10.5.06

A GIANT PASSES. University Diaries recalls youthful visits to Professor Galbraith's house.
His enormousness. He sat in his living room (book-lined; big piano; Persian rugs) in an oversized chair, which he dominated. For diminutive UD, sitting across from Galbraith was like looking at the Lincoln Memorial.
Economists have weighed in on the professor's contribution, with William J. Polley and Division of Labour publishing citation indexes.

The professor's thoughts on the coexistence of private opulence and public squalor have been on the mind of many an obituarist. One quote (I'm using the Washington Post's here; it also features in London's Telegraph and Guardian, the latter in paraphrase) recurs.
The family which takes its 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. They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night in a park which is a menace to public health and morals.
The quote, from The Affluent Society (I just checked out the library's paperback edition, 75 cents in 1964 silver quarters) captured the spirit of the times among the nation's deep thinkers, as Lewis Lapham notes in a Progressive interview.
I graduated from Yale in the 1950s, and the word “public” was still a good word. Public meant public health, public service, public school, commonwealth. And “private” suggested greed, selfishness, and so on. Those words have been turned around. That was the great triumph of the Reagan Revolution. By the time we hit the end of the Reagan Administration, “public” had become a dirty word, a synonym for slum, poor school, incompetent government, all things destructive. And “private” had become glorious: private club, private trout stream, private airplane.
What changed? What turned, for example, P.J. O'Rourke into the anti-Galbraith in such a way as to work his way onto reading lists?
Social-program spending is spending done directly on the public rather than for the public's benefit. Note the mental image evoked by the very word public: public school, public park, public health, public housing. To call something public is to define it as dirty, insufficient, and hazardous. The ultimate paradigm of social spending is the public rest room.
What makes Parliament of Whores the countervailing power to American Capitalism: The Theory of Countervailing Power?

Consider Professor DeLong's tribute, which includes an extended quotation of his review of Richard Parker's biography of Professor Galbraith. Here's the money quote.
Late-twentieth-century American economics centers on the use of mathematical models to reach one of two conclusions: that the market is already doing a good job, or that some imperfection is causing "market failure" and correcting or counterbalancing the imperfection will make everything okay.
That work is likely to make the project of "mathing up" The New Industrial State or The Affluent Society somewhat difficult, as the theory suggests a reality different from the one Professor Galbraith perceived. The broken streets, the polluted streams, the muggery in the park once inspired biologist Garrett Hardin to envision The Tragedy of the Commons. Thirty years later, Professor Hardin revisited the tragedy.
To judge from the critical literature, the weightiest mistake in my synthesizing paper was the omission of the modifying adjective "unmanaged." In correcting this omission, one can generalize the practical conclusion in this way: "A 'managed commons' describes either socialism or the privatism of free enterprise. Either one may work; either one may fail: 'The devil is in the details.' But with an unmanaged commons, you can forget about the devil: As overuse of resources reduces carrying capacity, ruin is inevitable." With this modification firmly in place, "The Tragedy of the Commons" is well tailored for further interdisciplinary synthesis.
The gated community as a managed commons, the public park a mis-managed one?

On the other hand, there is potential for a positive theory of the "bezzle," a felicitous expression that features prominently in The Great Crash 1929.

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