Galbraith, John K.
Galbraith, John K.(1908-) Canadian-born US economist, social commentator, author of best-selling books and popular broadcaster, whose analysis of modern capitalist society is at once a critique of modern society and of orthodox academic economics. Galbraiths approach places him in the tradition of institutional economics, an approach which emphasizes the study of the real world and historical economic institutions, rather than the creation of abstract economic models, as the best route to an understanding of economic life. Not surprisingly, the significance of his work has not always been accepted by more orthodox economists.
Among his most influential works was The Affluent Society (1958). In this, he took the view that modern industrial societies such as America had moved beyond economic scarcity, but had failed to adjust their economic theory or their economic practice to allow adequate resources to be devoted to public expenditure. Alongside the existence of ‘private affluence’, Galbraith saw ‘public squalor’.
Earlier, in American Capitalism (1952), Galbraith had advanced a conception of the modern American economy as governed by countervailing forces’, meaning that America was neither a conventional market-driven capitalist economy nor a system directly subject to public control. This same general theme was carried forward in The New Industrial State (1967), in which Galbraith identified power in America as being in the hands of a new TECHNOSTRUCTURE.
Galbraiths ideas contributed to the climate in which public expenditure increased in the 1960s and 70s. It might appear that, in the 1980s, his work has become outmoded by the shift back to a market economy and new restrictions on public expenditure. Alternatively, his work can be seen as providing a continuing critique of restrictions on public expenditure.