Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 06:48:39 AM EST
John Kenneth Galbraith's The New Industrial State (1967-85) is allegedly too much about sociology to be considered proper economics by this year's Swedish Bank Prize winner. In the last 30 years political economy hasn't progressed in the direction that he foresaw in the 1960's, and so probably his book has to be seen more as a description of what things were like in the 1950's and 60's than as a general theory. But still it contains gems like the following extended quotation, which to me goes a long way towards explaining working-class conservatism in the US.
Much may be learned of the character of any society form its social conflicts and passions. When capital was the key to economic success, social conflict was between the rich and the poor. Money made the difference; posession or nonpossession justified contempt for, or resentment of, those oppositely situated. Sociology, economics, political science and fiction celebrated the war between the two sides of the tracks and the relation of the mansion on the hil to the tenements below.
But by the 1960's things had become different...
In recent times education has become the difference that divides. All who have educational advantage, as with the moneyed of an earlier day, are reminded of their noblesse oblige and also of the advantages of reticence. They should help those who are less fortunate; they must avoid reflectig aloud on their advantage in knowledge. But this doesn't serve to paper over the conflict. It is visible in almost any community.
Thus a part of the country with a high rate of accommodation to the requirements of the planning system, i.e., a good educational system and a well-qualified working force, will attract industry and have a strong aspect of well-being. It will be the natural Canaan of the more energetic among those who were brn in less favoured communities. This for long explained the migration from the South, Southwest and border states to California, the upper Middle West and the eastern seaboard. Many of these migrants were unqualified for employment in the planning system. They thus contributed heavily to welfare and unemployment rolls in the communities to which they moved. The nature of the opprobium to which they were subject is indicated by the appellations that sometimes still are applied to them—hillbillies, Okies, junglebunnies. It is not that they were and are poorer but that they were and are culturally deprived. It is such groups, not the working proletariat, that now react in resentment and violence to their subordination.
Politics also reflects the new division. In the United States suspicion or resentment is no longer directed at the capitalists or the merely rich. It is the intellectuals—the effete snobs—who are eyed with misgiving and alarm. This should surprise no one. Nor should it be a matter of surprise when semiliterate millionnaires turn up leading or financing the ignorant in struggle against the intellectually privileged and content. This further reflects the relevant class distinction in our time.
A further consequence of the new pattern of unemployment is that full employment, though it remains an important test of the success of the economic system, can be approached only against increasing resistance. For, as noted, while the unemployed are reduced in numbers, they come to consist more and more of those, primarily the uneducated, who are unemployable in the planning system. The counterpart of this resistant core is a growing number of vacancies for highly qualified workers and a strong bargaining position for those who are employed. This leads to the final source of instability in the planning system and to yet a further resort to the state. This [the control of the wage-price spiral] we now examine.
, chapter 21: the nature of employment and unemployment)