Galbraith's legacy

There is a new breadth in economics today that casts fresh light on Galbraith's career and its significance. Yet, as Amartya Sen has noted, Galbraiths contribution still doesnt get enough praise. In June 2000, Sen gave the commencement address at Harvard on the subject of globalization, and he used it to offer an eloquent articulation of the capability challenges the world needed to meet. In order to do this, he said, we must fully understand how to balance and direct competing power in societies, which have conflicting interests and unevenly distributed strengths, for power is at the center of achieving true freedom. The great importance of this topic had first dawned on him as a young college student in Calcutta almost half a century earlier, he added, sitting in a coffeehouse reading a little book entitled American Capitalism by an American economist named Galbraithand it had never left him since.

Some months later a reporter asked Sen whether he thought that Galbraiths work would enjoy lasting influence, and if so, why. Sens reply was that Galbraith and his work would indeed endure, and for a simple reason that could best be seen in The Affluent Society. The book was an example of Galbraiths great insight, he said, which has become so much a part of our understanding of contemporary capitalism that we forget where it began. Its like reading Hamlet and deciding its full of quotations. You realize where they came from.