The Unbearable Wrongness of Galbraith

Galbraithfranklerner1968 It was sad, if understandable, to read the encomiums to the late John Kenneth Galbraith penned by those still influential in liberal and Democratic circles at the time of his death last month. And yet this man was so wrong about so much for so long and with such disdain for the empirical refutation of his theories that he deserves little in retrospect but our pity. He represents the highwater mark of hubris for technocratic liberal triumphalism, as well as its fathomless self-regard and supercilious intolerance of other ways of thinking. Clive Crook gets it right:

He appeared to believe that the sensible thing would be to find more brilliant men like himself, difficult though this would be, and to put them in charge. This approach to managing the economy would become more desirable over time, not less, because economic growth would otherwise mean the increasing accrual of power to corporate interests. The countervailing power of the state would need to grow in response - just the opposite of what modern economic orthodoxy (based on all that specious math) called for.

Modern liberals' continued attachment to men like Galbraith, rather like their inability to concede that Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs were Communist traitors and spies, is an impediment to a revived liberalism. Because the truth matters. And Galbraith was on the wrong side of the truth for most of his life. This was a man who was still impressed by the Soviet Union in 1984. The only response to a person like that is sadness mixed with contempt.

Update: Brad DeLong has a (predictably) different take on Galbraith here.

(Hat tip: Tom). (Time cover, February 1968, by Frank Lerner.)