John Kenneth Galbraith, OC (October 15, 1908 - April 29, 2006), was a Canadian economist, public official, and a leading proponent of 20th century American liberalism. He was a Keynesian and an institutionalist. His books on economic topics were bestsellers from the 1950s through the 2000s and he filled the role of public intellectual from the 1950s to the 1970s on matters of economics. (Click for full Wikipedia article.)
A businessman who reads Business Week is lost to fame. One who reads Proust is marked for greatness.
Agreeable as it is to know where one is proceeding, it is far more important to know where one has arrived.
All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.
All races have produced notable economists, with the exception of the Irish who doubtless can protest their devotion to higher arts.
All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. The violence of a revolution is the violence of men who charge into a vacuum.
Among all the world's races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.
Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay.
Conscience is better served by a myth.
Do not be alarmed by simplification, complexity is often a device for claiming sophistication, or for evading simple truths.
Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.
Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
Ideas are inherently conservative. They yield not to the attack of other ideas but to the massive onslaught of circumstance with which they cannot contend.
If all else fails immortality can always be assured by adequate error.
If inheritance qualifies one for office, intelligence cannot be a requirement.
If it is dangerous to suppose that government is always right, it will sooner or later be awkward for public administration if most people suppose that it is always wrong.
If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem; but if you owe it a million, it has.
In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.
In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.
In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.
In economics, the majority is always wrong.
In recent times no problem has been more puzzling to thoughtful people than why, in a troubled world, we make such poor use of our affluence.
In the United States, though power corrupts, the expectation of power paralyzes.
Income almost always flows along the same axis as power but in the opposite direction.
It can be laid down as a rule that those who speak most of liberty are least inclined to use it.
It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.
It is my guiding confession that I believe the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.
Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.
Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.
Money is a singular thing. It ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy. And with death as his greatest source of anxiety. Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.
Much literary criticism comes from people for whom extreme specialization is a cover for either grave cerebral inadequacy or terminal laziness, the latter being a much cherished aspect of academic freedom.
Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.
Nothing is more portable than rich people and their money.
Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.
One can relish the varied idiocy of human action during a panic to the full, for, while it is a time of great tragedy, nothing is being lost but money.
One of the greatest pieces of economic wisdom is to know what you do not know.
People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.
People who are in a fortunate position always attribute virtue to what makes them so happy.
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
Power is as power does.
Private enterprise did not get us atomic energy.
Production only fills a void that it has itself created.
That one never need to look beyond the love of money for explanation of human behavior is one of the most jealously guarded simplifications of our culture.
The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor.
The contented and economically comfortable have a very discriminating view of government. Nobody is ever indignant about bailing out failed banks and failed savings and loans associations... But when taxes must be paid for the lower middle class and poor, the government assumes an aspect of wickedness.
The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.
The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.
The greater the wealth the thicker will be the dirt.
The happiest time of anyone's life is just after the first divorce.
The man who is admired for the ingenuity of his larceny is almost always rediscovering some earlier form of fraud. The basic forms are all known, have all been practiced. The manners of capitalism improve. The morals may not.
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
The more underdeveloped the country, the more overdeveloped the women.
The privileged have regularly invited their own destruction with their greed.
The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled.
The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is the one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it.
The threat to men of great dignity, privilege and pretense is not from the radicals they revile; it is from accepting their own myth. Exposure to reality remains the nemesis of the great- a little understood thing.
There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose.
There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what makes its pursuit so interesting.
There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.
There is no literate population in the world that is poor, and there is no illiterate population that is anything but poor.
There is wonder and a certain wicked pleasure in these giddy ascents and terrible falls, especially as they happen to other people.
There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is worth a billion dollars.
Tragedy wonderfully reveals the nature of man.
We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don't know, and those who don't know they don't know.
Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.
Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence.
When the modern corporation acquires power over markets, power in the community, power over the state and power over belief, it is a political instrument, different in degree but not in kind from the state itself.
When you see reference to a new paradigm you should always, under all circumstances, take cover.
Where humor is concerned there are no standards- no one can say what is good or bad, although you can be sure that everyone will.
You roll back the stones, and you find slithering things. That is the world of Richard Nixon.