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Sunday, May 7, 2006

A hill high enough to see

The Predator State by James K. Galbraith is up on the Web now. Please take a look at it. It is short, less than 1,000 words. I know I posted on it last week, but this is as important an analysis as was John Kenneth Galbraith's half a century ago.

It is not intellectually satisfying to me to divide the world into good guys and bad guys and the ignorant. I want a system which can explain, by incentives or otherwise, how a guy can become good, bad, or ignorant. Perhaps it is the Buddhist in me, or the Jeffersonian egalitarian, but I am of the mind that each of us could have as easily become the piss-bum or the corporate cutthroat or the beatific monk depending on opportunity and circumstance.

This exposition by Galbraith, to be sure, has deep moral implications. It is not the dry and arid speculation on models of choice or whatever amuses the puzzle-prone. Galbraith identifies the evil-doers (they are who we think they are) and those who are complicit (sometimes us). He sketches the evolution of the economy from the post-war middle class and its industrial monopolies to the conditions of today.

One has the sense of coming right-side up, or of finding a glass which brings things finally into focus, or of finding a hill high enough to let one survey the whole field and appreciate the interrelatedness of activities.

Which is not to say that this piece by Galbraith or its elaborations will explain the next stage of the economy. It is, like the elder Galbraith's, a system very much explanatory, but tied only to its segment of history. When the institutions change, or disintegrate, we will need another Galbraith.