Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Good Society

By John Kenneth Galbraith

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

It is refreshing to read a book by an author who provides answers and not just criticisms. Professor Galbraith truly conforms to Robert Heilbroner's colorful description of the economists throughout history as The Worldly Philosophers. Without doubt this is the work of one of our modern day Worldly Philosophers.
This book was written in 1996 when Mr. Galbraith was a very old man. The title of the book suggests a utopian message. Its subtitle is The Humane Society. But being a Worldly Philosopher and a professional economist, Professor Galbraith's "Good Society" is no dreamy eyed fantasy. It is an outline of not only what should be done but what is practical and achievable in a society - particularly our society here in the USA. Of course this is all predicated on the notion that we live in a society that has a moral conscience. If you believe that you live in a world that is beyond morality or conscience or that the way things are is the way that things should be, then I would predict that this book will not interest you all that much.
Mr. Galbraith says a good many things that many people do not want to hear, for example:
1) The rich should and must pay taxes. And not only should they pay taxes, they should pay proportionately more than those less well off.
2) Both rich and poor should vote. A method to guarantee that all people vote should be sought.
3) "The Welfare State" is not a negative term. In fact, it is a positive term in The Good Society.
4) Every member of The Good Society should have access to a rewarding life.
5) An improving living standard (for all) is a good thing.
6) Poverty is the root of crime, violence and drug addiction and not race. Taking steps to end poverty is the best method for reducing crime.
7) No one in a good society should be allowed to starve or live without shelter.
8) The economic system in the Good Society cannot recurrently deny employment.
9) Some inflation is necessary and inevitable but inflation should be controlled to insure reasonable price stability.
10) War is bad. The goal should be to eliminate war. The Military Industrial Complex is out of control and must be brought back to a subordinate position and not a controlling position over government.
11) A call for better prepared workers as a remedy for recession induced unemployment is the last resort of the vacant liberal mind. The best cure for recession is jobs for the unemployed; deficit spending to create more jobs and replace those lost; and increased taxes on the wealthy to control their speculative spending. Any tax cuts should go first to those who will spend the money – the poor and the middle class.
12) A balanced budget is not necessary and a law mandating such would be a catastrophe.
13) Minimum wage should be indexed for inflation.
14) The rich are too powerful and they have too much money. The Good Society must promote and insure proportionate income distribution from top to bottom.
15) Workers Unions are necessary and positive.
16) The powerful in the corporate world are not the stock holders or the owners but the managers. The corporate managers' pays must be reduced and controlled by someone other than themselves.
17) Immigration is necessary but it must be controlled and balanced with sufficient regard for the established national labor force.
18) Corporations have all the perils of bureaucracy in equal proportion to government.
19) More attention should be given to private sectors encroachment on government than to government encroachment on private sector. Example; Military Industrial Complex – and the privatization of war – (Black Hawk etc.); the blurring of private industry with no bid or guaranteed government contracts; subsidies to big business etc.
20) Concern for the poor and distressed of the world should be an important consideration in The Good Society.
This book is filled to overflowing with such suggestions and principles. My reaction to this book was very similar to the reaction I experienced while reading "Opinions and Ideas" by Albert Einstein. In both works every paragraph causes a thoughtful pause. Both books are not bogged down with extrapolation, explanation or detail. They state what they state and either you get it or you don't. The burden is on the reader.