, in fact, have priority.
    • Chapter VIII, The Great Compromise, p. 92
  • Seaboard Air Line, which was thought by numerous innocents to provide a foothold in aviation, was another favorite, although, in fact, it was a railroad.
    • Chapter IX, The Price, p. 106
  • Power is as power does.
    • Chapter X, The Impeccable System, p. 118
  • The foresight of financial experts was, as so often, a poor guide to the future.
    • Chapter XI, The Fall, p. 136
  • If all else fails immortality can always be assured by adequate error.
    • Chapter XIII, The Self Inflicted Wounds, p. 176
  • There was something superficial in attributing anything so awful as the Great Depression to anything so insubstantial as speculation in common stocks.
    • Chapter XIV, When The Money Stopped, p. 183-184.
  • Economic life, as always, is a matrix in which result becomes cause and cause becomes result.
    • Chapter XIV, When The Money Stopped, p. 192
  • What was needed was a policy that increased the supply of money available for use and then ensured its use. Then the state of trade would have to improve.
    • Chapter XVI, The Coming of J.M. Keynes, p. 217
  • Foresight is an imperfect thing — all prevision in economics is imperfect.
    • Chapter XIX, The New Economics At High Noon, p. 269
  • In dealing with Mr. Nixon, it is not easy to be unfair. He invites and justifies all available criticism.
    • Chapter XX, Where It Went, p. 285
  • With the American failure came world failure.
    • Chapter XX, Where It Went, p.293
  • Those who yearn for the end of capitalism should pray for government by men who believe that all positive action is inimical to what they call thoughtfully the fundamental principles of free enterprise.
    • Chapter XXI, Afterword, p.312
  • Nothing is more portable than rich people and their money
    • Attributed without source

The Age of Uncertainty (1977)[edit]

  • Few things in life can be so appalling as the difference between a dry antiseptic statement of a principle by a well spoken man in a quiet office, and what happens to people when that principle is put into practice.
    • BBC TV Adaptation, Episode 1
  • Ideas may be superior to vested interest. They are also very often the children of vested interest.
    • Chapter 1, p. 11
  • It's a rule worth having in mind. Income almost always flows along the same axis as power but in the opposite direction.
    • Chapter 1, p. 13
  • People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason. But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right. The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich.
    • Chapter 1, p. 22
  • Economists are generally negligent of their heroes.
    • Chapter 1, p. 27
  • Because of his compassion Owen was always in trouble with his partners. They would have much preferred a tough, down-to-earth manager who would get a days work out of the little bastards.
  • Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.
    • Chapter 2, p. 44
  • American university presidents are a nervous breed; I have never thought well of them as a class.
    • Chapter 2, p. 60
  • The masters thought they were loved until one day one of their favorites farted loudly while serving dinner and the next day was gone. The very first manifestation of the classless society is the disappearance of the servant class.
    • Chapter 2, p. 62
  • The man who is admired for the ingenuity of his larceny is almost always rediscovering some earlier form of fraud. The basic forms are all known, have all been practiced. The manners of capitalism improve. The morals may not.
    • Chapter 2, p. 75
  • I've long believed alas, that in highly organized industrial societies, capitalist or socialist, the stronger tendency is to converge — that if steel or automobiles are wanted and must be made on a large scale, the process will stamp its imprint on the society, whether that me be Magnitogorsk or Gary, Indiana.
    • Chapter 2, p. 84
  • All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. The violence of revolutions is the violence of men who charge into a vacuum.
    • Chapter 3, "The Massive Dissent of Karl Marx" p. 96
  • Conscience is better served by a myth.
    • Chapter 4, p. 111
  • If inheritance qualifies one for office, intelligence cannot be a requirement.
    • Chapter 5, p. 137
  • Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.
    • Chapter 6, p. 161
  • Who is king in the world of the blind when there isn't even a one eyed man?
    • Chapter 6, p. 180
  • Few can believe that suffering, especially by others, is in vain. Anything that is disagreeable must surely have beneficial economic effects.
    • Chapter 7, p. 211
  • He enlarged perceptibly the scope for debate, liberalized appreciably the intellectual and cultural life of the country and proclaimed the obvious truth that, after an atomic exchange, little would distinguish the Communist ashes from the capitalist ashes.
  • The myth that holds that the great corporation is the puppet of the market, the powerless servant of the consumer, is, in fact one of the devices by which its power is perpetuated.
    • Chapter 9, p. 258
  • The privileged have regularly invited their own destruction with their greed.
    • Chapter 10, p. 293
  • Man, at least when educated, is a pessimist. He believes it safer not to reflect on his achievements; Jove is known to strike such people down.
    • Chapter 12, p. 324
  • But there is merit even in the mentally retarded legislator. He asks the questions that everyone is afraid to ask for fear of seeming simple.
    • Chapter 12, p. 328
  • When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It's a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.
    • Chapter 12, p. 330
  • 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.
    • Chapter 12, p. 330

The Ashes of Capitalism and the Ashes of Communism (1986)[edit]

A nuclear war does not defend a country and it does not defend a system. I've put it the same way many times; not even the most accomplished ideologue will be able to tell the difference between the ashes of capitalism and the ashes of communism.
"The Ashes of Capitalism and the Ashes of Communism," interview (undated) with John M. Whiteley in Quest for Peace: an Introduction (1986), ed. John Whiteley
  • A nuclear war does not defend a country and it does not defend a system. I've put it the same way many times; not even the most accomplished ideologue will be able to tell the difference between the ashes of capitalism and the ashes of communism.
  • Get the process of negotiation away from the small specialized group that some people have called the "nuclear theologians," who in effect said this is a complicated issue of seeing how little we can give away, how much we can extract from the other side; it's highly specialized. Only a few people can understand the nature of these weapons, the delivery systems, the targeting, the nature of the MIRV and the CRUISE, on down, and the MX. This kept the whole discussion to a very limited group of people who, in a way, had assumed responsibility for saying whether we should live or die.
  • The huge capacity to purchase submission that goes with any large sum of money, well, this we have. This is a power of which we should all be aware.
  • Both we and the Soviets face the common threat of nuclear destruction and there is no likelihood that either capitalism or communism will survive a nuclear war.

The Culture of Contentment (1992)[edit]

  • Excessive acreages of unused buildings, commercial and residential were created. The need for such construction, given the space demands of modern business bureaucracy, was believed to be without limit. In later consequence, the solvency of numerous banks, including that of some of the nation's largest and most prestigious institutions, was either fatally impaired or placed in doubt. The lending of both those that failed or were endangered and others was subject, by fear and example to curtailment. The construction industry was severely constrained and its workers left unemployed. A general recession ensued. Any early warning as to what was happening would have been exceptionally ill received, seen as yet another invasion of the benign rule of laissez faire and a specific interference with the market. However in keeping with the exceptions to this rule, there would be eventual salvation in a government bailout of the banks. Insurance of bank deposits — a far from slight contribution to contentment — was permissible, as well as assurance that were a bank large enough, it would not be allowed to fail. A preventive role by government was not allowed; eventual government rescue was highly acceptable.
    • Ch. 5
  • The present age of contentment will come to an end only when and if the adverse developments that it fosters challenge the sense of comfortable well-being,
    • Ch. 13

Booknotes interview (1994)[edit]

Interview with Brian Lamb, on Booknotes C-SPAN (1994-11-13)
  • I was studying agriculture, how to produce better chickens, better cattle, better horses — horses in those days — better fruit, better vegetables. This was in the early years of the Great Depression, and the thoughts crossed my mind that there wasn't a hell of a lot of use producing better crops and better livestock if you couldn't sell them, that the real problem of agriculture was not efficiency in production but the problem of whether you could make money after you produced the stuff. So I shifted from the technical side to, first, the study of agricultural economic issues and then on to economics itself.
  • Broadly speaking, [Keynesianism means] that the government has a specific responsibility for the behavior of the economy, that it doesn't work on its own autonomous course, but the government, when there's a recession, compensates by employment, by expansion of purchasing power, and in boom times corrects by being a restraining force. But it controls the great flow of demand into the economy, what since Keynesian times has been the flow of aggregate demand. That was the basic idea of Keynes so far as one can put it in a couple of sentences.
  • Going back to the most ancient times, national well-being, the national prestige depended on territory. The more territory a country had, the more income revenue there was, the more people there were to be mobilized for arms strength. So we had an enormous sense of territorial conflict and territorial integrity, and that was unquestionably a part of the cause of war, coupled with the fact that there was a disposition in that direction by the landed class, a disposition to think of territorial acquisition and territorial defense and to think of the peasantry as a superior form of livestock which could be used for arms purposes.
  • I react to what is necessary. I would like to eschew any formula. There are some things where the government is absolutely inevitable, which we cannot get along without comprehensive state action. But there are many things — producing consumer goods, producing a wide range of entertainment, producing a wide level of cultural activity — where the market system, which independent activity is also important, so I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I'm for that. Where the government is necessary, I'm for that. I'm deeply suspicious of somebody who says, "I'm in favor of privatization," or, "I'm deeply in favor of public ownership." I'm in favor of whatever works in the particular case.
  • I write with two things in mind. I want to be right with my fellow economists. After all, I've made my life as a professional economist, so I'm careful that my economics is as it should be. But I have long felt that there's no economic proposition that can't be stated in clear, accessible language. So I try to be right with my fellow economists, but I try to have an audience of any interested, intelligent person.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
    • Though often attributed to Galbraith, as early as 1988 in U.S. News & World Report, the earliest publications of this statement, in The Bulletin (1984) and Reader's Digest (1985) attributes it to Ezra Solomon.

External links[edit]

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