Saturday, July 20, 2013

Commenter "Current" blows my mind

He emails me about this J.K. Rowling ghost writer thing which before hand I was only marginally aware of.

He points out that J.K. Rowling was writing for a Robert Galbraith.

J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith.

J.K. ... Galbraith.


While we're on him, what do you all think of Galbraith? I was planning on reading The Affluent Society this summer until the teaching thing came up and sort of reprioritized my reading. When I catch a breath is that worth spending time on or not?


  1. I recall The Affluent Society being pretty great, though it may have made a disproportionate impression on me, as it was like... the second book on economics I ever read.

    I think you'll enjoy his wit, at any rate.

  2. I really love JK Galbraith if for no other reason than his writing. I actually started reading the Affluent Society last week (though I doubt Ill get through it this summer) and I was reminded about how much actual fun it is to read his stuff.

    Oh also, that reminds me, you should check out "Age Of Uncertainty". It is a 10 hour PBS documentary he wrote (Free to Choose was essentially written/filmed as a reply to "Age"). Anyway, its got some awesome and engaging HET parts.

  3. Anything written by Galbraith is surely a joy to read even if you disagree with his politics/economics.

    New Industrial State is very good. I remember Krugman slammedd it back in the day because large corporations had not become dominant. Yeah, good call Kruggy.

  4. Interesting coincidence indeed, Daniel. XD

  5. Affluent Society seemed pretty lightweight, from what I vaguely remember. Basically, "let's get everyone a cushy office job."

    I do remember liking his prose--it was very clear and jargon-free.

  6. If you are interested you might want to read

    "Review of John Kenneth Galbraith's 'The Good Society: The Humane Agenda'"

    Two quotes (but read it all)

    "To be both a liberal and a good economist you must have a certain sense of the tragic--that is, you must understand that not all goals can be attained, that life is a matter of painful tradeoffs. You must want to help the poor, but understand that welfare can encourage dependency. You must want to protect those who lose their jobs, but admit that generous unemployment benefits can raise the long-term rate of unemployment. You must be willing to tax the affluent to help those in need, but accept that too high a rate of taxation can discourage investment and innovation. To the free-market conservative, these are all arguments for government to do nothing, to accept whatever level of poverty and insecurity the market happens to produce. A serious liberal does not reply to such conservatives by denying that there are any trade-offs at all; he insists, rather, that some trade-offs are worth making, that helping the poor and protecting the unlucky may have costs but will ultimately make for a better society."

    "Admittedly, Galbraith did at one time have a distinctive economic theory that might perhaps have justified his disbelief in painful choices. A generation ago, in The New Industrial State, he offered an image of an economy that was becoming increasingly dominated by General Motors-type corporations--giant firms, freed by their size and power from the rigors of competition, run by technocrats who pursued bureaucratic imperatives rather than serving the interests of the stockholders. In effect, he argued that capitalism would soon cease to be a market system in any meaningful sense, and that the trade-offs inherent in such a system would therefore soon be irrelevant.

    But time has not been kind to that theory. We have not become an economy of GM-sized corporations; in fact, large corporations play a considerably smaller role in the economy now than they did when he wrote his book, and for that matter GM itself is a lot less immune from market pressures than it used to be. Rather than evolving away from a market economy and the constraints it imposes, we are now more firmly ruled by the Invisible Hand than ever before. And indeed one wonders if Galbraith himself is still a Galbraithian; while a few turns of phrase from The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State resurface in The Good Society, for the most part the book is very old-fashioned Keynesianism. Again and again, the book espouses views that had a strong following in the 1950s but have since been abandoned by nearly all researchers in the face of logic, evidence, and experience. Galbraith does not bother to argue that the old conventional wisdom was right and that the new conventional wisdom is wrong; often it seems that he is simply unaware that other people's ideas have changed."

    Read it all. The works of JK Galbraith can be best understood as period pieces by a literary intellectual. "The Great Crash 1929" is a wonderful read. How much you will learn about the economics of the Great Depression is questionable. There is a quote from Friedman about Galbraith's work that says a lot "not so much economics as it is sociology".

    1. Yet Krugman has been proven wrong by the passage of time, as, though older firms have gone bust, technology has simply given rise to a new era of giants. In fact, many consumer-good firms such as coke have survived for along time, so Krugman's point about GM is superficial.

      Also, don't quote Friedman without letting Galbraith reply!

      "Milton Friedman's great misfortune is that his economic policies have been tried"

    2. "...though older firms have gone bust, technology has simply given rise to a new era of giants."

      Galbraith predicted stability, no risk, no market feedback, no competition, price stabilization. Basically an end to economics as we know it. Instead, we see that companies have to listen to the market, deal with competition and keep downward movement on prices to survive.

    3. Yet they still have substantial power and profits are at an all time high.

    4. Also, how exactly did Galbraith predict "stability, no risk, no market feedback, no competition, price stabilization"? He predicted that traditional market mechanisms would be greatly diminished and replaced by the decisions of large organisations, but not the straw man you constructed.

    5. I should have used the word "insignificant" instead of "no". Instability, market feedback, competition and price variability are traditional market mechanisms and I'm pretty sure he explicitly mentions them. I actually think he was right as far as describing the current (at that time) situation and the approach of firms.

      It was a great argument, at the time, but it didn't come true because firms don't have a lockdown against market mechanisms. He also greatly underestimates the role of the customer preferences, as well as the disruptive impacts of technology.

  7. I read about the Galbraith/Rowling thing on language log

    The only J.K.Galbraith I've read is "The Economics of Innocent Fraud" which I didn't think was great, though it made a few good points.

  8. I agree with everyone else that Galbraith's prose and wit are first-rate. I also second Andrew Bossie's recommendation of "The Age of Uncertainty". But it is for a general, non-specialist audience.

  9. It's been a few, but I recall Galbraith as clear and pleasant reading. I might detect some signs of age in The Affluent Society 8f I were reading it at this point, but what the hey. In his day, Galbraith was a bright man with opinions worth considering, even for dogmatic young Randists, as I was at the time.

    So yeah, read some Galbraith, just as you would read Schumpeter, and Ricardo, and Hayek, or JS Mill, or von Mises. His ideas provide one of the many streams that merge to form the great currents of economic thought-- and you can take a great draught without committing yourself to drown in them.

  10. I caught a little bit of an interview on NPR Friday about outing of writers' pen names. I guess it's becoming more common for some reason.


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