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Obituary: John Kenneth Galbraith
John Kennedy Galbraith
J K Galbraith: Economist, diplomat, humanist
John Kenneth Galbraith was by far the most famous economic thinker of his day. Populist and media-friendly, he used television to explain and defend his liberal ideas.

"Only the community," he once said, "reflects the wellbeing, maybe even the survival, of all people." Such views, though out of favour for so long, struck a chord with modern politicians such as Tony Blair.

Born in Canada in 1908, JK Galbraith enjoyed a glittering academic career. He lectured in America at both Princeton and Harvard universities and was Professor of Economics at the latter for nearly half a century.

During World War II, he headed the US Strategic Bombing Survey, examining the effects of Allied bombing on Germany and Japan. The experience disturbed him.

Prolific author

"My feeling was one of, I remember to this day, total depression over the fact that human beings could, in the twentieth century, be treating people this way," he later recalled.

The Affluent Society was the summation of his liberal views
The Affluent Society was the summation of his liberal views
Under the auspices of the survey, he interrogated Nazi leaders prior to the Nuremberg War Crimes trials.

A prolific author, he wrote more than thirty books, but he will be best remembered for his seminal work, The Affluent Society, published in 1958.

The book challenged the conventional wisdom that free market economics would bring benefits to all. It became a standard text for liberal thinkers, to whom Galbraith was an intellectual icon.

Galbraith's ideas were closely linked to those of the British economist John Maynard Keynes.

He believed that government spending was essential to economic wellbeing. This assumption was challenged by monetarist economists like Milton Friedman, who strove to reduce the role of the state and government spending.

Ideas fashionable once more

He was also a close friend and adviser to President Kennedy, who made him the US Ambassador to India during the sixties.

Galbraith with John F Kennedy
His friend John F Kennedy made Galbraith US Ambassador to India
When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Galbraith wrote that he was relieved that the President had died quickly, fearing the destruction of his wit and intellect as the greater evil.

In the seventies, Galbraith wrote and presented the BBC television documentary series, The Age of Uncertainty, chronicling the breakdown of economic dogmas during the twentieth century.

John Kenneth Galbraith's liberal ideals were highly unfashionable during the 1980s. Politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had little time for what they saw as the "tax and spend" economics which Galbraith advocated.

But the return to power of centre-left Governments in Britain has meant that his ideas, including key concepts like social exclusion, are now back at the very heart of economic and political debate.

John Kenneth Galbraith Obituary
The BBC's Ed Crooks looks back on an extraordinary life

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