The Economics of Self-Congratulation

The Economics of Self-Congratulation

The latest discovery of certain intellectuals is a book called American Capitalism: the Concept of Countervailing Power by an exeditor of Fortune and a Harvard Professor of Economics, John Kenneth Galbraith. Hard-boiled eggheads of what might be called the devitalized center, like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., have welcomed this work, and that perennial faddist, Stuart Chase, has hailed its author as the American Keynes, and more, a man who has taken the gloomy discipline of economics and restored it to “an objective science” (The Reporter, March 4, 1952). Keynes used to write highly esoteric treatises which required popularization whereas American Capitalism is directed at “the intelligent layman.” Chase nevertheless succeeds in simplifying its contents still further, presumably for the somewhat less intelligent layman. The book stands as a specimen of popular culture. Galbraith has become a darling of such organizations as the ADA (Americans for Democratic Action), a major speech writer for their Presidential candidate (Stevenson, that is, not Eisenhower) and a teacher whose thinking elicits gratitude among those “baffled by the failure of other theories” to provide a pattern “that so well explains the stubborn facts” (Chase).

American Capitalism purports to be an explanation of why our economy works so well in spite of the Cassandras who regularly predict its collapse. The adjective “American” is essential because this form of capitalism is like none other on earth. The free play of economic forces has virtually disappeared; monopoly, duopoly, and oligopoly are more often the rule than not; the market does not regulate itself. In short, American capitalism is like the maiden who has been deflowered but retains her virginity. This is a metaphysical process; however the higher transcendentalism has always been an integral part of American thought. Nor is any harm done if we take an institution, strip it of nearly all its key characteristics, and go on calling it by the same name.