So much time and thought are wasted focusing on meaningless details and irrelevances by students of economics … and their college professors. It is refreshing when we find an economist/philosopher who addresses fundamental values and core principles instead of dawdling over inscrutable tables and charts relating to their ‘models.’

In this discussion, Professor James K. Galbraith makes us think.

* Q: Is democracy compatible with capitalism? A: No.

* Q: Are western ‘democracies’ meritocracies? A: Of course not. That’s just propaganda used to promote the status que, mouthed by those who benefit most from the status quo.

* Q: Is shareholder value proposition good? A: Only for those who own large blocs of shares or whose remuneration is based on the gains of stock prices … and those who serve their interests (bankers, lawyers, economists, politicians, etc.) But for society in general … absolutely not.

* Q: Are economic exploitation, speculation, financial manipulation, and other non-productive parasitic economic activities good? A: You’re not really stupid enough to buy into the nonsense of neoliberal economics and laissez-faire capitalism, are you? If so you should be working in a Republican policy institute (think tank) or the White House. You are not likely to find a job in the real world.

This article by James K. Galbraith is more than just an intellectual exercise. It is eminently utilitarian. Galbraith’s work is useful in examining a number of ideas which have direct application to economic and political reform in America — something which, in case you have missed the point, is going to the central focus of our lives as America’s — indeed, the capitalist West’s — economy comes to a grinding halt. Not even the lies and nonsense of economists and government propagandists will be able to conceal the truth from the people for much longer.

People today are desperate. They are hungry, and homeless, and angry. What they hate most of all is the feeling of helplessness as the problems that are destroying their lives, their families, their communities, their children’s future … are not their fault, but are seemingly beyond their control. Everyone can see that these problems were caused by (you guessed it) economists (!)

Things are going to get ugly. The next few years could be a dangerous time to be an economist. The peasants are coming with raised pitchforks and blazing torches. Explain to the angry peasants how shareholder value theory and the Laffer curve and tax cuts for the rich and deregulation and free trade and globalization are good for everyone. Remind them that a rising tide raises all boats and you don’t help the poor by dragging down the rich … ad nauseum. I think the ignorant peasants have gotten the message … and our political leaders — and especially the economists who put them up to their mischief — are not going to like the people’s response.

Galbraith is one of those economists — fortunately, their ranks are growing — who looks for deeper meaning in economic trends. The man is able to cut through the bullshit to arrive at an understanding of the underlying principles, something which, sadly, too few economists in today’s world seem able to do.

I think it must have something to do with genetics. His father had the same incisive intellect. Sometimes, when I read James K. Galbraith, I get a sense that I am reading his father’s writing. I will never forget how I felt when I first read the word ‘ambit’ in The New Industrial State. I had to look it up in the dictionary (in those days, we had real, printed dictionaries.) Today when I read Capitalism’s Great Reckoning, there were two words that I had to look up (this time using the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary.) In all three cases, I was impressed by the fact that (a) I had never heard the word(s) used in this way, and (b) the words were precisely the right words in each case.

I am envious of great writers, of men and women who can use language so effectively to communicate ideas. But I take a special joy in learning a new word, especially when that word is an exquisite expression of an idea which I doubt could be better expressed by any other words. Words have meaning. Words have power. Words can bring us joy. Words can even bring us salvation. In the beginning, was the Word.

As Galbraith says, we must build on what is known to work in our reform proposals. In this article Galbraith examines a number of issues, briefly, not dwelling on any, not drilling down to unnecessary details. In a sentence or two he tells us why a particular proposed reform will or will not work. He cites leading proponents and sometimes critics, and always undergirds his reasoning with philosophical underpinnings and sound logic.

… Just like his old man. This guy is a chip off the old block, as they say. Living up to his father’s heavyweight image must be daunting. It looks like James K. Galbraith is up to the challenge.

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Capitalism’s Great Reckoning

By James K. Galbraith

Jun 24, 2019 | Macroeconomics

As the maladies of modern capitalism have multiplied, fundamental questions about the future of the world’s dominant economic model have become impossible to ignore. But in the absence of viable alternatives, the question is how to reform a system that is increasingly at odds with democracy.

    This article originally appeared on Project Syndicate

What fate awaits capitalism, and to what extent do our current economic conditions reflect its shortcomings? With deferential references to Adam Smith, and firmly anchored in the high critical tradition of political economy, all three books under review seek to answer these questions. Their authors are all capitalists, resigned if not enthusiastic; they share a conviction that there is no viable alternative system. Thus, whatever its flaws, capitalism must be reformed.

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