Economist with a Public Purpose: Essays in Honour of John Kenneth Galbraith

Economist with a Public Purpose: Essays in Honour of John Kenneth Galbraith

Economist with a Public Purpose: Essays in Honour of John Kenneth Galbraith

Economist with a Public Purpose: Essays in Honour of John Kenneth Galbraith

Synopsis

Galbraith's arguments are discussed by a group of economists in regards to current controversies and problems. Topics covered range from globalization and the role of the state to redistributive economic policies.

Excerpt

To have combined longevity with work of lasting significance occasions greater opportunity for tribute than might otherwise be the case. There have been scholars who have produced influential, valuable work and who did not live long enough to enjoy merited recognition—C. Wright Mills and David M. Gordon are only two such examples. Then there are others whose long life is still no guarantee of contemporaneous reward—Thorstein Veblen is notable in this regard. By the time he was offered the presidency of the American Economic Association in 1924 on condition that he join it and deliver an address, he had endured so much professional difficulty and opprobrium in a fraught career that he took pleasure in rejecting it (Dorfman, 1972:492).

But there is another, intriguing phenomenon of intellectual history, whereby the long-lived who have enjoyed both recognition and influence during their lives suffer a curious decline in reputation following their deaths. the work of the major philosophers Benedetto Croce and John Dewey, who towered over their peers in life, became strangely passé following their deaths. This is not to say that the verdict of history is infallible. the inconvenience of certain arguments can be more easily elided when these are treated as among the time-bound idiosyncrasies of their late authors. the existence of disciples to build upon a legacy is also crucial. These need not be identified with any individual person, as with, say, Adam Smith or Karl Marx. As the adherents of the Chicago School of Economics have long demonstrated, personal anonymity is no barrier to the furtherance and entrenchment of a particular set of views.

John Kenneth Galbraith’s position among economists is most unique, in that he is one of the most widely-read and recognisable of the profession, and yet within the discipline his work is most often viewed with suspicion. His apparent detachment from his academic peers contrasts with the ease with which he has participated in political life, and the obvious warmth of the friendships he has enjoyed with politicians. But there are those designated as economists who are similarly frowned upon by their professional peers for acting upon their dissatisfaction with what conventionally passes for economic wisdom. Like Galbraith, they have made explicit their rejection of orthodoxy, whether in writing, teaching or discussion, and have endured similar opprobrium. Many such economists have formed their own societies, in an effort to preserve and develop traditions of inquiry that

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