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The Affluent Society (1958)

by John Kenneth Galbraith

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  Lunapilot | Jul 19, 2016 |
A profoundly silly book from a once revered, now largely forgotten economist.

It is really an updating of the arguments Sismondi and Mill (among others) were making over a century before, namely that we, as a species, now had enough stuff and the pursuit of more was self defeating. Sismondi and Mill made this argument when most of humanity didn't have the proverbial to piss in, and Galbraith's rehash is little more convincing. Some of the things he records as needless fancies include wall to wall carpets and vacuum cleaners, both pretty much necessities these days. Still, Galbraith could probably afford a maid.

As ridiculous is his famous argument about private plenty and public squalor. As Galbraith was writing this, governments were increasing their spending endlessly to the point we now have where, in may countries, government debt is approaching or over 100% of GDP. We have public plenty to a degree we can no longer afford. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Nov 9, 2015 |
Published soon after I left school, this was hailed at the time as an important analysis of what some (and particularly Galbraith) saw as a set of problems and issues associated with what was seen as increasing affluence, reduced need for work etc. Sadly, like many (perhaps most) economists and sociologists, Galbraith either overlooked, misunderstood, or perhaps failed entirely to consider, the wide and unpredictable outcomes of technological development - the strange interactions between people, societies, economies and new products and mechanisms. People use new products and services in new ways, and these new ways give rise to opportunities and demands for new types of products and services, and for new societal behaviours and modes. In this respect, 'The Affluent Society' is as interesting, but also as misleading, as 'Future Shock' and all the other predictions of the doom that will befall if we fail to prepare ourselves for what is to come. Since we cannot predict, we cannot prepare, which is what makes political decision making so difficult. Except of course in a dictatorship, where politics seeks to decide the future rather than prepare for it - and that doesn't work either! By the way, its still a good read - if you enjoy or can live with his leftish bias. ( )
  NaggedMan | Jan 31, 2015 |
This book was on Newsweek's list of the top 100 books, which I am currently reading through. I don't have much of an interest in reading about economics, which accounts for a mere three stars in this review, but as far as economics goes, The Affluent Society was well-written and easy to read and contained quite a bit of interesting information, even if I didn't always agree with the author. In some ways it seems he really has a handle on the post WWII economic society in America, not only at the time he wrote the book in 1958 but even today. However, many of his ideas sound good on paper but do not necessarily work in practice. I am all for keeping our public roads in good shape and our parks clean and, most importantly, open, but heavy taxation today may not result in any better care of our roads or parks and may just end up lining the pockets of our government leaders. Also, his ideas on unemployment insurance and social welfare (which basically have been put in to practice), may be good ideas in a society where idleness is frowned upon, but this no longer seems to be the case and the system is often abused at taxpayer expense. ( )
1 vote rizeandshine | Jun 2, 2011 |
Chapter 17 on the Theory of Social Balance is brilliant. ( )
  DLSmithies | Oct 19, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0395925002, Paperback)

Conventional wisdom has it that John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society spawned the neoliberalism we see in Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and other world leaders. The economist's prose, lofty but still easily manageable, laid down the gauntlet for the post-cold war class struggle that was still far in the future in 1958. Galbraith saw the widening gap between the richest and the poorest as an emergent threat to economic stability, and proposed significant investment in parks, transportation, education, and other public amenities--what we now call infrastructure--to ameliorate these differences and postpone depression and revolution indefinitely. Widely criticized by conservatives and libertarians wary of public expenditures or increased government influence, Galbraith still influences liberal and neoliberal thinking. He has acknowledged that his work, like that of most social scientists, contains flaws (like his dire prediction of an out-of-control unemployment and inflation spiral that petered out in the 1980's), but much of it remains fresh and true even today. Four years before Silent Spring, he wrote about the consumerist blight that threatened our wild lands equally as much as our cities; his hoped-for increase in environmental awareness has grown significantly in recent years. Whether you support the political implementations of his views, experiencing his writing is important to put those views in context. More than this, though, it is an honest pleasure to read such original ideas so well expressed. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:18 -0400)

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Galbraith's classic on the "economic of abundance" is, in the words of the New York Times, "a compelling challenge to conventional thought." With customary clarity, eloquence, and humor, Galbraith cuts to the heart of what economic security means (and doesn't mean) in today's world and lays bare the hazards of individual and societal complacence about economic inequity. While "affluent society" and "conventional wisdom" (first used in the book) have entered the vernacular, the message of the book has not been so widely embraced-reason enough to rediscover The Affluent Society.… (more)

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