My Brush with John Kenneth Galbraith
GroundSwell, September-October 2006]
John Kenneth Galbraith died April 29, 2006 in Cambridge, Mass. at
age 97. He was a liberal economist who served as J.F. Kennedy's
ambassador to India, taught 30 years at Harvard, was an advisor to
four presidents and was editor of Fortune magazine for four years.
He believed in government intervention as a countervailing economic
force to unbridled capitalism. He opposed the wars in Vietnam and
Iraq. His sense of humour often showed as in, "Economists are
economical,...,of ideas. Most make those of their graduate days last
John Kenneth Galbraith was once asked which of his 40 or so books
would give someone the best economic education. He replied "The
Scotch" (1964). It was this book along with his eight year
column (The Plowman) in the St. Thomas Times-Journal that got him
into so much trouble with the local population.
As he wrote in one of the letters I received, "I'm afraid
that I never contemplated attending Dutton High School reunions. I
became somewhat unpopular in later times for a description I offered
of the principal, known as 'Old Tommy'." On October 15, 2006 on
the occasion of his birthday, I attended a '"Tribute to
Galbraith" at the John Kenneth Galbraith Reference Library in
Dutton, Ontario. Dutton is about four kilometres from the Galbraith
home farm where John Kenneth spent his youth before graduating from
the Ontario Agricultural College. A memorial Inuksuk is located at
Galbraith and another student drove across the U.S. in 1931 and
arrived for graduate studies at Berkeley, Ca. absolutely broke.
Three years later however he got a posting at Harvard for $2400. He
became a U.S. citizen in 1937.
It wasn't until the 1980's that the "Scotch" of the
local area started to warm up to Galbraith. He spoke at the
University of Western Ontario (London) in 1993 to help raise money
for the Dutton library. I had a brief conversation with him at that
time. Alan Galbraith, his oldest son, attended the recent "Tribute".
I spoke to him about my invitations to his father to the last two
Georgist conferences in Canada.
Galbraith's only reference to Henry George was in the letter of
October 30, 1998. He said, "I am not a full devotee of Henry
George but there is no one in the social world that I read with more
(Dutton is a village of 1200 about 12 miles to the east of Rodney,
Ontario. It is a part of west Elgin County and was in the high
school area (West Elgin Secondary School) where John Fisher taught
for 25 years.)