John Kenneth Galbraith

There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.

When you see reference to a new paradigm you should always, under all circumstances, take cover.

I believe the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.

In the usual (though certainly not in every) public decision on economic policy, the choice is between courses that are almost equally good or equally bad. It is the narrowest decisions that are most ardently debated. If the world is lucky enough to enjoy peace, it may even one day make the discovery, to the horror of doctrinaire free-enterprisers and doctrinaire planners alike, that what is called capitalism and what is called socialism are both capable of working quite well.

You roll back the stones, and you find slithering things. That is the world of Richard Nixon.

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

Total physical and mental inertia are highly agreeable, much more so than we allow ourselves to imagine. A beach not only permits such inertia but enforces it, thus neatly eliminating all problems of guilt. It is now the only place in our overly active world that does.

Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay.

People are the common denominator of progress. So, paucis verbis, no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated. It would be wrong to dismiss the importance of roads, railroads, power plants, mills, and the other familiar furniture of economic development. At some stages of development—the stage that India and Pakistan have reached, for example—they are central to the strategy of development. But we are coming to realize, I think, that there is a certain sterility in economic monuments that stand alone in a sea of illiteracy. Conquest of illiteracy comes first.

You will find that the State Department is the kind of organisation which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly too.

In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is worth a billion dollars.

The contented and economically comfortable have a very discriminating view of government. Nobody is ever indignant about bailing out failed banks and failed savings and loans associations. But when taxes must be paid for the lower middle class and poor, the government assumes an aspect of wickedness.

We now in the United States have more security guards for the rich than we have police services for the poor districts. If you're looking for personal security, far better to move to the suburbs than to pay taxes in New York.

It is my guiding confession that I believe the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.

Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.

When you see reference to a new paradigm you should always, under all circumstances, take cover. Because ever since the great tulipmania in 1637, speculation has always been covered by a new paradigm. There was never a paradigm so new and so wonderful as the one that covered John Law and the South Sea Bubble—until the day of disaster.

Let's begin with capitalism, a word that has gone largely out of fashion. The approved reference now is to the market system. This shift minimizes—indeed, deletes—the role of wealth in the economic and social system. And it sheds the adverse connotation going back to Marx. Instead of the owners of capital or their attendants in control, we have the admirably impersonal role of market forces. It would be hard to think of a change in terminology more in the interest of those to whom money accords power. They have now a functional anonymity.

One man's consumption becomes his neighbor's wish.

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.

In recent times no problem has been more puzzling to thoughtful people than why, in a troubled world, we make such poor use of our affluence.

A businessman who reads Business Week is lost to fame. One who reads Proust is marked for greatness.

It is in the long run that the corporation lives.

Very important functions can be performed very wastefully and often are.

The family which takes it mauve and cerise, air conditioned, power-steered, and power-braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground.

The greater the wealth the thicker will be the dirt.

In a community where public services have failed to keep abreast of private consumption things are very different. Here, in an atmosphere of private opulence and public squalor, the private goods have full sway.

Simple minds, presumably, are the easiest to manage.

"Poverty" Pitt exclaimed "is no disgrace but it is damned annoying." In the contemporary United States it is not annoying but it is a disgrace.

In 1736, Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette printed an apology for it's irregular appearance because its printer was "with the Press, labouring for the publick Good, to make Money more plentiful." The press was busy printing money.

Why is anything intrinsically so valueless so obviously desirable?

In numerous years following the war the Federal government ran a heavy surplus. It could not pay off its debt, retire its securities, because to do so meant there would be no bonds to back the national bank notes. To pay off the debt was to destroy the money supply.

Truth has anciently been called the first casualty of war. Money may, in fact, have priority.

Power is as power does.

The foresight of financial experts was, as so often, a poor guide to the future.

If all else fails immortality can always be assured by adequate error.

There was something superficial in attributing anything so awful as the Great Depression to anything so insubstantial as speculation in common stocks.

Economic life, as always, is a matrix in which result becomes cause and cause becomes result.

What was needed was a policy that increased the supply of money available for use and then ensured its use. Then the state of trade would have to improve.

Foresight is an imperfect thing—all prevision in economics is imperfect.

In dealing with Mr. Nixon, it is not easy to be unfair. He invites and justifies all available criticism.

With the American failure came world failure.

Those who yearn for the end of capitalism should pray for government by men who believe that all positive action is inimical to what they call thoughtfully the fundamental principles of free enterprise.

Ideas may be superior to vested interest. They are also very often the children of vested interest.

It's a rule worth having in mind. Income almost always flows along the same axis as power but in the opposite direction.

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason.

Economists are generally negligent of their heroes.

Because of his compassion Owen was always in trouble with his partners. They would have much preferred a tough, down-to-earth manager who would get a days work out of the little bastards.

Economics is not an exact science.

Man, at least when educated, is a pessimist. He believes it safer not to reflect on his achievements; Jove is known to strike such people down.

But there is merit even in the mentally retarded legislator. He asks the questions that everyone is afraid to ask for fear of seeming simple.

When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It's a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.

A nuclear war does not defend a country and it does not defend a system. I've put it the same way many times; not even the most accomplished ideologue will be able to tell the difference between the ashes of capitalism and the ashes of communism.

I was studying agriculture, how to produce better chickens, better cattle, better horses—horses in those days—better fruit, better vegetables. This was in the early years of the Great Depression, and the thoughts crossed my mind that there wasn't a hell of a lot of use producing better crops and better livestock if you couldn't sell them, that the real problem of agriculture was not efficiency in production but the problem of whether you could make money after you produced the stuff. So I shifted from the technical side to, first, the study of agricultural economic issues and then on to economics itself.

Broadly speaking, Keynesianism means that the government has a specific responsibility for the behavior of the economy, that it doesn't work on its own autonomous course, but the government, when there's a recession, compensates by employment, by expansion of purchasing power, and in boom times corrects by being a restraining force. But it controls the great flow of demand into the economy, what since Keynesian times has been the flow of aggregate demand. That was the basic idea of Keynes so far as one can put it in a couple of sentences.

Going back to the most ancient times, national well-being, the national prestige depended on territory. The more territory a country had, the more income revenue there was, the more people there were to be mobilized for arms strength. So we had an enormous sense of territorial conflict and territorial integrity, and that was unquestionably a part of the cause of war, coupled with the fact that there was a disposition in that direction by the landed class, a disposition to think of territorial acquisition and territorial defense and to think of the peasantry as a superior form of livestock which could be used for arms purposes.

I react to what is necessary. I would like to eschew any formula. There are some things where the government is absolutely inevitable, which we cannot get along without comprehensive state action. But there are many things—producing consumer goods, producing a wide range of entertainment, producing a wide level of cultural activity—where the market system, which independent activity is also important, so I react pragmatically. Where the market works, I'm for that. Where the government is necessary, I'm for that. I'm deeply suspicious of somebody who says, "I'm in favor of privatization," or, "I'm deeply in favor of public ownership." I'm in favor of whatever works in the particular case.

I write with two things in mind. I want to be right with my fellow economists. After all, I've made my life as a professional economist, so I'm careful that my economics is as it should be. But I have long felt that there's no economic proposition that can't be stated in clear, accessible language. So I try to be right with my fellow economists, but I try to have an audience of any interested, intelligent person.

In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.

In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.

When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It’s a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.

Memorable Quotations from John Kenneth Galbraith
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