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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Useful Idiots and Philosopher Kings

His father campaigned for Laurier. John Kenneth Galbraith ruled over the whole of the American economy for a brief time, a kind of Wesley Mouch with an aristocratic bearing. The sad decline of liberalism encapsulated in one intellectual's career.

The great responsibility that Roosevelt gave Galbraith during the war was fixing the prices of products for the whole of the United States, and I think Galbraith regretted that this highly rational system of allocation according to need (as determined by him) eventually came to an end, for it was clearly, in his opinion, superior to the chaos of pricing by supply and demand. “Having stopped the sale of all new tires,” he writes, “we had now to find some way of selling them again but only to the necessary and needful.” The technocrat, Galbraith, comes to the aid of society, helping it define and achieve its ends. But I don’t think he ever recognized that total war, in which most of national life is subordinated to a single, easily defined end—namely, defeating a powerful enemy—is not a normal state of affairs. On the contrary, he thinks that societies should always have a single goal and that it is the function of government to direct them to that goal.

As you might guess, he wasn't a big fan of Ludwig von Mises. He was also blind to the sins of Maoist China, trying to pass off this humdinger:

Fifteen years later, in 1973, Galbraith went to China—in the slipstream of President Nixon, as it were—and wrote A China Passage. This was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in human history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself: “The big generalizations are all agreed upon: There has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.”

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 16, 2010 | Permalink


Readers may be interested to note a detail omitted from this post and the original article.

The date on which my father arranged to stop the sale of rubber tires in the United States was December 9, 1941.

Japanese forces were sweeping toward Malaya, and synthetic rubber would not be available for another year.

At that moment, by very wide agreement, the matter was... well... urgent.

James K. Galbraith

Posted by: James Galbraith | 2010-02-16 1:53:33 PM

Galbraith was wrong about 90% of the time. However, the government oversight and rationing was necessary during World War 2. People seem to forget how truly desperate the allied situation was at the time of Pearl Harbor. Industry had to be switched overnight to producing military armaments. For instance, tens of thousands of tanks and armored cars were produced by the auto makers while only 39 civilian cars rolled off the assembly ine. It was a period of total war that had the U.S. put 15 million men under arms(and send about 12 million overseas). These men needed to be supplied with the best equipment available. Where else was this equipment to come from? British industry was damaged by German air attacks and could not further increase operating capacity. Australia had only 7 million citizens and the deployment of almost a million men into the armed forces put a strain on their industry in the early years(which is why after 1943 significant numbers of Australians were demobilized so that the factories could operate at full capacity). Canada(with 12 million people) had a far more limited manufacturing base than the U.S. In the end, Canada increased its output and made the Canadian navy the third largest. However, full Canadian effectiveness was undermined by strong anti-war sentiments in Quebec. It was partly efforts to avoid another conscription crisis(which worked until 1944) that resulted in half of Canada's military never being deployed overseas. About 75% of Canada's air force stayed in Canada. Half of the Canada's 750,000 army never left the country. After early defeats(like Hong Kong, Dunkirk, and Dieppe) the half that did fought successfully in Sicily, Italy, and the drive from Normandy to Germany. However, Canada did fight the war with restrictions placed on it.

Posted by: Poe | 2010-02-16 8:36:45 PM

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