Still Galbraith?s India
In the passing of John Kenneth Galbraith at the age of 97, the world has lost one of its great intellectuals, and India an abiding friend.india Updated: May 02, 2006 00:10 IST
In the passing of John Kenneth Galbraith at the age of 97, the world has lost one of its great intellectuals, and India an abiding friend. His first association with the country was a stint at the Indian Statistical Institute in the mid-Fifties. He was part of a team comprising, among others, Gunnar Myrdal, Oskar Lange and Charles Bettelheim, which helped P.C. Mahalanobis shape the second five-year plan. This was followed by a stint as US ambassador to New Delhi in 1961-63. These were, arguably, the worst years in India’s history when a stunning military defeat brought us to our knees. Galbraith presided over American effort to help India, yet never did it appear that he was patronising, or anything less than helpful.
The intellectual accomplishments of Galbraith are as towering as his physical stature. The renowned Harvard professor, one of the most influential economists of the 20th century and World War II price administrator, was also confidante of presidents and presidential candidates and ambassador — roles that rested lightly on his six-foot-eight frame. For a Scottish-Canadian farmboy raised in rural Ontario, who spent his undergraduate years at an obscure agricultural college, Galbraith was an unlikely member of America’s New Deal brains trust and the Ivy League.
Among his enormous corpus, two books stand out: The Affluent Society, which pointed out to the increasingly rich Americans after World War II and the need to bridge the widening gulf with those being left behind and The New Industrial State which examined the overweening power of American corporations. Galbraith remained an unabashed liberal in his political and academic life, imbued with the belief that the government’s job is to do good for the people, and that affluent America was insensitive to the needs of its poor. The ensuing years have only confirmed his judgments. As for India, Galbraith’s legacy lives in contemporary debates on the need to ensure that the rising economic tide lifts all ships in the harbour.