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Tuesday, May 02, 2006 

Global Development: Views from the Center

May 01, 2006
John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006
Posted by
Peter Timmer at 02:39 PM

I knew John Kenneth Galbraith only a little, as he was not actively teaching graduate students at Harvard by the time I was a student there in the late 1960s (which alone says something about his longevity). But I was the last faculty at Harvard teaching in the area of agricultural economics and thus followed directly in his footsteps. Galbraith was hired by the Harvard’s economics department to take over the agriculture courses originally developed and taught by Professor John D. Black. Obviously, Galbraith moved on to bigger and better things, from The Affluent Society (1958) to The New Industrial State (1967).

But much of Galbraith’s concern about poverty and income inequality grew out of his own rural background (which he was very happy to escape), and later his time spent as ambassador to India during the Kennedy Administration. Perhaps what continues to resonate from his writings for the field of development in an era of globalization are the dual messages from his two most famous books noted above. First, private consumption does not solve the problem of public well-being, as Galbraith was fully aware of the glaring inadequacy in the provision of global public goods over the past several decades. Second, his concern for undue influence by corporate actors clearly remains relevant as Ken Lay testifies about malfeasance during the Enron meltdown. I suspect Galbraith went to his grave satisfied that his early insights had been fully vindicated.

© 2005 Center for Global Development.

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