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The Affluent Society [Kindle Edition]

John Kenneth Galbraith
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Galbraith's classic on the "economics 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 this book) have entered the vernacular, the message of the book has not been so widely embraced--reason enough to rediscover The Affluent Society.

Editorial Reviews Review

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


"One of the most gifted writers alive . . . tumbling the tribal Gods of both left and right." Boston Globe

"With his 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 complacency about economic inequity." The New York Times

Product Details

  • File Size: 3319 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 40 Anv Sub edition (October 15, 1998)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,511 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, Well Written Leftist Economics September 17, 2003
Galbraith's book is certainly thought-provoking & worth reading. His arguments are well thought out, and his writing is wryly witty. Even if you disagree with his views, as many have, it's worth a read.
Galbraith starts the book off by reviewing how many early economic ideas were created in periods of scarcity, and that the notion of scarcity may not appropriate for today's age of mass affluence. Those with vested interests in production (i.e. large businesses) still cling to the "conventional wisdom" that increased production equals progress, even though goods are now abundant and our basic material needs have been satisfied. To stimulate further demand, corporations must resort to salesmanship and advertising. If advertising stopped, demand would fall, production would drop, and unemployment would rise; thus, business continue to focus on increasing production to ensure their own survival.
There are other threats to production. Economic cycles may result in a depression. Poorly managed firms may have to lay off workers. As a result, people -- and especially politicians --focus on economic growth to avoid these insecurities. Growth is something that both the rich and poor will vote for, since they both want to keep their jobs and acquire more goods. Growing out of a recession also seems promising. The net result is that society as a whole focuses on increasing production by private industry.
Next, Galbraith shifts his view from private industry to the public sector. He does this by introducing the idea of social balance, which asserts that as private spending increases, public spending should increase to match. For example, if factories build more cars, more money needs to be invested in public roads.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book all students of economics should read. August 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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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pragmatic approach to economics September 8, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There is a glaring blind spot among Conservative economists who speak breathlessly about freedom and distribution of power yet completely ignore the threat brought on by the disparity of wealth. The growing gap was what Marx saw as the eventual destroyer of Capitalism. Conservatives, on the other hand, see the disparity not as a problem but as a solution to pure democracy where a street sweeper has the same one vote as a CEO. Extreme wealth puts the power back in the hands of the people most capable of wielding it.

Mr. Galbraith takes a look back at the evolution of economics starting with the early belief that the average worker would always earn just enough to survive and perhaps raise a family. Later Herbert Spencer expounded his Social Darwinian view of economics that has shown a resurgence in the last few decades. The original view was that social programs literally allow inferior genetic lines to procreate and dilute society. It was the collapse of the stock market in the 1930's that put Social Darwinism on the back burner. Although Marx correctly predicted the collapse, the economy recovered and the increasing disparity never created a revolution in the United States. This, however, may have been thanks to the many wealth redistribution programs created after the Great Depression. The author also points out that there is more of a physical separation between the economic strata's and ostentatious displays of wealth have become at best passé at worst vulgar.

The book punches a hole in the theory that productivity declines as worker security increases. One need only look at the dramatic rise in both production and security after World War II. As Mr. Galbraith points out it's always the OTHER guy who should give up security.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars like Obama, Clinton
A Socialist conglomeration of hypocrisy and contradictions. Galbraith believes, like Obama, Clinton, all of their Administrations', as well as most of the Democrat Party believe... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Prudent Man
5.0 out of 5 stars Galbraith a genius, an eloquent master craftsman of the ...
Galbraith a genius, an eloquent master craftsman of the English language and clear-headed analyst of the preposterous myths of American capitalism.
Published 5 months ago by Liznola
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Gave this as a gift and she loved it.
Published 5 months ago by Diane Steiner
4.0 out of 5 stars The production of goods is not the central issue of our life
Galbraith was a public intellectual of a generation that I missed. I had previously read his book on the crash of 1929 and enjoyed his clear, concise writing style which sometimes... Read more
Published 20 months ago by J. Edgar Mihelic
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Affluence a solutiion to the economic paradox
First published in the mid 1950s, Galbraith became one of the first to explore the possible significance of the break through sported by Keynes and his General Theory of two... Read more
Published on October 8, 2012 by Timothy K. Fitzgerald
5.0 out of 5 stars hits the nail on the head in diagnosing the obsolescence of our...
I wish I'd discovered this guy's writing during his lifetime. What's striking is that economic and political thought still hasn't come close to acknowledging what was already... Read more
Published on March 20, 2012 by J. Strauss
4.0 out of 5 stars The Affluent society
In this book, Galbraith speaks of broad strokes while we can only hope for small change. He talks about a government that modifies the very engine of production - the intake and... Read more
Published on November 30, 2011 by Sandy Voss
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Economics
This should be standard reading for anyone interested in economics and how the world operates. The arguments Galbraith presents here are as salient today as they were when he... Read more
Published on June 9, 2011 by J. Smallridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant (and still relevant) critique of conventional economic...
The Affluent Society is an extremely well written and trenchant criticism of what John Kenneth Galbraith calls the current "conventional wisdom" in economics. Read more
Published on November 21, 2010 by Brian C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile Read --- But Rather Outdated (4.5 Stars)
"We are here in one of the contexts where circumstance has marched far beyond conventional wisdom. We have seen how general are the efforts to join the New Class and how rapid is... Read more
Published on September 2, 2009 by Rufus Burgess
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More About the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith who was born in 1908, is the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University and a past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the distinguished author of thirty-one books spanning three decades, including The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Oxford, the University of Paris, and Moscow University, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Order of Canada and received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2000, at a White House ceremony, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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