Sunday, April 30, 2006

Giants in the earth, fallen.

John Kenneth Galbraith passed away Saturday at the age of 97.

Brad DeLong says: "If there were justice in the world, John Kenneth Galbraith would rank as the twentieth century's most influential American economist." Yet "Galbraith's economic views have undergone [a] . . . distressing eclipse. Among economists (excluding economic historians), the 70-year-olds have read Galbraith and think he is very important; the 50-year-olds have read Galbraith and know that the 70-year-olds think he is important but are not sure why; and the 30-year-olds have not even read him."

Argues DeLong, part of the reason for this is that notwithstanding Galbraith's status as a liberal icon, he does not stand for a reductive school of thought: "For Galbraith, there is no single market failure, no single serpent in the Eden of perfect competition. He starts from the ground and works up: What are the major forces and institutions in a given economy, and how do they interact? A graduate student cannot be taught to follow in Galbraith's footsteps. The only advice: Be supremely witty. Write very well. Read very widely. And master a terrifying amount of institutional detail." It's hard enough to teach people to master institutional detail and write well, but teaching supreme wit is nearly impossible.

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