Ultraliberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith, perhaps best known to TV/political junkies as an on-air sparring partner of William F. Buckley, has died at the age of 97. I remember seeing the two spar over one of the party conventions on the "Today" show way back when. (I'm guessing it was 1980.) Can you imagine "Today" hosting two intellectuals having a little debate around the conventions today? Today's morning-show world is more likely to be devoted to plastic convention publicity schticks like Republican rappers (remember TRQ, anyone?) and precocious, mop-headed eight-year-old Democrats.
The New York Times greeted Galbraith's death with the headline "Economist Held a Mirror to Society." Apparently, if you believe capitalism is all about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and you believe avidly in massive government intervention in the economy, you "hold a mirror to society." Or at least a mirror to the face of the New York Times.
Holcomb Noble and Douglas Martin acknowledge this "iconoclastic" intellectual was also "unapologetically liberal," their long obituary clearly mourns his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when liberalism was triumphant and conservatism was almost a dirty word:
He strived to change the very texture of the national conversation about power and its nature in the modern world by explaining how the planning of giant corporations superseded market mechanisms. His sweeping ideas, which might have gained even greater traction had he developed disciples willing and able to prove them with mathematical models, came to strike some as almost quaint in today's harsh, interconnected world where corporations devour one another.
They also note "Though he eventually broke with President Lyndon B. Johnson over the war in Vietnam, he helped conceive Mr. Johnson's Great Society program and wrote a major presidential address that outlined its purposes." There is no more hallowed liberal enterprise than the "Great Society." Notice how the Times doesn't even put that in quotes. Trillions of dollars can never be spent in vain as long as the utopian goal, the abolition of poverty, is noble.
In his book "On the Firing Line," Buckley recalls sparring with Galbraith on his PBS show, including Galbraith claiming "One of the things that helps the poor and the deprived to bear life is to hear the occasional screams of the rich."