John Kenneth Galbraith Quotes

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908 – 2006

Born: 15 October 1908, Iona Station, Ontario, Canada
Died: 29 April 2006, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Galbraith was the only son of William Archibald and Catherine Kendall Galbraith, Scots farming in Dunwich Township. William was not only a farmer, he was also a teacher, head of the farm-coop insurance company, organizer of the township phone company, and town and county auditor. Galbraith entered Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph), studying practical farming, when he realized that the economy in which farmers would sell their goods was more important than improving poultry production. He went on to earn a master’s (1933) and doctorate (1934) from the University of California at Berkeley. His articles in The Journal of Farm Economics were read in Cambridge, Harvard hired him as an instructor and tutor from 1934 to 1939. In 1939 he became a US citizen and started teaching at Princeton, then joined the Roosevelt administration, becoming administrator of wage and price controls in the Office of Price Administration, forced out in 1943. At six foot eight he was too tall for the Army, so he became an editor at Fortune while holding a variety of government executive positions. At Fortune he learned he had a gift for clearly explaining complex issues to a general audience, three US presidents (FDR, JFK, and LBJ, plus Adlai Stevenson’s campaign) had him write speeches for them. He was Ambassador to India in the Kennedy administration, then was an advisor to Johnson until they broke over Vietnam and Galbraith campaigned for Gene McCarthy. He continue to write, both books and articles, his work was popular not only with liberals that agreed with him but was valued by conservatives, although many economists faulted him for a lack of mathematical support for his theories. He was the first to use the term “conventional wisdom,” and thus first to declare it generally wrong. He was given over fifty honorary degrees and is one of only four recipients of two Presidential Medals Freedom, from Truman (1946) and Clinton (2000). Galbraith died of natural causes in a Cambridge hospital.

John Kenneth Galbraith quotes:

“Poverty,” Pitt exclaimed “is no disgrace but it is damned annoying.” In the contemporary United States it is not annoying but it is a disgrace.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Affluent Society (1958)

A more important antidote to American democracy is American gerontocracy. The positions of eminence and authority in Congress are allotted in accordance with length of service, regardless of quality.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – “The United States” in New York magazine (15 November 1971)

A nuclear war does not defend a country and it does not defend a system. I’ve put it the same way many times; not even the most accomplished ideologue will be able to tell the difference between the ashes of capitalism and the ashes of communism.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – “The Ashes of Capitalism and the Ashes of Communism” (1986)

A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

Agreeable as it is to know where one is proceeding, it is far more important to know where one has arrived.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The New Industrial State (1967)

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Age of Uncertainty (1977)

All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. The violence of revolutions is the violence of men who charge into a vacuum.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Age of Uncertainty (1977)

All, the intelligent and stupid, diligent and idle, have been swept along on a current of increased output that, in the usual case, owed nothing whatever to their efforts.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The New Industrial State (1967)

American university presidents are a nervous breed; I have never thought well of them as a class.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Age of Uncertainty (1977)

Among all the world’s races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – “The United States” in New York magazine (15 November 1971)

Any consideration of the life and larger social existence of the modern corporate man… begins and also largely ends with the effect of one all-embracing force. That is organization — the highly structured assemblage of men, and now some women, of which he is a part. It is to this, at the expense of family, friends, sex, recreation and sometimes health and effective control of alcoholic intake, that he is expected to devote his energies.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – “Corporate Man” in The New York Times (22 January 1984)

At best, in such depression times, monetary policy is a feeble reed on which to lean.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Great Crash, 1929 (1954)

Banking may well be a career from which no man really recovers.
    John Kenneth Galbraith

But it can be laid down as a rule that those who speak most of liberty are least inclined to use it.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The New Industrial State (1967)

But now, as throughout history, financial capacity and political perspicacity are inversely correlated.
    John Kenneth Galbraith – The Great Crash, 1929 (1954)

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