John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most famous and influential American economists and public intellectual of the post-WWII era. Galbraith, who leaned toward post-Keynesian economics embracing an institutionalist perspective, was a very prolific writer and his books (The Great Crash 1929, The Affluent Society, The New Industrial State, Economics and the Public Purpose, The Anatomy of Power) were academic and popular bestsellers from the 1950s through the 1980s. Thereafter, the Chicago School and Neoliberal Economics conquests dimmed and muted Galbraith’s policy proposals and intellectual contribution.
One of Galbraith’s assignments in Harvard economics department in the early 1950s was to set up a visiting lecture series. Believing that good academic discussion needs diversity of views, he invited, among others, Paul Sweezy – a Marxian economist who was a co-founder of Monthly Review and Milton Friedman – the future primary leader of the Chicago School of Economics.
Here is the letter Galbraith wrote to Friedman to thank him for his visit; it is not only a typical example for Galbraith’s eloquence, but underlines his ability to combine conceptual open-mindedness with a sincere standpoint of his own:
March 27, 1951
You will know in many ways how much we enjoyed your visit here last week. This is just by way of adding a personal word of thanks. I hope it won’t be too long before we see you here again.
So far as I can tell, also, the students seem to have suffered no permanent damage. I hope your colleagues perceive no disconcerting changes in you.
On second thought, I hope they do.
My thanks and kindest regards,
(The Selected Letters of John Kenneth Galbraith, edited by Richard Holt, 2017, p. 95)
In his eulogy to Galbraith, his friend Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote:
“Ken used the whiplash phrase and the sardonic thrust for several purposes: to reconnect academic economics, walled off in mathematical equations, with human and social reality; to rebuke the apostles of selfishness and greed; and to give the neglected, the abused and the insulted of our world a better break in life. […] Salvation, Galbraith argued, lies in the subversion of the conventional wisdom by the gradual encroachment of disquieting thought. “The emancipation of belief,” he writes, “is the most formidable of the tasks of reform, the one on which all else depends.”
(“J.K. Galbraith’s Towering Spirit”, by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., May 3, 2006)
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