“The Affluent Society” and lessons not being learned.

For the past free months I’ve been reading “The Affluent Society” by John Kenneth Galbraith.  This book was published in 1958.  Do me a favor and read the sections I’ve put for you here.  Afterwards, watch the video clip.  Yeah.  It surprised me, too. 

Modern government is a major threat to the businessman’s prestige. To the extent that problems of conservation, education and social welfare are central to our thoughts, so the administrators, teachers and other professional public servants prestige, along with that of the men who are associated with the problems and disasters of foreign policy, has increased, businessmen have reacted by pointing out that the government does not produce anything, that it is a barren whore.

The case involves some rather strained argument—it makes education unproductive and the manufacturer of school desks productive—but, nonetheless, it has a position of considerable prominence, especially in the older business liturgy. A tension, perhaps ultimately more important, has also long existed between businessmen and the intellectuals. “The emergence of a numerous class of … frivolous intellectuals is one of the least welcome phenomena of the age of modern capitalism. Their obtrusive stir repels discriminating people. They are a nuisance.”

 As in the case of the government, the basis of the tension has long been assumed to be economic. “The men whose research has given rise to new methods of production hate the businessmen who are merely interested in the cash value of their research work. It is very significant that such a large number of American research physicists sympathize with socialism and communism … University teachers of economics are also opposed to what they disparagingly call the profit system… “

That felicity the businessman counters by stressing his identification with production. He is not a “theorist” but a practical man. His is the forthright approach of the man who knows how to get things done. He has learned about life in the shop; this has provided him with a unique insight into how things are in the country at large or the world. Were anything to happen to the prestige of production, it is plain that the businessman, whose mystique is his identification with production, would suffer severely in his competition with the intellectual for the role of social prophet. If he wishes to defend himself in his present role, he must defend the importance of production. He can almost certainly be expected to do so.

 

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