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‘The Affluent Society’ revisited

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WASHINGTON - I am rereading “The Affluent Society” with pleasure and profit.

Written by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith and published in 1958, “The Affluent Society” survives as one of the most influential books of the last half of the 20th century. Galbraith foretold that private prosperity would lead to a larger public sector. But this has also left problems that linger today.

Galbraith — who died in 2006 — was rare among economists in that he had a distinctive writing style that was, at once, authoritative (even when he was later proved wrong), arrogant and charming. Humanity, he argued, was at an historic inflection point. For centuries, “poverty was the all-pervasive fact of the world.” People constantly contended with “hunger, sickness and cold.” Even after good harvests, everyone knew that famine “would strike again.”

By the 1950s, this was no longer true in the United States and some European countries, Galbraith wrote. Just the opposite: “The ordinary individual has access to amenities — foods, entertainment, personal transportation and plumbing — in which not even the rich rejoiced a century ago.”

Of course, Galbraith wasn’t the only one to notice........

© The Japan Times