Last October, on the occasion of John Kenneth Galbraith's 90th birthday, he was honored with a reception and dinner at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. At that time he was presented with a festschrift of essays by, among others, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Derek Bok, and Robert Heilbroner. That work, under the title Between Friends: Perspectives on John Kenneth Galbraith, has just been published. Through it we gain a better understanding of the person and his economic and political ideas.
To Carlos Fuentes, Galbraith is a Quixote of the Plains, an economist whose subject is no less than concrete human beings, their well-being, their health, their education, their hope . . . Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., notes that for Galbraith theory . . . is not an end in itself. Its function . . . is to explain, illuminate, and, if possible, improve the conditions of life. Politics and government in this perspective are not digressions for economists but are central to their work. John Kenneth Galbraith has been one of the most notable public intellectuals of the last 40 years, or since the publication of his still relevant book The Affluent Society. He is known for his many other books, including The New Industrial State and The Nature of Mass Poverty. In one of my favorite essays, Galbraith's son Peter discusses how his father sought a role in the major foreign policy questions of the Kennedy administration. Contrary to the wishes of the Secretary of State, Ambassador Galbraith expressed his views directly to the President. The views, in hindsight, were good and prescient, including in particular Galbraith's early opposition to U.
S. military involvement in Vietnam. Peter closes by noting that the greatest and most common vice of politicians and bureaucrats is cowardice. John Kenneth Galbraith is the most courageous man I have known.