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The Affluent Society (Penguin Economics)

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  1,944 Ratings  ·  95 Reviews
Galbraith's classic on the "economics of abundance" is, in the words of the New York Times, "a compelling challenge to conventional thought." With customary clarity, eloquence, and humor, Galbraith cuts to the heart of what economic security means (and doesn't mean) in today's world and lays bare the hazards of individual and societal complacence about economic inequity. W ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published October 15th 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1958)
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Aug 31, 2008 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Contrary to the assumptions made in the history of economic theory (from Adam Smith, Ricardo, Mathus and Marx) that the development of the industrial base inevitably leads to the total impoverishment of the working class, we seem to be witnessing quite the opposite. The working classes in the advanced capitalist societies have never had it so good. We now live in an affluent society. Despite the more horrible predictions of these founding fathers of economic theory not coming to pass we have not ...more
Bother! I thought I had already written most of this review, but no, I must toil and type to lay it out here in black and white.

Galbraith's book is a slightly awkward subject, written in 1958, went through four editions before the revised version that fell into my hands. I wonder if he was prescient for 1958, for example in the role of debt in sustaining a consumer society, or simply astute when it came to updating each edition?

It is an elegantly written essay, slightly too elegant with it's swa
Aug 01, 2011 Szplug rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada-eh
Oh, for fuck's sakes, what the fuck is wrong with you people? Is this a never-ending revival of the Dunciad? This ain't rocket science, for Christ's sakes—we've cottoned a shitload of the green-googly-moogly in the decades since the Great Slump, so why can't we apply the lessons we've learned from this gigantic laissez-faire clusterfuck? Goddamn greedy, overly ripe, crumb-lipped mall-mutts, I'd love to crack your fucking spongiform shells together to let in some oxygen! A progressive system of t ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 09, 2009 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: David Schweickart
I read this for the Capitalism/Democracy/Socialism course taught under the aegis of Loyola University Chicago's Philosophy Department in the first semester of 1981/82. The teacher, a Ph.d. in both Philosophy and Mathematics, ran the course as an ongoing debate between three orientations. The first, the free market capitalist, was primarily represented by Milton Friedman. The second, the Keynesian capitalist, was primarily represented by J.K. Galbraith. The third, the market socialist, was primar ...more
Galbraith wrote this entire book as a protest against the growth economy, as if it was an economic law that once men's most basic material desires are met, they are fed, clothed and housed, then their fundamental purposes in life have been fulfilled. He therefore assumes that any material consumption beyond this base level is unnatural and is created somehow by forces extrinsic to the individual, moreover this consumption is a historical aberration that is being fostered by erroneous attitudes a ...more
Czarny Pies
Nov 22, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History students. This is no longer a defensible thesis.
Recommended to Czarny by: My parents.
Shelves: political-theory
This book published in 1958 was a great manifesto for Lyndon Baines Johnson's Great Society. Galbraith argued that America was a rich society capable of caring for all its members. Left to its own, capitalism would simply try to stimulate consumption by the financially privileged through advertising. What was needed was increased taxation of the rich to finance social programs for the poor.

Galbraith's argument was treated with great seriousness by the majority of North Americans throughout the s
Jul 11, 2016 Pink rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I kind of agree with what Galbraith has to say, but it doesn't read so easily. It felt more like a piece of social science academia, than a non-fiction book. If you're okay with that, then it's an insightful look at economics and capitalism, from a 1950s American viewpoint.
Aug 08, 2011 Mel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is as important when Galbraith first published it. A giant of a man - 6'9"!! - Galbraith still towers over a humane, practical and honest stream of economic thinking and writing.

Arguing that conventional economic thought was not only the child but the captive of a time when scarcity was an everyday reality for most of the European and American 'world', he puts an elegant but passionate case for looking at things as they actually are, rather than as theorists insist that they must be,
Jul 04, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is well written and has extraordinary explanatory power. Galbraith speaks about our culture's economic priorities within the context of historical economic theories and critiques the logic and accepted ideas that create these priorities. Worthwhile and thought-provoking.
Mar 12, 2012 Danielle added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Andrew Blackburn or my Dad maybe
Recommended to Danielle by: Karen Silva

HOLY COW I FINALLY FINISHED! This took forever for multiple reasons. But first things first, if you are looking for a book to be your first venture into economics, this isn't it. Well, he wasn't a good match for me at least.I felt like I might as well have been reading sentences with continuous use of double negatives. I often found myself re-reading a sentence about 5 times to understand what he was saying. Not to mention the frequent use of Latin phrases and words no one uses any more. And usu
Patrick Peterson
This book was terrible.
I read it senior year in High School or Freshman year in College while I was taking intro economics courses and was amazed at how Galbraith violated the most basic concepts in economics and logic.

The most ridiculous quote I remember from this book (or his follow-up book, The New Industrial State) was his statement that "that's the exception that proves the rule."

Think about that for a second.

Exceptions do NOT prove any rules. They don't do anything, except perhaps DISprove
Oliver Bateman
Paul Krugman called the Canadian agricultural economist (and University of Toronto alum!) J. K. Galbraith a "policy entrepreneur," and that assessment seems about right to me. Galbraith was good at several things: Being tall (he was almost 6'10"), turning phrases (he gave us "the conventional wisdom" and a host of memorable epigrams), and making strong arguments for vague government programs and interventions (although he defends this tendency in TAS: "Since these achievements are not easily mea ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith.

It was really the first book I've read that allowed even a fleeting glimpse into the opaque and arcane realm of macro economics. The Affluent Society is a book written in the late fifties mostly in study of America's post WWII economy. It seeks to redefine priorities in a society that clearly has no trouble with the basics of feeding and sheltering itself. As far as books that attempt to shed some light on our economic circum
Mar 28, 2012 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Until the later stages of the industrial revolution, no society had achieved a level of productive capacity sufficient to eliminate privation, or a serious possibility of privation, from the lives of its people. Before that time, scarcity was the unbroken rule of history. That is the world in which Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and others developed the core conceptual tools of economic analysis. Not surprisingly, in their work, we find that production is the highest goal—for by it alone can the needs ...more
Brian Ross
Written in 1958, this book proposed that America had achieved a level of affluence that made core prevailing modes of thought regarding economic and social progress obsolete. Galbraith was a liberal economist who forthrightly stated that the purpose of economic life is greater than for the simple manufacture of ever greater aggregate wealth. That is, he also tackled the issue of how and why poverty persists along beside plenty, and the economic, social and moral consequences of simply accepting ...more
Many of the claims about income inequality, class warfare, and the like were discussed in this classic by Galbraith. Unfortunately, his explanations for the causes of these are based on his view of a failed system of capitalism and solutions based on government action through fiscal policy were misguided then and are today. The underlying factor driving these concerns is most often government itself that then makes the problem worse with more government intervention.

He does get some of it right
Terry Clague
Jul 15, 2010 Terry Clague rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this book as an introduction to economics as well as just being a good read - especially in current "turbulent" times. Starting with a skate through the development of economics - which JKG characterizes as having been born "in a world of poverty and privation" - the book introduced the world to the term "conventional wisdom" (though I've heard a few right of centre economists dispute this) before going on to kick back against the mindless pursuit of "production" (GDP Growth) as an e ...more
Dec 04, 2014 Ronnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book in 1970 when I was in the Army and I was all of 19. If it was stunning then....what he the edition that I just read ( which is the 40th Anniversary Edition) it is trembling with ideas that quaked to be presented. He writes to be read and understood. I could never cease to be amazed by these individuals who write to be so pleasantly read.
I ....I who hungered to comprehend what was happening around me found solace in writers such as this. Production..Education..St
This book was on Newsweek's list of the top 100 books, which I am currently reading through. I don't have much of an interest in reading about economics, which accounts for a mere three stars in this review, but as far as economics goes, The Affluent Society was well-written and easy to read and contained quite a bit of interesting information, even if I didn't always agree with the author. In some ways it seems he really has a handle on the post WWII economic society in America, not only at the ...more
Goodreads The Affluent Society
Galbraith is the creator of the term "conventional wisdom." I picked up this book specifically to read what are still today polemical postulations. He suggests back in good old 1957 that "In the Communist countries stability of ideas and social purpose is achieved by formal adherance to an officially proclaimed doctrine. In our society a similar stability is enforced far more informally by the conventional wisdom." Conventional wisdom being the ability to accept pol
Steven Peterson
Apr 21, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Kenneth Galbraith was a liberal economic thinker. This book was one of his best-known works. He argues that the widening gap between richest and poorest citizens threatened economic stability. He made suggestions as to how this might be addressed. Some of his predictions turned out to be dead wrong. Nonetheless, his analysis, though somewhat dated, addresses some long-term issues that still bedevil us.
May 22, 2015 Katya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic, (relatively) light economics book that's great for beginners. While it's obviously outdated, with historical context on the American economy before and after the 1950s it becomes an interesting glimpse into past economic theory.
Yuni Amir
May 08, 2017 Yuni Amir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great reminder of the basic tenet of our lives, which entwined with the application of economics. Galbraith wrote this in 1958, and I deem it is still applicable to this day; many of his simple and doable ideas are still left unexplored.

PostScript: Galbraith taught us how to be conservative and liberal without being idiotic.
Nick Klagge
Feb 18, 2012 Nick Klagge rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
It's been a little while since I actually finished this book, so I'm not quite as fresh as I should be. I enjoyed reading it, and there are some aspects that have stuck with me. JKG's main topic of interest here is similar to Bill McKibben's in "Deep Economy"--capitalist economic organization was hugely successful in bringing masses of people out of poverty, but to what extent is it still appropriate for an affluent society? Several points to highlight:

-Economics generally takes individual utili
Snehal Bhagat
Aug 08, 2010 Snehal Bhagat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most development indicators point to the increasing affluence of peoples across the world. Most of these indicators are also derivatives of the GDP, so that at a social level, production has itself become the most basic criteria for evaluating collective achievement, and its growth a national obsession.

At the individual level, this has allowed the machinations of private enterprise to translate the lofty ideal- that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right- to the base notion that
Dec 18, 2008 Tommy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book didn't knock my socks off at all times but it is definitely full of incredibly useful information, insight, and analysis. The density of ideas here is pretty high which is always a plus when reading a book and I am particularly amazed at the prescience of many of the ideas in the book.

The occasional wit or snark breaks up the seriousness of an admittedly serious topic but I think Galbraith used it judiciously and effectively.

One of his most interesting theories was actually reminiscent
Apr 02, 2007 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Economics Nerds
After his death, the remains of Galbraith, his ideas, were desecrated by Conservatives as wrong, evil, or silly, especially the latter. For Conservatives, who have "won" the last three decades of the economic debate in the United States, Galbraith could be reduced to a nice man with misguided ideas; he was something of a child. Look around: private enterprise--the "ownership society"--is rooted in the post-war U.S. psyche and the ideas have been exported, along with a neoliberal, race-to-the-bot ...more
Dhs Sparrell
Nov 29, 2014 Dhs Sparrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Galbraith's _Affluent Society_ is, in a sense, not relevant in 2014, as, in fact, the middle class is disappearing. The premise of the book is that the middle class of America is successful and wealthy, and a key player in the American economy, and in deciding the future of America.

Well, I contend that with a little trivial deconstruction/reconstruction one can apply the principles in _Affluent Society_ to America in the early 21st century.

Galbraith patiently argues against "Conventional Wisdom
Nov 16, 2012 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed my perspective more than any other I've ever read, and continues to shape my political beliefs on a daily basis. That really is not an overstatement once you come to understand how little changes in "conventional wisdom" in the USA over more than 60 years since John Kenneth Galbraith wrote this book.
His creation of the idea of "Conventional Wisdom" in the first few chapters alone would make this a classic, but it is the economic and political vision set out over the full text w
Feb 07, 2014 Mohamed rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My first book for Galbraith, and while I haven't had much readings into macro economics, I found his approach simple enough; the book starts with a brief introduction to what he calls "Conventional Wisdom", mainly meaning the reigning economic theories, leading the reader to the main issues of his essay: how the power of production and the discrimination between private and public production has come to shape everything about the capitalist system.
To sum up his critique, he refers to the condit
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John Kenneth Galbraith was a Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian and an institutionalist, a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism and democratic socialism. His books on economic topics were bestsellers in the 1950s and 1960s. A prolific author, he produced four dozen books & over a 1000 articles on many subjects. Among his most famous works was his economics trilogy ...more
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“Wealth is not without its advantages and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive. ” 14 likes
“The shortcomings of economics are not original error but uncorrected obsolescence. The obsolescence has occurred because what is convenient has become sacrosanct. Anyone who attacks such ideas must seem to be a trifle self-confident and even aggressive. The man who makes his entry by leaning against an infirm door gets an unjustified reputation for violence. Something is to be attributed to the poor state of the door.” 6 likes
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