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American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power (Classics in Economics) Paperback – January 1, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was a critically acclaimed author and one of America's foremost economists. His most famous works include The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. Galbraith was the receipient of the Order of Canada and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement, and he was twice awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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Product Details

  • Series: Classics in Economics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; Revised ed. edition (January 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560006749
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560006749
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Hans G. Despain on May 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
"American Capitalism" was John K. Galbraith's first best-seller. This book has several valuable historical and practical insights and remains a significant theoretical contribution, still relevant today. It was not the popular and academic success of "The Affluent Society," "The New Industrial State," and "Economics and the Public Purpose." However "American Capitalism" would be the theoretical groundbreaking of Galbraith's later efforts.

In this book Galbraith maintained the fundamental character of American Capitalism had transformed. The economic system was riddled with big firms and market concentration. Galbraith's book was an application and further development of Edward Chamberlin's and Joan Robinson's arguments and theories of imperfect competition.

Galbraith counters traditional market economists on the ideological mantra that markets equal political freedom. According to Galbraith, markets do not necessarily generate political freedom. If market competition leads to economic concentration then the result of market competition may be far from "freedom." Likewise Galbraith suggests that noncompetitive firms and industries can be more productive and efficient, not less efficient as suggested by textbooks of his era (a position still held in today's textbooks). Against his fellow liberals, Galbraith maintained that big firms (or oligopolies) did not necessarily threaten American democracy (a position he would continue to maintain in his later works; his son James K. Galbraith has radically challenged this position, not as having been wrong, but a political institutional transformation has occurred, giving rise to the "Predator State").
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Format: Paperback
John Kenneth Galbraith wrote "American Capitalism" in the early 1950s, not long after a stint at Fortune magazine and wartime duties as a price regulator had given him a deep practical knowledge of American business. The time was ripe for fresh economic thinking, as Americans were still coming to grips with 20th century developments that fit awkwardly (if at all) into mainstream economics -- Keynes, mass affluence, pervasive oligopoly, the risk of prolonged depression, mass advertising, unions, the role of technology in lifting living standards, and more. In "American Capitalism,' Galbraith tried to invent a new economics that shunned cant and reflected these new realities. His big idea was that oligopoly was a permanent fact of life and a precondition of technological progress; as such, it had to be countervailed (through unions, big retailers, and government programs) rather than rolled back. Some parts of Galbraith's system were more persuasive and enduring than others, and his ideas were refined in later works such as "The Affluent Society" and "The New Industrial State." Nevertheless, "American Capitalism" is still very much worth reading in 2015. It is thought-provoking, iconoclastic, and droll. Six stars.
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Format: Paperback
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was a Canadian-American economist, who taught at Harvard University, served as U.S. Ambassador to India (1961-1963), and wrote a number of bestselling books, such as The Affluent Society (A Mentor Book), The New Industrial State (James Madison Library in American Politics), Economics & The Public Purpose, The Great Crash 1929, The Age of Uncertainty (which was a TV series on the BBC), etc.

This book was first published in 1952, and then revised in 1956. He wrote in the Foreword to the 1956 edition, "In a book like this the line between economics and politics must truly be an imaginary one... this is an essay in social criticism... I pass under review ideas that are strongly held and positions that are warmly defended and, with some, at least, I take vigorous issue." He says early on that as the U.S. proceeds to higher levels of well-being, we tend to "retreat from social experiment"; the astute politician is the one who promises to defend the status quo (Pg. 10-11).
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