Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Experiments at Renewal and Reconstruction

John Kenneth Galbraith ( 1908-) was born in Ontario, Canada. He came to the United States in 1931, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1937. Until his retirement in 1975, he taught economics at Harvard. During World War II, Galbraith was director of the Strategic Bombing Survey ( 1945). Later, he was ambassador to India in the Kennedy administration ( 1961-1963). His many books include A Theory of Price Control ( 1952), The Affluent Society ( 1958), and Age of Uncertainty ( 1967), as well as The New Industrial State ( 1967), from which the selection is taken. Though trained and respected as an economist, Galbraith is known as an elegantly clever and broadthinking writer, as the lead sentence in the selection suggests. No one of his generation was better able to see and state the social and economic conditions of the postwar era in widely accessible terms. Where others were caught in the enthusiasms of the Golden Age, Galbraith was more circumspect.


Change and the Planning System

John Kenneth Galbraith ( 1967)

I venture to think that modern economic life is seen much more clearly when, as here, there is such effort to see it whole.

I am also concerned to show how, in this larger context of change, the forces inducing human effort have changed. This assaults the most majestic of all economic assumptions, namely that man, in his economic activities, is subject to the authority of the market. Instead we have an economic system which, whatever its formal ideological billing, is, in substantial part, a planned economy. The initiative in deciding what is to be produced comes not from the sovereign consumer who, through the market, issues the instructions that bend the productive mechanism to his ultimate will. Rather it comes from the great producing organization which reaches forward to control the markets that it is presumed to serve and, beyond, to bend the customer to its needs. And, in so doing, it deeply influences his values and beliefs--including not a few that will be mobilized in resistance to the present argument. One of the conclusions that follows from this analysis is that there is a broad convergence between industrial systems. The imperatives of technology and organization, not the images of ideology, are what determine the shape of economic society. This, on the

____________________
Excerpt from The New Industrial State ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1978 [ 1967]), pp. 6-7, 411-414. Copyright 1967 by John Kenneth Galbraith. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Co. All rights reserved.

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