Have you read Galbraith’s Affluent Society? I don’t know what your plans are for dealing with it in DISSENT, [see p. 84] but I do know that it strikes me as a piece of wrong-headed smugness which deserves the truth: that it is a bad book. We may be told by the expert egg-heads of the Labor Party, John Strachey and C. A. R. Crosland, that it is the bible of our times; but I see no reason why we should participate in their obvious joy in finding an Apologia for Snobs.
Why is it such a bad book? Because it is wrong. It is wrong for many reasons, but for one above all. America is not an affluent society. This simple fact, which was overlooked by Galbraith, destroys the book and makes it quite useless except as a conversation piece. America is not an affluent society simply on the basis of the facts which even Galbraith has to admit. On page 86 he shows that in 1950 four-fifths of the families in America had an income (after taxes) of $4690 or less; three-fifths had an income of $3440 or less. Is that affluency? is threefifths—well over a majority, note—of the families of America living on $3440, affluency? Now, of course, Galbraith would come back with his clever prose, and quibble by saying that prices were lower in 1950 than now, etc., etc. No good. Why didn’t he discuss the question in his book? It is astounding that (a) he never defines what he means by affluency, and (b) never asks whether America is in fact affluent. And this is a scholar’s book? Well, well.
Further figures: according to Kahl, American Class Structure, the median cash income of American families in 1958 was under $4000. Over a majority of Americans were living “adequately,” therefore, or less than “adequately;” the word “adequate” as defined by Kahi means living “from month to month [with] no savings.”
Would you like to know why Galbraith avoids asking those obvious questions? Because not only would he make the unpleasant discovery that American society was not affluent, but worse—much worse —he would have to realize that the crucial problem of American economic life is the distribution of income. He would have come up against the brute fact of inequality. Better, therefore, to cover the whole thing up with bunkum about affluency; for then—the whole issue of inequality cannot possibly arise.