Notes on Galbraith and a Free Society
The sarcastic and brilliant J.K. Galbraith, in spite of his unsupported assertions in economics, made keen social psychological observations. He undermined the relevancy of socialism, arguing that, in the face of “countervailing powers” which moved capitalism away from the considered form of its critique, socialism did away with itself as a viable alternative. Galbraith did not see profit as the central motive for the corporation, but power, which unified the corporations within one “technostructure”, not as competition, but as part of the same club. Ironically, in spite of the centrality of power to his theory, he maintained his Keynesian position while suggesting that the economic systems between America and the Soviet Union were comparable, advocating for centralized planning in order to quell individual desires he correctly saw as corruptible as though by our Original Sin.
He drew further comparisons between America and Soviet Union by a sleight of hand, suggesting that they differed only in the First Amendment, and then proceeded to describe their similarities in economics under the umbrella of the “new industrial state,” comprising both capitalist and socialist economies.
But in 1961, as U.S. Ambassador to India during the Kennedy Administration, he recognized the difference between the economies, namely, that their characters are not determined by their economic systems, but their political institutions. That the U.S. rewarded a critic of her with a position to influence that which he sardonically critiqued was not comparable to the Soviet Union, who sent to the death those that were not ideologically agreeable. Scruton writes, “The communist collective, whether factory, farm, union or branch of the Party, was protected from the real consequences of its actions, enjoyed extensive and unspoken immunity from legal redress and could not be brought to task by any of its inferiors.”
Herein lies the truth and self-destruction of America: it is only possible within a free society that ideas antithetical to her self-preservation shall gain footing enough to subvert her. There is no oppression by which dissent will be judged, or sent to the gulag. Critics are rewarded and offered positions to improve its systems, however flawed that criticism.
Yet we must caveat here. That any free society that welcomes her demise through ideas intended to subvert it will see totalitarianism once again rearing its ugly head on the horizon. What would Galbraith say about contemporary America, 15 years after his death?
“In communist countries,” he wrote, “stability of ideas and social purpose is achieved by formal adherence to an officially proclaimed doctrine. Deviation is stigmatized as ‘incorrect.’ In our society, a similar stability is enforced far more informally by the conventional wisdom.”
What conventional wisdom persists today, if any? What deviation is stigmatized? And how is stability enforced both formally and informally in American institutions?