The extrovert author of numerous books, including the highly enjoyable Affluent Society and Great Crush of 1929, longtime Harvard professor (now emeritus), once New Delhi's greatest celebrity (since Edwina) as Kennedy's Ambassador to India, witty excoriator of the scholarly pretences of his fellow economists and of all manner of other balderdash, John Kenneth Galbraith's only reticence hides a skilfully disguised but intense puritanism. He may not suffer the classic puritan's agonies at the thought that somebody, somewhere is having a good time, but if contentment is a goal for the rest of us, it is clearly a goad for Galbraith, for whom it is only the tolerant companion of evils that a suitably restless discontent might abolish. After reading this far from unpersuasive essay inflated into a book by means of an uncrowded typeface and thick paper, one feels morally certain that his starting point was not the derived evils, but contentment itself. And in lieu of one chapter of conclusions he has two on the inevitable punishments to come ('The Reckoning I' and 'The Reckoning II', à la Stephen King) and a final mournful coda, 'Requiem' - for unlike redemptionists who denounce sin and threaten hellfire only to preach and promise salvation, Galbraith forecasts an inevitable downfall of relative economic decline, further tormented by underclass uprisings of the South-Central LA variety.
LRB 19 November 1992 | PDF Download