- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith, a Harvard economist and adviser to Democratic presidents, was remembered yesterday for his enduring influence on American liberalism.

Perhaps best known for his 1958 book, “The Affluent Society,” Mr. Galbraith was a top adviser to President Kennedy whose “profound commitment to social justice” was praised by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

“I know how much President Kennedy admired his genius, valued his friendship and loved his extraordinary wit, and so did I,” the Massachusetts Democrat said yesterday. “Our affluent society is a fairer and more just society today because of Ken, and no one who knew him will ever forget him.”

Mr. Galbraith, a native of Canada, died late Saturday of natural causes. He was 97.

“He was a half of a century ahead of his time,” Mr. Galbraith’s biographer, Richard Parker, told the Associated Press.

After teaching at Princeton University, Mr. Galbraith joined the Roosevelt administration in the Office of Price Administration. In 1949, he was appointed to Harvard University. He wrote speeches for Sen. Adlai Stevenson’s failed 1952 presidential campaign and became an early supporter of President Kennedy, who named Mr. Galbraith ambassador to India. Mr. Galbraith later advised Mr. Kennedy’s successor, President Johnson, wrote speeches for Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign and advised President Clinton.

Mr. Galbraith was influenced by British economist John Maynard Keynes, who advocated government spending to reduce unemployment, and helped popularize Keynesian views in America.

Mr. Galbraith’s reputation seemed to flourish despite his sometimes mistaken pronouncements. In his 1967 book, “The New Industrial State,” Mr. Galbraith argued that major corporations had become immune to marketplace forces.

Economist Thomas Sowell, who dubbed Mr. Galbraith one of the “Teflon prophets” of liberalism, pointed out in a recent interview that corporate giants of that era such as Eastern Airlines had since gone out of business. However, Mr. Sowell told the Wall Street Journal, “This hasn’t made the slightest dent in Galbraith’s reputation.”

Despite his liberal views, Mr. Galbraith was befriended by conservative intellectuals such as William F. Buckley Jr. and economist Arthur Laffer.

“The world is not just made up of people who turn out to be right,” Mr. Laffer said. “It is the debate that’s critical. … It is the debate that moves the world forward. And there is no one better to debate than John Kenneth Galbraith.”

“The Affluent Society,” which famously criticized the trend toward ornaments such as “tail fins” on American-made automobiles in the late 1950s, was an influential best-seller. In 1999, a panel of judges assembled by the Modern Library, a publishing house, placed the book at No. 46 on its list of the century’s 100 best English-language works of nonfiction.

Mr. Galbraith was married in 1937 to Catherine Atwater. They had four sons, Alan, Peter, James, and Douglas, who died in childhood of leukemia. Mr. Galbraith’s wife and two of his sons were by his side when he died, Mr. Parker said.

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