Delong reviews Parker’s biography on Galbraith

Following on the earlier post on a review of Richard Parker’s John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, here’s another one by Brad Delong in Foreign Affairs.

Harry Johnson, in his superb but not entirely fair critique of Milton Friedman’s Monetarists, said that in order to carry out an intellectual revolution in economics, one must propound a doctrine that has three qualities: it can be summarized in a single sentence, it provides the young with an excuse for ignoring the work of their elders, and it tells the young what they can do to further the revolution. John Maynard Keynes and Friedman both offered such doctrines. They said, respectively, that ‘aggregate demand determines supply’ and that ‘inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon’; they dismissed their predecessors as obsolete; and they set hundreds of young to the task of estimating consumption, investment, and money-demand functions.

Galbraith propounded no such easily summarized doctrine. The closest we can get is: ‘the world is complicated, and both right-wing ideology and the conventional wisdom that is this age’s self-image are terribly wrong.’ He offered critiques that required you to read and understand old theories, not new theories that allowed you to dismiss everything prior as irrelevant.”