[Reading] ➽ The Affluent Society By John Kenneth Galbraith – Dcrjservices.co.uk

[Reading] ➽ The Affluent Society By John Kenneth Galbraith – Dcrjservices.co.uk chapter 1 The Affluent Society, meaning The Affluent Society, genre The Affluent Society, book cover The Affluent Society, flies The Affluent Society, The Affluent Society 698c10cba1a53 John Kenneth Galbraith S International Bestseller The Affluent Society Is A Witty, Graceful And Devastating Attack On Some Of Our Most Cherished Economic Myths.As Relevant Today As When It Was First Published Over Forty Years Ago, This Newly Updated Edition Of Galbraith S Classic Text On The Economics Of Abundance , Lays Bare The Hazards Of Individual And Social Complacency About Economic Inequality.Why Worship Work And Productivity If Many Of The Goods We Produce Are Superfluous Artificial Needs Created By High Pressure Advertising Why Begrudge Expenditure On Vital Public Works While Ignoring Waste And Extravagance In The Private Sector Of The Economy Classical Economics Was Born In A Harsh World Of Mass Poverty, And Has Left Us With A Set Of Preconceptions Ill Adapted To The Realities Of Our Own Richer Age And So, Too Often, The Bland Lead The Bland Our Unfamiliar Problems Need A New Approach, And The Reception Given To This Famous Book Has Shown The Value Of Its Fresh, Lively Ideas A Compelling Challenge To Conventional Thought The New York Times He Shows Himself A Truly Sensitive And Civilized Man, Whose Ideas Are Grounded In The Common Culture Of The Two Continents, And May Serve As A Link Between Them His Book Is Of Foremost Importance For Them Both The Times Literary SupplementJohn Kenneth Galbraith 1908 2006 Was A Canadian American Economist A Keynesian And An Institutionalist, Galbraith Was A Leading Proponent Of 20th Century American Liberalism And Progressivism Galbraith Was The Author Of 30 Books, Including The Economics Of Innocent Fraud, The Great Crash 1929, And A History Of Economics.


10 thoughts on “The Affluent Society

  1. says:

    Contrary to the assumptions made in the history of economic theory from Adam Smith, Ricardo, Mathus and Marx that the development of the industrial base inevitably leads to the total impoverishment of the working class, we seem to be witnessing quite the opposite The working classes in the advanced capitalist societies have never had it so good We now live in an affluent society Despite the horrible predictions of these founding fathers of economic theory not coming to pass we have not moved on from many of their other predictions based on this idea It is as if we have been unable to quite believe we are as affluent as we actually are.Galbraith sees capitalism not as one economy, but two There is the private economy, where goods are produced to be sold in the open market, and then there is the public economy, where governments raise taxes to support socially necessary functions the military, police, schools, sanitation, roads, and so on Galbraith is very good on the waste and danger that is modern excessive military expenditure as he ends his book, And let us protect our affluence from those who, in the name of defending it, would leave the planet only with its ashes One of these economies is obscenely wealthy and the other is absurdly poor Galbraith suggests that the most quoted part of this book in the forty years since it was first published is The family that 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 pass into a countryside that has been rendered largely invisible by commercial art The goods which the latter advertise have an absolute priority in our value system Such aesthetic considerations as a view of the countryside accordingly come second On such matters we are consistent They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night at 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 Is this, indeed, the American genius The joke if joke it is is that the private economy actually needs to create our wants So we get such absurdities as Cherry Coke being relaunched every few years as if what the world really needs now is yet another sugar filled drink flavour Meanwhile, there are, I believe, serious questions about the structural integrity of many bridges in the US Developed countries around the world are concerned with the shortage of funds available for healthcare, educations, policing and the list goes on and on Two economies opposite problems facing each.It is not that people find it difficult to identify the problem but the solution seems completely beyond us.In this book Galbraith first coined the phrase conventional wisdom as that layer of prejudice that we cling to long after it has been discredited by circumstances imagine being the person who came up with such a useful term His major concern is to remove our obsession with production as the only criterion upon which we judge the success of our society He talks of a particular US statesman defending the government of the day from an attack from the opposition by saying that it had provided the second best year on record His point here is that no one needs to be told in what sense this was the second best year Not even the most fundamentalist Christian would think this statesman meant that there had been second highest church attendance of all time, for example And no one would think that it was the year with the second lowest number of murders And even if the point is taken that he clearly means economically then why are we talking GDP and not, say, number of people employed Where does this obsession with production come from The answer is not as easy as it seems there was a time when a member of society being unproductive might have meant a serious drag on society and a real risk to society s ongoing viability but those days are now long gone in advanced capitalist countries Now we even pay farmers not to produce.So, we have two economies The wealthy economy of producers finding new and better ways to get us to buy their products mostly today by also encouraging us in our extravagant borrowing borrowing money we can t afford so as to purchase goods we do not need The other economy, the public economy, is one in which firstly a very large percentage of our taxes is wasted on the military and the rest thinly spread to those areas which do not lend themselves well to private production To fund this second economy better Galbraith suggests increasing sales taxes Now, this is an interesting and courageous idea My initial reaction was a knee jerk and that was to oppose it Sales taxes are highly regressive and therefore fall mostly on the poor As such, it seems that those Galbraith is seeking to help the most will be those forced to fund this assistance The further problem is that there is no guarantee that the funds raised by this tax will, in fact, be used in better housing, education, etc, that will go to the poor As he points out elsewhere, the general affluence of society leads to a culture of blame towards those who find themselves still poor Clearly there must be attributes these people have that make them poor Further, these people tend to have no power in our society so the idea that we would raise sales taxes so as to improve the lives of these people seems highly unlikely And experience has shown that this is the case Conservative governments are repeatedly elected and they see it as their duty to cut progressive taxes such as income taxes and substitute these with regressive taxes, such as sales taxes The poor are punished every which way.I found the section on the relationship between monetary and fiscal policies in controlling economic growth and therefore inflation a brilliant exposition of the contradictions inherent in our major if not sole means of adjusting these key economic levers Inflation is a reflection of demand within an economy If there is too much demand then prices go up To tackle inflation one must first tackle demand There are effectively two ways of doing this One is to produce stuff If you do this then supply will eventually outstrip demand and prices will fall Another way is to suck money out of the economy If people don t have any money they are unlikely to be able to buy stuff so that will cut demand.Both of these methods of controlling demand and thereby inflation are vexed The problem with increasing production is that this first requires investment into the economy to build the new factories and so on needed to increase supply But this immediately produces the opposite effect to what you wanted Before the factory can start to meet the old demand you were trying to reduce you have created a whole group of workers who are being paid to build the factory, manage the factory and so on These people are being paid and thus adding money to the already over heated economy, thereby increasing demand The exact opposite of what you wanted to achieve.The other ways to address too much demand in the economy are rather blunt instruments You can either increase taxes fiscal policy or you can raise interest rates monetary policy That is, suck money out of the pockets of those who were trying to spend it.However, these levers are hardly delicate in their effects on the economy The problem is that demand in the economy is not one single thing Inflation may be affecting one part of the economy housing, for example but other parts of the economy might actually be in need of increased demand Raising interest rates clobbers all sections of the economy equally It is remarkable that people never seem to ask So, explain this to me again, how is giving massive profits to banks the most obvious way to decrease demand It is clear Galbraith thinks the major problem is in creating artificial demand in the economy for goods and services we don t actually need But I m not sure how this problem can be addressed under capitalism.One of my favourite quotes from the text which I shall leave you with concerns the problem that our obsession with ever increased production is often at the expense of people kicking people off farms or sacrificing jobs to third world countries where labour is so much cheaper We do this all in the name of efficiency and everyone knows efficiency is an unquestioned good don t we In the United States, as in other western countries, we have for long had a respected secular priesthood whose function it has been to rise above questions of religious ethics, kindness and compassion and show how these might have to be sacrificed on the alter of the larger good The larger good, invariably, was efficient production The sacrifice obviously loses some of its point if it is on behalf of the efficient production of goods for the satisfaction of wants of which people are not yet aware It is even tenuous, in its philosophical foundations, if it is to permit the efficient contriving of wants to which people are not aware And this latter is no insignificant industry in our time.A fascinating attack on the neo liberal nonsense that dominates our economic debate.


  2. says:

    Oh, for fuck s sakes, what the fuck is wrong with you people Is this a never ending revival of the Dunciad This ain t rocket science, for Christ s sakes we ve cottoned a shitload of the green googly moogly in the decades since the Great Slump, so why can t we apply the lessons we ve learned from this gigantic laissez faire clusterfuck Goddamn greedy, overly ripe, crumb lipped mall mutts, I d love to crack your fucking spongiform shells together to let in some oxygen A progressive system of taxation, social safety nets and impartially administered regulatory agencies, with targeted government expenditure upon boring shit like education, transportation and communication networks, skills development, and leisure opportunities are all steps in the right fucking direction to find that sweet spot, always tweaking and adjusting as necessary, to spread that whoresonned wealth around, keep the disparity to a minimum, whilst always realizing that we are moving into a new form of industrialized capitalism where consumption is king in other words, shitheads, our economy is in a perpetual state of evolution, and we must evolve our policies along with them, with an ultimate goal of having the vast, unimaginable wealth our productivity, resources, infrastructure, global position and considerable fortune have bestowed upon our short term memory riddled heads spread as equitably as possible, fueling small business growth, avoiding creativity killing and stagnant monopolies, and enlarging the middle fucking class, those roseate, nauseous butterballs whose very size indicates the fucking health of a nation s economic state Fucking assholes, wake the fuck up and figure out what the fuck is going on Jesus H Fucking Christ, I keep pointing this shit out and you tosspot pickle ticklers, you thick witted, cross eyed Mary s, you tube glued, gelatinous fuck weevils keep screwing the goddamn pooch I m getting by Christly fucking tired of spinning this particular mother loving record, numbnuts Wake up


  3. says:

    Bother I thought I had already written most of this review, but no, I must toil and type to lay it out here in black and white.Galbraith s book is a slightly awkward subject, written in 1958, went through four editions before the revised version that fell into my hands I wonder if he was prescient for 1958, for example in the role of debt in sustaining a consumer society, or simply astute when it came to updating each edition It is an elegantly written essay, slightly too elegant with it s swan s neck phrasing to be easily quotable, but a pleasure to read in this and in its content it reminded me of Veblin s The Theory of the Leisure Class, that sets out that the economic thinking of Smith and Ricardo among others became the conventional wisdom that informed a whole host of ideas not just about economics, but politics and society generally, this however in the face of the actual economic reality in which we live in Galbraith s telling the conventional wisdom changes over time absorbing elements of Marx or Keynes but remains dominant even though the starting point of many of the ideas embedded in the conventional wisdom was a basic conception of the world as a place of scarcity In the world of scarcity goods were in short supply and people might have to be compelled to work to avoid starvation not just their own, but in society generally This Galbraith points out is not true of our own times By and large, we live in affluent societies There is an excess of goods People need to be persuaded, through marketing, to desire and purchase goods which due to the inequitable social division of income will be increasingly paid for with credit.Problems that we face, in Galbraith s opinion, looking at the decline in standard working hours, is not maintaining production, but sustaining employment, addressing the poverty that we have in the midst of a prosperous society, and caring for the environment Unfortunately aspects of the conventional wisdom lead us into trouble, we can blame the poor for being the authors of their own problems, the environment is a resource ripe for abuse, and apparently we are politically able to tolerate a substantial level of un and underemployment which in previous decades might have been considered catastrophic.In short, we ve got a model of a world of scarcity in our heads while we live in the midst of abundance And that means this is one of those books that reminds us how artificial and unreal much of the world around us is Economic thinking, Galbraith shows, runs considerably behind the actual workings of the economy, potential by several hundred years It is an essay that is focused on the experience of the USA and one of the most striking points there, at least for me as a foreigner who has only heard of that country from afar, is the contrast between private wealth and public poverty Roads may be pot holed, schools falling apart, and public bodies will struggle to be able to finance repairs, yet individuals and corporations may be fabulously wealthy.In ending the other, in hindsight obvious, point that he makes is that those who are strongest in their support of monetarism or any other economic theory are those who will benefit most from it Follow the money once .


  4. says:

    This book was terrible.I read it senior year in High School or Freshman year in College while I was taking intro economics courses and was amazed at how Galbraith violated the most basic concepts in economics and logic.The most ridiculous quote I remember from this book or his follow up book, The New Industrial State was his statement that that s the exception that proves the rule Think about that for a second.Exceptions do NOT prove any rules They don t do anything, except perhaps DISprove a rule Yet here is an eminent prof of econ at Harvard, in his classic best selling work on American Capitalism telling people that the exception to his rule about American big business being able to control their markets, due to their size, and advertising power, such as Ford and it s somewhat stable control of 22 25% of the US auto market, could foist on the American public whatever new car model design it wanted, and the public would just buy it, regardless The exception he was trying to not just belittle, but actually literally make into an extra reason why his rule was true, was of course the too obvious to ignore case of Ford s Edsel model, which flopped People would not buy it It was a huge loss for Ford Everyone knew about it back then So, again, I urge you to think about the tactic that Galbraith used to turn this obvious contradiction to his bogus theory, into a rhetorical flourish that looked like it backed up his theory and turned logic and facts on their heads.The other thing I remember about the book, was the main thesis that because America was already so affluent his term for wealthy , it could not only afford, but had a moral duty to, and would greatly benefit from having the government spend money on all sorts of public works and welfare projects, such as roads, public government education, etc He claimed that the public sector that is GOVERNMENT was starved compared to the private sector.His total disregard for the reason why America was so relatively wealthy that it taxed and regulated the private sector less, not , than most other countries was a huge blot on this book.But that was, I believe, his purpose to deceive people, or at least try to convince them of the truth he thought he knew, that government is the fount of most all good things at least in his mind and that leaving people the freedom to discover their own values, talents, dreams, and security was not worth talking about, let alone giving any credence to.


  5. says:

    I read this for the Capitalism Democracy Socialism course taught under the aegis of Loyola University Chicago s Philosophy Department in the first semester of 1981 82 The teacher, a Ph.d in both Philosophy and Mathematics, ran the course as an ongoing debate between three orientations The first, the free market capitalist, was primarily represented by Milton Friedman The second, the Keynesian capitalist, was primarily represented by J.K Galbraith The third, the market socialist, was primarily represented by David Schweickart, our instructor.I decided to take the Keynesian position simply because I figured most of the students would adopt the extreme views either out of conviction or to suck up to the professor Besides, I d long been a democratic socialist and had read some stuff not only about syndicalism but also about council socialism and the experiments with markets in Yugoslavia a hot and much idealized topic with some old high school friends and wouldn t have found arguing that position very challenging, particularly since Schweickart s model was so attractive Finally, Galbraith was far and away the stylistically best, wittiest and most influential writer of the lot Understanding him would help me understand the arguments of liberal orthodoxy and it would be fun.It was fun indeed.


  6. says:

    Essential reading for anyone interested in economics or public policy The book takes on and dismantles the conventional thinking he made up that phrase first in economics Some of it is outdated, but unfortunately for us, most of it is not Economists still see the private sphere as the only relevant measure of the economy and not public works They are also still only obsessed with production of goods and then production of desire for goods and the production of goods In this, I think book like Doughnut Economics are a good update because they link this concern with the depleted environment Galbraith is an excellent writer and thinker and this book is a must read.


  7. says:

    It gets the five stars because I read it when I was young and it was formative probably steered me to Keynesianism and kept my libertarian instincts being misdirected in a rightward direction which is a very common pitfall The book was originally written in the 1950s although Galbraith wrote a forward to this book in the 1990s It has the neologism of the conventional wisdom which he coined a very useful term If the affluent society were still existing and universally distributed I would probably not care about politics and shut up about it A good book on that strange period of the modern era where we went beyond being a society on edge of starvation into widespread affluence and what happens to politics when such things come to pass Galbraith is a really good popular economist and a good intro to the subject.


  8. says:

    Galbraith wrote this entire book as a protest against the growth economy, as if it was an economic law that once men s most basic material desires are met, they are fed, clothed and housed, then their fundamental purposes in life have been fulfilled He therefore assumes that any material consumption beyond this base level is unnatural and is created somehow by forces extrinsic to the individual, over this consumption is a historical aberration that is being fostered by erroneous attitudes and insidious advertising In his view since these mistaken or malicious factors can not prevail for long, eventually people will realize that they are consuming beyond their needs and they will stop Therefore, since man, in his view, does not need than the minimal requirements of existence and since modern society produces enough to satisfy these basic needs for every citizen, it is foolish to keep our focus on expanding the economy Instead, we should concentrate on redistributing the existing wealth This is one of the books that helped form my economic thinking My study of Galbraith in this and The New Industrial State demonstrated for me the wrong direction in economic thought during the 1960s.


  9. says:

    This book published in 1958 was a great manifesto for Lyndon Baines Johnson s Great Society Galbraith argued that America was a rich society capable of caring for all its members Left to its own, capitalism would simply try to stimulate consumption by the financially privileged through advertising What was needed was increased taxation of the rich to finance social programs for the poor.Galbraith s argument was treated with great seriousness by the majority of North Americans throughout the sixities and seventies Today it has fallen out of favour as Americans have begun to fear that through the process of globalization they have lost control of their own economy and destiny.


  10. says:

    So I kind of agree with what Galbraith has to say, but it doesn t read so easily It felt like a piece of social science academia, than a non fiction book If you re okay with that, then it s an insightful look at economics and capitalism, from a 1950s American viewpoint.