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The Affluent Society [Paperback]

John Kenneth Galbraith
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book all students of economics should read. Aug. 29 2001
By Carter
If you agree with Galbraith's notions on economics you may find this a seminal work. If you disagree with him you will no where find a better spar for your own ideas. (Friedman spent an entire book analyzing Galbraith) Love it or hate it The Affluent Society looms large in American economic thought of the 20th century. The book itself is dedicated primarily to re-assessing the role of production in an economy of increasing affluence. Economics long ago acquired the unhappy designation as "the dismal science." This was derived from the observation by all famous early economists that economic life for the masses was inevitably harsh. Ricardo, Smith, and Marx all agreed that while a minority might enjoy abundance the majority were doomed to struggle for their very economic survival. As early as the 1950s Galbraith made the very simple point that the economic prospects of the masses are no longer dark. The average worker could (and still does) expect reasonable wages, a constant supply of luxury goods, and free time to enjoy these things. The modern economy is no longer a battle for simple survival but rather one over what an individual's share of excess production should be. Some reviewers have commented that the specifics in The Affluent Society have become dated. Indeed automotive tail-fins are no longer the common automotive add-on they once were, but the underlying questions remain valid. In the economy of 150 years ago to claim that suffering was inevitable seemed fair, for it was the state of the masses. In the economy of the present where economic deprivation is no longer the norm, to claim some must suffer while the majority live in relative affluence suddenly appears cruel. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting case study of a Canadian in America June 3 2001
The Affluent Society is probably not read anymore, and for good reason, because it doesn't have a great deal to say today. It is an "intervention," as the leftists like to say, and it doesn't translate very well to very different circumstances. Just for that reason, it is a snapshot of a particularly interesting time, the late 50's, in American history. What is most interesting about the book is the aristocratic disdain he holds for large gas grills, tail fins, televisions, and advertising. The idea that growth is not organic or spontaneous but generated by advertising--the book was written at about the same time as Vance Packard was big--is repugnant to Galbraith. How frivolous! Or even worse, how trivial. Because Galbraith was part of the strategic air command and was involved in the bombing of cities in WWII, he was intimately familiar with the consequences of that campaign, and he tells a story about how production actually increased after the bombing because all the people engaged in services, like waiters and housecleaners and barbers, went into production after the city had been destroyed. (Albert Speer, who organized that production, recalls meeting his American counterpart after the war and being very impressed with his professionalism. Speer and Galbraith are very similar, no the least in their relationships with charismatic leaders.) Galbraith does not argue, as one would expect, that quality of life is largely divorced from "production"--he is all for production, so long as it involves food, housing, steel, and other essentials. What he notes, instead, is that life went on as before after all the superfluities were stripped away. If only the masses were not so stupid! Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not a Classic, But Not a Total Loss Nov. 27 2000
I just finished this book less than an hour ago, and already much of it is slipping from my mind. Considered a classic by many in today's world, as a trumpeted 40th anniversary reprint suggested, I always wanted to give this one a twirl to see what all the fuss was about. I was for the most part underwhelmed. This may be due in some part to the fact that most of the text is unchanged from its first printing in 1958. Since many of these ideas and theories have become the norm since I was born in 1970, it's a little difficult to see them as novel. It isn't difficult to see that many of Galbraith's conclusions are failures or completely unworkable.
The book begins by laying out the idea of conventional wisdom, a term which Galbraith apparently coined, and which he crows about in his new introduction. Conventional wisdom, to Galbraith, is the big, burly force that blocks progress. Those in the know wrap themselves in the flag of conventional wisdom and refuse to acknowledge new ideas that might intrude upon their blissful solitude. Needless to say, Galbraith spends the rest of the book intruding. We get a history of economic thought from Adam Smith through David Ricardo, to Thorstein Veblen. Of course, Marx gets a chapter all to himself. Galbraith shows how their rather depressing view of the world always places the poor in the "poor house" so to speak, and is the basis for economic thought even in today's decidely less dismal world of affluence (hence the title). Galbraith proceeds to show how inflation, consumerism and poor public resources all stem from our dependence on production. In Galbraith's world, production is a roaring, runaway train that plows over everything it sees and leaves destruction in its wake.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Important Book in Economics in Second Half of 20th C.
Forget the fact that Galbraith is more readable than any other economist ever, this is an important work, full of insights into not only the condition of the post WWII economy, but... Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2001 by Charles M. A. Clark
1.0 out of 5 stars spectacularly wrong
The lesson of the whole post-Keynesian world is that governments are now responsible for economic performance. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2000 by Orrin C. Judd
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a true classic
Interesting and original analysis of the major trends in economic thinking that have shaped our times; as relevant today as 40 years ago when it was written; a great work by a... Read more
Published on Dec 16 1999 by chulas_friend
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This was overall a very good book. Galbraith portrays a very interesting point of view in the story. In memory of those who made it possible so others ould reach for the star.
Published on Nov. 19 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Many Logical Theories
Galbraith advocates more emphasis on public spending: schools, public health, etc., in order to stop poverty from perpetuating, and to distribute the wealth of a very unbalanced... Read more
Published on Oct. 17 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Galbraith shines a light on what other economists ignore.
Marx said religion is the great opiate of the people. Rather, it may be affluence. Not a popular topic among economists (whose minds are on markets and scarcity),... Read more
Published on July 18 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Fine Writing Misrepresents Pernicious Ideas
That JK Galbraith can write well in not contested. The arguments put forth in "The Affluent Society," however, are spurious at best. Read more
Published on June 10 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Cool
This was the coolest, i repeat coolest book i ever read. It's is about a guy. Did I mention he is very cool. God speed to the crew of Sputnik 1
Published on May 24 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Affluent Society was a partly factual and interesting book.
The Affluent Society was a term to describe the United States after World War II. An Affluent Society is rich in private resources but poor in public ones because of a misplaced... Read more
Published on Feb. 6 1999
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