Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Predators' Boneyard: A Conversation with James Kenneth Galbraith

“Veblen was a forerunner of what I hope will be the development of economic thought; the understanding that principles that underlie biological systems are the same principles that underlie all living systems. The concepts of hierarchies and controlled and uncontrolled predatory conduct are universal. And so when we encounter a doctrine of harmonization, of the smoothly functioning realization of the interests of all, the great and the small, which is textbook market economics, people should recognize that this is sand being thrown in their faces—that this cannot possibly be a realistic representation of the world in which we actually live. Take it as an analytic principle that one has to look at the behavior of the great with a cold eye.”
—James Kenneth Galbraith, interview with The Straddler, March 14, 2010

By way of introduction
In mid March, The Straddler met with James Kenneth Galbraith in midtown Manhattan to seek his perspective on recent events—and the way in which orthodox modes of thought, and ingrained habits of behavior, affected the response to the collapse of 2008.

Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., Chair in Government/Business Relations at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. A Senior Scholar of the Levy Economics Institute, he also directs the University of Texas Inequality Project and is chair of Economists for Peace and Security, a professional association. He previously served on the staff of the U.S. Congress as executive director of the Joint Economic Committee.

In his most recent book, The Predator State (2008), Galbraith mounts a sustained attack on the “legitimating myth” that has delineated the parameters of permissible debate surrounding economic activity in the United States since the ascent of an ideology that saw itself comfortably ensconced in the seats of power with the election to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. At its core, Galbraith argues, this myth presents us with a Manichean narrative in which we are urged to believe, with Panglossian certainty, that “the market,” divinely efficient, delivers the best of all possible outcomes to all, in contradistinction to “the state” or “the government,” which, in the elegant simplicity of Ronald Reagan’s famous formulation, “is the problem.”

Some of the best material is near the end; READ MORE.

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