Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is That What I Couldn't Put My Finger On?

Several years ago, I read Richard Parker's biography of John Kenneth Galbraith. And while I enjoyed it, I finished it with a sense that there was something about Galbraith that eluded me. Something in the analysis of the economic environment and the players within it was missing. Now I think I know what it is.

This article in City Journal (HT to Arts & Letters Daily again) gives a different picture of Galbraith. It does not diminish his importance as a popularizer of economics, or as a thinker. What it does do is imply a "blind spot." The author feels that many of the same short-comings that Galbraith attributed to business leaders and the wealthy are also present, but somehow overlooked by Galbraith, in political leaders.

It's an interesting proposition, and gave me an "ah-ha" moment. We often forget (or overlook) that everyone responds to incentives, and those incentives shape how we do things.  The presumption that people in the public sector have a wider and more benevolent view than people in the private sector is highly questionable. As a consequence, I think I may have to revisit Galbraith through other biographies and some of his writings and see if I concur the author of the City Journal piece. I would welcome your evaluation of the article, as well as any additional insights.

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