76 of 77 people found the following review helpful
This book is a 62-page essay on fraudulent aspects of the current economic and political reality in the United States as seen by an illustrious economist and one of the most influential men of our time. Noteworthy is the fact that John Kenneth Galbraith was 95-years old when he wrote this a year ago. Judging from the wisdom and clarity of his expression, I can only say (to recall a line from a Meg Ryan movie, if you will): "I'll have what he's having."
I identified ten "frauds" as I was reading, but I think I may have missed one or two. Before I list them and comment, let me quote the last line in the book because I think it is important: "War remains the decisive failure."
Why Galbraith chose the word "decisive" is something of a puzzle. Decisive for what or for whom? Is he implying some sort of "decision" as regards humankind? Does he think we are going the way of the dodos? For myself it is clear that unless the war system is ended, most human beings will never progress beyond a tribal mentality, and will continue to suffer what Galbraith calls "death and random cruelty, [and the] suspension of civilized values..." (p. 62)
The "innocent" frauds that Galbraith calls to our attention are actually not all that innocent. What he means by "innocent" is that for the perpetrators, there is "no sense of guilt or responsibility" as though the fraudulent were children. Indeed from the perspective of Professor Galbraith's extensive experience and learning, many of the people who run our economies and our political systems are children. At any rate, there is a somewhat lofty and even grandfatherly tone to this treatise.
The first "fraud" is the use of the euphemistic "market economy" instead of the slightly stained "capitalism" to describe the present economic system. (By the way, Galbraith does not number his frauds. I do it for the sake of keeping them straight in my mind.)
The second is the fact that in the modern corporation, ownership--that is, the stockholders--have little to no authority while the professional managers call all the shots including setting their own compensation (fraud #7). Galbraith attributes this to the fact that corporations have become so vast and complex that the relatively unsophisticated ownership cannot really understand how to run the enterprise and so must yield to management.
Fraud number three is one that interests me a lot. Galbraith writes, "Reference to the market system as a benign alternative to capitalism is a bland, meaningless disguise of the deeper corporate reality--of producer power extending to influence over, even control of, consumer demand." (p. 7) This really is one of the most pressing problems of our time because the corporate power, through its ability to influence and control its legions of employees and the media, also has "influence over, even control of" who runs for office and who is elected in national and state governments. Indeed, in fraud #8 Galbraith notes that "A large, vital and expanding part of what is called the public sector is for all practical effect in the private sector." (p. 34) He specifically identifies the "defense" industry as being largely controlled by defense contractors in the private sector. Elsewhere in the essay, Galbraith refers to "the control of consumer choice and sovereignty" indicating that he understands that the control extends to the electorate. (p. 13)
Fraud number four is the way we hypocritically value "work." For some it is toil and for others it is a pleasure and indeed largely the reason for living, and yet how differently we are compensated, with those who need it least often getting the most in financial reward.
Fraud five refers to the corporate bureaucracy. While corporate people sneer at government agencies as being bureaucratic, large corporations have become just as bloated or even more so. (Chapter V: "The Corporation as Bureaucracy.")
Fraud #6 is the phony celebration of small businesses and family farms in the political rhetoric. Galbraith comments, "For the small retailer, Wal-Mart awaits. For the family farm, there are the massive grain and fruit enterprise and the modern large-scale meat producer." (p. 25)
Fraud #9 (I've mentioned numbers 7 and 8 above) is the fraud of economic predictions. Galbraith observes: "The financial world sustains a large, active, well-rewarded community based on compelled but seemingly sophisticated ignorance" (i.e., stockbrokers, stock analysts and other financial prognosticators). He adds, "...those...who tell of the future financial performance of an industry or firm, given the unpredictable but controlling influence of the larger economy, do not know and normally do not know that they do not know." (p. 40)
Finally there is the quaint fraud of the actions of the Federal Reserve Board, which Galbraith claims have no real effect on the economy.
For an interesting book on the corporation as a psychopathic entity (yes, psychopathic) see, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan. In fact Galbraith should read this book. It would further part of his thesis.
In part this modest book is a succinct warning about how corporations are becoming more and more powerful as they gain greater and greater control over our lives. Perhaps what Galbraith is saying in his laconic way is that there is a very real danger that bit by bit we are on the way to a nation controlled not by a democratic electorate or even by republican checks and balances, but by an oligarchy of corporate power.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2005
Although professor Galbraith has little proclivity for numbers not all economic ideas are best expressed as such. To reach the masses one must present simple valid arguments with suitable justification for assumptions.
Dr. Galbraith does just this in his essay.
He makes explicit what the masses know implicitly especially in light of Enron, Worldcom, ad infinitum.
Contrary to what some readers have posted ( I sometimes wonder if they actually read the book ) the author does not advocate "socialism, marxism," etc ( as if these terms had an unambiguous meaning ) but simply points out certain beliefs prevalent in society and proceeds to show that they are indeed myths. Some beliefs he clearly states are "innocent" by-products of circumstance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book unable to put it down until it was read. I can only hope Dr. Galbraith continues to publish and provide us with his unique perspective.
49 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2004
John Kenneth Galbraith says he had fun writing this compact treatise, but it makes for painful reading. The much-honored Harvard professor claims that the gap between common wisdom about national economics and reality has widened alarmingly in recent years.
The center of the book's thesis is that what we once called "capitalism", and now usually call a "Market System", has morphed into a "Corporate System" controlled by management bureaucracy. Here are two short fragments to give the flavor of Galbraith's tract:
Myth: Shareholders own corporations.
"No one should be in any doubt: Shareholders-owners-and their alleged directors in any sizable enterprise are fully subordinate to the management. Though the impression of owner authority is offered, it does not, in fact, exist."
Myth: The public sector is entirely independent of the private sector.
"At this writing, corporate managers are in close alliance with the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense. Major corporate figures are also in senior positions elsewhere in the federal government; one came from the bankrupt and thieving Enron to preside over the Army."
In earlier times, this book would have been burned in the public square. These days, it may simply be pushed off the bookshelves by a blizzard of withering reviews.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
There is certainly fraud in economics however I question the innocence. Mr. Galbraith points out a handful of accepted truths about economics that are, quite frankly, false. Perhaps the biggest fraud is the idea the shareholders are part owners of the companies they invest in. This idea has been pushed most recently by internet trading companies who like to give small investors the impression that they literally own a piece of the company. You might as well claim to own part of the moon. Despite being an investor and `part owner' of the company I worked for they still laid me off without my permission or consultation. Even the board of directors is created by and for management. Mr. Galbraith describes the annual shareholder meetings as resembling a "Covenanted Baptist Church service". What further proof do you need of the impotence of the shareholder than the continuing and inexorable rise in management salaries through the early part of the decade as the market tanked. Imagine sports athletes being in charge of setting their own salaries and it becomes clear how CEO's can now earn 470 times the salary of the lowest paid worker in the company they manage.
Another fraud discussed by the author is the idea of public and private policy. These two spheres have become increasingly irrelevant as government officials jump back and forth between corporate management and policy making. How many public appointees have suddenly found themselves with lucrative lobbying careers the moment they leave an administration? Mr. Galbraith points to the military industrial complex as a particularly egregious merging of the two and even argues that the Pentagon is as much in the private sector as the public. As the final chapter closes he expresses sadness that of all the areas of technology that man has pursued developing weapons of war has consistently held priority.
`The Economics of Innocent Fraud' is a very small book (62 tiny pages) and can be read in a single sitting. The book is just a few simple ideas set down with little in the way of argument or persuasion. Although I agree with Mr. Galbraith in his ideas I wish there could have been a lot more substance. One chapter argues that the Federal Reserve is basically a placebo to satisfy investors and voters that the government is doing something. That's a pretty bold assertion (although I have heard this argument before). I just wish the book would have backed it up with more facts. Still, it's nice to see such a legendary figure still producing sharp, topical writings.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2008
Galbraith remains the best 20th century economist because he understood that Economics isn't real science. Economists occupy a role that the Catholic Church occupied in Medieval Europe. Most clergy are corrupt or useless or filling some office of prestigious busy work with high qualifications and little talent. But there are a few good ones. Galbraith was one of the good ones.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2009
This book by the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith is a scathing critique of modern society. In it, he wittily demolishes the myths that the market and big business are benign, that minimal intervention, inequality and greed are best for the economy, and that there can be accurate economic forecasts.
He writes, "What prevails in real life is not reality but the current fashion and the pecuniary interest." But in the longer run, reality defeats conventional wisdom.
He describes "the effort to accord the owners, stockholders, shareholders, investors as variously denoted, a seeming role in the enterprise" (and now `stakeholders'). Yet, "the myths of investor authority, of the serving stockholder, the ritual meetings of directors and the annual stockholder meeting persist, but ... corporate power lies with management - a bureaucracy in control of its task and its compensation. Rewards that can verge on larceny." So stock markets and corporate sales fall, yet bonuses soar.
He denounces the folly of relying on cuts in interest rates to bring recovery. As he notes, "Business firms borrow when they can make money and not because interest rates are low." The Federal Reserve Bank's actions were irrelevant, through World War One, the depression, World War Two, and since.
He writes, "The one wholly reliable remedy for recession is a solid flow of consumer demand. Failure in such a flow is a recession. In the United States, especially with stagnation and recession, the lower-income citizen has an acute need for education, health care, a basic family income in one form or another. State and local governments, under the pressure of enhanced demand, cut social outlays. ... The overall effect has been reduced personal and family income and well-being - recession without effective curative action."
Galbraith points out that private firms, massively subsidised by the public, dominate `defence'. He observes, "As the corporate interest moves to power in what was the public sector, it serves, predictably, the corporate interest. That is its purpose. It is most important and most clearly evident in the largest such movement, that of nominally private firms into the defense establishment, the Pentagon. From this comes a primary influence on the military budget. Also, and much more than marginally, on foreign policy, military commitment and, ultimately, military action. War."
Of the attack on Vietnam, Galbraith writes, "During all this time the military establishment in Washington was in support of the war. This, indeed, was assumed. It was occupationally appropriate that both the armed services and the weapons industries should accept and endorse hostilities." So also of the attack on Iraq.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2005
Time was when Mr Galbraith was one of America's foremost economists. His works - on The Great Crash, The Affluent Society, The New Industrial State, and The Concept of Countervailing Power -- were instant classics. No reasonably intelligent person could ignore them and still claim to be informed. They are all still in print; and all continue to attract a wide audience, both popular and professional, at least among literate readers.
And THAT's the key to Mr G. -- Literacy, not Numeracy.
Not that he ignores numbers, but he has never relied on them exclusively to make his case. Never one to be unduly impressed by a (metaphorical) graph or a (metaphysical) equation, Galbraith's approach has always been more historical and instiutional than marginalist and mathematical. Language and a certain literary flair have always characterised his work. And for many of us, that has been its saving grace. He is as likely to quote Shakespeare as Smith, Frost as Ricardo. Awash, as we now are, in obscure econometrics and obtuse `economese,' we look to Galbraith (and his ilk) to save us from the "professional" bamboozlers who aim to "blind us with economic science" rather than enlighten us with cultured insight. Or, even, Reason!
The present work, though hardly vintage Galbraith, is no exception.
The premise is simple enough: We routinely take refuge in a number of apparently "innocent frauds" in order to evade certain unpalatable truths about the nature of the system we live in. But, once we've accepted one of these white lies we've begun an irreversible descent down the Gadarene Slope to perdition. For instance: We no longer call our current system a "capitalist" economy, or use the more accurate "monopoly capitalism." Instead we call it "the free market system." And, because it is "free" it's clear that we, as individual consumers, are "sovereign." Hey, no one tell US what to buy, right? It's not like the Soviet Union or China. And, when WE consume it's like we're "voting" for a particular product. Which makes sense; because you'd expect a free and democratic society to have a free and "democratic" market, right? So, that's why "we" are the best: We are "free-er" which makes us "richer" which is why our GDP is higher than everyone else's. We produce more because we work harder, and we work harder because we're paid more. And because initiative and know-how are rewarded we have more entrepreneurs and businesses, and they compete against each other and that's why our stuff is better than other people's stuff, and our businesses (like Microsoft) dominate the globe. A"free" system is the best system, and whenever the government interferes it always screws things up. In fact, the government only improves when business leaders take it in hand; because they know how to trim waste by "downsizing" bloated and inefficient government bureaucracies. They know that when the system is allowed to work, everybody benefits. That's why so many people got rich in the stock market boom in the `90s; and that's why we're trying to extend the benefits of a free system to Iraq and the Middle East. because once they see that it works they'll stop hating us, and attacking us. They'll be free too.
With some embellishments, this is the series of "innocent frauds" which Galbraith attacks in this short book. This wrong-headed view of the world is made of whole cloth. Its apparent cohesion is a product of its ideologically-driven delusions. And Galbraith, to his credit, continues even at the ripe old age of 95, to take on this idiocy which masquerades as "thought" and as "Truth".
A few caveats, however.
FIRST: Galbraith's style here will lose him some readers. At its best it is crisp and clear, epigrammatic and erudite. At its worst it is verbose, self-indulgent and frustratingly obtuse.
SECOND: NONE of the frauds itemized in this book is really "innocent". They are all deliberate distortions designed to delude the many and enrich the few. Galbraith knows this, but he cannot muster the kind of moral outrage that these systemic and systematic lies demand. As he says in his conclusion: the corporate system in which we live "has given a privileged position to the development of weapons," and the inevitable result has been that "mass slaughter has become [our] ultimate civilized achievement." (p. 62) Where's the "innocence" in THAT? Any attempt to do battle against a "civilization" dedicated to war and its attendant miseries, armed only with wit and literary artifice, is doomed to failure. It will require more than wit and an avuncular eye for plutocratic pecadilloes to thwart a system dedicated to "programmed death for the young and random slaughter for men and women of all ages" (p. 61). If this really is "Truth For Our Time," as the subtitle claims, then it is delivered in terms and in a tone that the times can simply dismiss.
FINALLY: As many previous revieweres have remarked, to try to pass this extended essay off as a "book" and then sell it for $15 is itself a fraud. And of the worst kind, because it is designed to fleece the very people whom Glabraith is attempting to reach. Shame on the Publisher! And on Mr. Galbraith.
on January 26, 2013
Those who claim that they don't have the time to read books (one of the only two places to learn the truth today--the other being the Internet) cannot use that as an excuse not to read "The Economies of Innocent Fraud" by late John Kenneth Galbraith since it is a very small book--62 pages. But within those few pages Galbraith gives enough facts and wisdom to understand the real reasons why the whole world led by the USA is going down further, enriching only the few at the top and leaving a whole lot of others to survive from month to month or go starving.
A society based on false premises representing as conventional wisdom or approved belief--that is in stark contrast with reality--with an unfortunate yet a huge percentage of the population believing in those, and repeating the slogans to back those frauds, has no future. At this rate, we cannot anticipate the USA to come out of the recession that we are in since they are following the same policies that took us into the recession, in addition to allowing the same people who put us in this recession in the first place back in power to come up with a cure for the recession. Any economic improvement under these conditions will only be tenuous and fleeting. By the time the majority in the society begin to feel good, it will go right back into a deep hole. This is what Galbraith tells us in this book.
Having explained the nature of innocent fraud, Galbraith points out how certain policies that once failed are renamed in order to bring them back since they benefit the same group of people who benefitted from them at the expense of the whole society when they were first practiced (thus history repeating itself). Then he goes on to explain how the word "work" is so absurdly used to describe the work of a billionaire CEO who seemed to tap-dance to work and enjoy every minute of it that makes him a few millions and the work of a minimum-hour worker who cannot afford to have a decent place to live or enough to eat while performing tasks they hate. Then he points out how the corporations have taken over the government and how there is no longer a true public sector so to speak of and how policies are made by corporations, while blaming the public sector for the same policies, convincing people to get rid of a fast vanishing real public sector. Discussing the case with public companies that is supposed to give power to the stockholders, he points out how they are truly run by bureaucracies for the benefit of a few at the top with the top management deciding how much they should get paid to do their so called "work."
Explaining the work of our Federal Reserve, he gives evidence of their ineffectiveness if the reasons for the FED were to benefit the common people. He points out how the policies of the FED actually help increase the income gap. That should explain why the USA has the widest income disparity of the industrial nations in the world. These are the results of policies that account for economies of fraud.
As Galbraith points out, even the book is small it is the result of a lifetime of observation, discussions and research to show how the reality is obscured by social or habitual preference and personal or group pecuniary advantage in economics and politics. This is so evident in the society where it is hard to find a mainstream economist telling the truth to the people; instead, they hammer the slogans handed to them by multinational corporations via their public relations firms to endorse the corporate-driven government and the economy. You cannot blame the mainstream economists since if they don't promote what they are told, they may not find well compensated employment. Hence, it is the ordinary people that should be aware. Reading "The Economies of Innocent Fraud" will help you understand this contrast between conventional wisdom and reality.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Galbraith's last book reviews the economic landscape of several years ago...before the meltdown. He's quite open about the failure of liberalism...i.e. the "countervailing power" of the state....to be a balancing force for the public interest against the overwhelming reality of the corporate dominance of the US and world economy. That the corporation spends all of its waking hours, insuring that competition is eliminated, he reminds, is reflected in the fact that Paul Samelson, the Nobel dean of free market analysts, comments that neo-classical economics no longer is able to describe the economics of our times...and hasn't for a generation, so extensive has been the continuing consolidation of economic power.
It is this old American mythology of "free" markets that leads to the compliance of the electorate. Galbraith posits this as THE enduring illusion of American politics...that has yielded the weakest "social contract" of any advanced nation.
I had read this book when it first was published, and it has proven to be prescient. It's very short and to the point book...an easy read...and intended as a review of his major observations, at life's end,...while "sitting in the peanut gallery". Galbraith's point was not to predict, it was to underline that the corporate state...which ensues when the interests of the corporation and that of the state are deemed to be identical...is the dominant economic reality of our times. It's easy to propose that this is an exaggeration...and that what we really have is a hybrid system...and I can accept some of these arguments...for there are many good people in government doing their jobs as intended...and as allowed under law. However my take is that, Galbraith's perspective provides the best explanation for what happens every day, when Americans get up in the morning and go to work.
He also stresses that the power of the mega-corporation to politically influence outcomes is potentially enormous. As is its power to get its way...through the power of mass advertising. Just today, the Supreme Court is reviewing an important case regarding corporate money in politics. Today the Supreme Court with its bevy of "country club" justices, has fully enunciated its clear empathy towards corporate money in campaigns...as a matter of "free speech". It even countervails a century of settled law on the subject. This only further proves Galbraith's point, that the "countervailing power" of the state is not at all seen as a check and balance on the mega-corporation...but as "big brother", dictating outcomes inimical to the corporations "who know what's best"...according to Justice Scalia. To these "conservative" justices, the state is to be tamed to the purposes of the mega-corporations.
All of this supports Galbraith's realistic conclusion that the Corporate State is not likely to be significantly altered in our epoch of world economic history. We can fight for a better social contract...and make some reforms, but the structure of economic reality will remain the same.