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The Affluent Society Paperback – October 15, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 40 Anv Sub edition (October 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395925002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395925003
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher Hefele on September 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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