Tasks, Galbraith, and Humility

"One of the best ways of avoiding necessary and even urgent tasks is to seem busily employed on things that are already done." — John Kenneth Galbraith

Did he follow his own advice? Some would say he did, yet through it all he managed to scratch out some forty books in just over ninety years.

In the introduction to a National Review interview with Galbraith, William Buckley Jr. said Galbraith was "probably the most influential U.S. intellectual of the 20th century."

Was Buckley just being nice, or was he being slyly ironic?

Correct me if I am wrong, but my sense is that Galbraith may come to be remembered as the most famous economist never to have left a mark on economic theory or practice.

Still, Galbraith wrote beautifully, and one can enjoy many of his books, even while disagreeing with almost every premises of substance.

Among Galbraith's special expository skills was was his grace at serving up charming self-deprecations, as in the introduction (p. 7) to the Affluent Society where he says,

"Originality is something easily exaggerated, especially by authors contemplating their own work."

What a delicate sentence. If you change "easily" to "greatly," the sentiment shifts from humility to arrogance. It is hard to imagine a finer balance.

In one of the reviews of the Parker biography of Galbraith, one finds the phrase:

"Galbraith liked words, especially his own."

The may seem cutting, but I don't take it that way. There may be some men that go beyond their voice, but many men simply are their voice.

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