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Sunday, April 30, 2006

galbraith, RIP

Loneliness. John Kenneth Galbraith is dead.

In the NYT obituary, which is generous (as it should be), there are two paragraphs on the matter of Galbraith’s isolation from the economic community which cast a broad light on why Galbraith is generally right, and the mass of economists, drudges of rightwing ideology, are generally living in outer space:

“Mr. Galbraith argued that technology mandated long-term contracts to diminish high-stakes uncertainty. He said companies used advertising to induce consumers to buy things they had never dreamed they needed.

Other economists, like Gary S. Becker and George J. Stigler, both Nobel Prize winners, countered with proofs showing that advertising is essentially informative rather than manipulative.”

Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, said that De Sade’s vision of a world of universal prostitution is a dystopian version of capitalism. Gary S. Becker’s neo-classical analysis of the family unit as essentially a matter of efficient transaction costs cast the world as a matter of universal prostitution and pronounced it good, and in doing so founded the Law and Economics field that has swallowed the justice system. Galbraith never liked the idea that we should live in a world of universal prostitution. For this, he got rocks thrown at him by the economics professors.

Not all, however:

“Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, maintains that Mr. Galbraith not only reached but also defined the summit of his field. In the 2000 commencement address at Harvard, Mr. Parker's book recounts, Mr. Sen said the influence of "The Affluent Society" was so pervasive that its many piercing insights were taken for granted.
"It's like reading 'Hamlet' and deciding it's full of quotations," he said.”
Well, LI searched for the proper poem to commemorate JKG. Here is Donald Davies’ Obiter Dicta,

Trying to understand myself, I fetch
My father's image to me. There he is, augmenting
The treasury of his prudence with a clutch
Of those cold eggs, Great Truths---his scrivener's hand
Confiding apopthegms to his pocket book.
Does mine do more than snap the elastic band
Of rhyme about them? In an age that teaches
How pearls of wisdom only look like eggs,
The tide, afflatus, still piles up on the beaches
Pearls that he prizes, stones that he retrieves
Misguidedly from poetry's undertow,
Deaf to the harsh retraction that achieves
Its scuttering backwash, ironies. And yet,
Recalling his garrulity, I see
There's method in it. Seeming to forget


The point at issue, the palmer tells his beads,
Strung by connections nonchalantly weak
Upon the thread of argument he needs
To bring them through his fingers, round and round,
Tasting of gristle, savoury; and he hears,
Like rubbing stones, their dry conclusive sound.

Himself an actor (He can play the clown),
He knows the poet's a man of parts; the sage
Is one of them, buffoonery like his own,
Means to an end. So, if he loves the page
That grows sententious with a terse distinction,
Yet lapidary moralists are dumb
About the precepts that he acts upon,
Brown with tobacco from his rule of thumb.

'Not bread but a stone!'---the deep-sea fishermen
Denounce our findings, father. Pebbles, beads,
Perspicuous dicta, gems from Emerson,
Whatever stands when all about it slides,
Whatever in the oceanic welter
Puts period to unpunctuated tides,
These, that we like, they hate. And after all, for you,
To take but with a pinch of salt to take
The maxims of the sages is the true
Great Truth of all. To keep, as you would say,
A sense of proportion, I should portion out
The archipelago across the bay,
One island to so much sea. Assorted
Poetic pleasures come in bundles then,
Strapped up by rhyme, not otherwise supported?

Turning about his various gems to take
Each other's lustre by a temperate rule,
He walks the graveyard where I have to make
Not centos but inscriptions, and a whole
That's moved from inward, dancing. Yet I trace
Among his shored-up epitaphs my own:
Art, as he hints, turns on a commonplace,
And Death is a tune to dance to, cut in stone.

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