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Economist Kenneth Galbraith dies at 97

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2006 16:03 IST

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who focused on core issues like the distribution of wealth, died on Saturday at a hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 97,

The New York Times


Citing the late economist's son, Alan Galbraith, the newspaper said Galbraith was one of the most widely read authors in the history of economics.

Among his 33 books was The Affluent Society, one of the rare works that forces a nation to re-examine its values, the obituary said.

He wrote fluidly, even on complex topics, and many of his compelling phrases -- among them "the affluent society," "conventional wisdom" and "countervailing power" -- became part of the language, according to The Times.

Galbraith was consulted frequently by national leaders, and he gave advice freely, though it may have been ignored as often as it was taken, the paper said.

Galbraith, a lecturer for generations of Harvard University students, always commanded attention.

The renowned economist was born in Iona Station, in the Canadian province of Ontario. He began his economic studies at the Ontario Agricultural College in 1931, then moved to California where he continued work on his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley.

He became a United States citizen in 1937.

After joining the administration of president Franklin D Roosevelt, Galbraith worked at the Office of Price Administration, where he was charged preventing inflation from crippling the war effort.

After the war, he became an advisor to post-war administrations in Germany and Japan. In 1948, Galbraith was appointed professor of economics at Harvard University.

In the 1950s, he developed a theory of price control, in which he argued for an anti-inflation policy.

He also argued in his book American Capitalism that US post-war success arose not out of "getting the prices right," but rather of "getting the prices wrong" and allowing industrial concentration to develop.

Galbraith said that was a formula for growth because it enabled technical innovation which might otherwise not have been done.

He warned, however, that it can only be regarded as successful provided there is a "countervailing power" against potential abuse in the form of trade unions, supplier and consumer organisations and government regulation.

In his other works, he argued that modern industrial production is a large-scale process that required planning, and planning required stability, which meant that the market must be regulated.

President John F Kennedy asked Galbraith to serve as US ambassador to India, and he performed the work from 1961 to 1963.

While in India, he helped establish one of the first computer science departments at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

In 2000, he was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Galbraith was married to Catherine Atwater, with whom they had four sons.

One of them, James Galbraith, grew up to become a prominent economist while another, Peter Galbraith, has been a US diplomat and a well-known expert on the Balkans and the Middle East.

First Published: Apr 30, 2006 16:03 IST