John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, by Richard Parker. New York, N.Y.: Farar, Straus, and Giroux. 2005. Trade, hardcover, ISBN 9780374281687, $35.00. 820 pages.
This hefty biography befits its subject in all ways: his physical stature, his intellectual accomplishments, his role in the second half of the twentieth century. Actually John Kenneth Galbraith began his trek through the twentieth century in the 1930s as a part of the New Deal. A noted Harvard professor, prominent author of influential books, World War II price administrator, founding member of the ADA, adviser to Democratic presidents, ambassador to India, president of the AEA-how could one write a short book recounting this packed life?
The author takes his subject chronologically, mixing the life, politics, and economics all together. Since Galbraith always treated economics within its social and political context, there is little option but to treat his life within its social and political context. This being the case, the book is more or less the social and political history of the last two thirds of the twentieth century in the United States as well as a few other places. Hence the length of the book is attributable to more than just the nature of its chief subject.
Perhaps the major theme running through the work, from the standpoint of an economist, is the conflict between the Keynesian position and that of monetarism. These terms in this instance, however, mean much more than the difference between fiscal and monetary policy. Here the Keynesian appellation includes as well as Keynesian policy the whole pragmatic and experimental philosophy that characterized the New Deal. The monetary appellation refers to much more than a faith in the power of the interest rate. It involves a philosophy within which the market is almost viewed as the earthly surrogate of God. To those of the latter persuasion, the economic ideas of Galbraith are heresy if not, perhaps, blasphemy.
To the monetarist the economy is a self-regulating mechanism reflecting a stable human nature and an eternal social order of landlords, laborers, and capitalists, each the social incarnation of real elements, land, labor, and capital. The system by virtue of Say's law is tending toward an equilibrium of full employment at all times. All that is necessary for control is one variable, money, and all will be well. That can be achieved by introducing new money at the same rate as the real...