Skip to main content


Showing posts from January 22, 2012

on to the sovereign consumer II

In 1948, Mary Jean Bowman wrote an article concerning the rise and relative decline of the consumer in economic theory: The Consumer in the History of Economic Doctrine. Phillip Mirowski has shown that the enormous powers of control systems such as were put into operation by U.S. during World War II had left an impress on the economics profession at that time. It was an impress deepened by the merger of mathematical economics and Keynesian ideas about demand management in the Anglosphere in the years after the war. There was never, in that period, any real threat that the private enterprise system would be taken over by the state – but there was enormous confidence in the state’s ability to direct the economy. Against this background, Bowman’s history seems to be an exercise in antiquarianism. For readers who have experienced the collapse of confidence in the state’s ability to direct the economy – at least on the surface of economic thinking – and the dominance of the neo-liberal f

the sovereign and the sovereign consumer

In 1967, Robert Solow wrote a disparaging review of John Kenneth Galbraith’s New Industrial State, which was a bestseller that year, in the Public Interest, a fairly hot academic journal at the time. In the same issue, Galbraith replied. The quarrel spilled over into the next issue in 1968, with an ideological comrade of Galbraith’s, Robert Marris, pitching in, and Solow finally counter-attacking his two adversaries. The original review raised the doubt that Galbraith was using a scientific method, instead of an ad hoc method of magisterial observation. Solow felt that Galbraith’s themes were often invalidated by modern economic theory. And, in particular, he did not think that Galbraith could be right about one of the theses that had by that time become associated with his name: that corporate demand management, that is, marketing, shaped both production and the market. At one point, Solow, in responding to a supporter of the Galbraith view, Marris, wrote: “What I said was: