Beat the Press

Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting


John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

The passing of John Kenneth Galbraith is a real loss. His works made major contributions to public debate over the entire post-World War II era, and continue to have an impact. The New York Times had a mostly fair commentary today on Galbraith’s life and work. (Brad DeLong does a good job pointing out the ways in which it is not fair.) The Post apparently did not learn the news in time for the Sunday edition, or alternatively it had not prepared an obit in advance.

Any assessment of Galbraith’s life invariably includes the comment that his work had more influence outside of economics than within the profession. This is unfortunate for the economics profession. While we can benefit from mathematical modeling and new econometric techniques, I believe that Galbraithian insights will ultimately prove far more important in advancing our knowledge of the economy and society.


  • At 9:30 PM, Blogger Nell said…

    Not having a prepared obit for someone who was at once a giant and reached such an advanced age -- that's something of an indictment right there.

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger Charles said…

    I would not characterize the obituary as fair, precisely because of the nature of the quote that Brad DeLong pointed out The NYT had misused.

    John Kenneth Galbraith was perceived by The Times as "arrogant" because he was right where they were so often wrong. Galbraith foresaw the damage that the war in Vietnam would do to American power and prestige four or five years before The Times did. Same on Iraq.

    Galbraith's vision was not appreciated by more of his peers because they lacked vision, not because there was anything the matter with him. That was Brad DeLong's point, with which I strongly agree.

  • At 9:20 AM, Blogger Shag from Brookline said…

    Take a look at George Will's nasty column in WaPo today. George is so brave to take on a lifetime of achievements by Galbraith when the latter cannot respond. Add Milt Friedman to George Will and they will not measure up to Galbraith in any sense. Unlike Will, Galbraith had a real trophy wife for over 60 years.

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