My Brush with John Kenneth Galbraith

John Fisher


[ 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 a lifetime."

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 the farm.

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 intense interest."

(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.)



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