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LQD: JK Galbraith and the culture wars

by Migeru 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.

(Op. cit., chapter 21: the nature of employment and unemployment)

Display:
For a vignette of the OKies...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00dygkw

A couple of things spring to mind however:

  1. Autoformat fooling line.

  2. JKG was writing about what happened in his time. The backwash of political attitudes carried through to now, even though capital actually regained it's place as the determinant of success.

Hence we live in a fantasyland where people think education is the issue and build policies and culture wars around that assumption... and those with capital prosper all the more?

  1. Where I live you can see some of how this plays out. There is definitely a set of structurally unemployed whose job opportunities are severely restricted - because they have not been educated [1].

  2. However - at the same time - there's a shortage of jobs that actually require education beyond the basics. There's a lot of people who are "underemployed" in various "consulting/part-time" set ups. Some of that is good - they've traded pay for leisure time - but some of it relied on the false prosperity of the housing boom - thus I sense we're going to be seeing that there's a noticeable slice of "qualified unemployed" who have been pushed out as larger corporations slimmed down - but don't seem to find it easy to find new work.

[1] Why they haven't been educated is complex. Most have been failed by the education system... but some you sense (and can see in employment as well as unemployment) are just built differently. Just as some people like maths and physics but have no interest in the history and literature type subjects that lead to a law degree, so these people very often have real physical talents and interests... but probably didn't find satisfaction in a school and thus onward might not find satisfaction in an office job.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 08:58:47 AM EST
Shouldn't this have LQD attached ? :-)


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.

Especially not as there was a long history behind this:

Thirty-seven years have passed since the appearance of the last substantial book to take seriously, in the words of its title, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Richard Hofstadter's tour de force, appearing in 1963, is actually a product of the 1950's. Like many intellectuals, Hofstadter was disturbed by the general disdain for "eggheads," haunted by Joseph McCarthy's thuggish assault on Dean Acheson and his Anglophilic ways, and dismayed by Eisenhower's taste for Western novels and his tangled syntax (which was not yet understood to be, at least sometimes, not simply incompetent but deliberately evasive). Had not Eisenhower himself in 1954 (no doubt in words written for him by another hand) cited a definition of an intellectual as "a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows"? (How much more congenial was Stevenson, who once cracked: "Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks!")

Probing for historical roots of a mood that was sweeping (if somewhat exaggerated by intellectuals), Hofstadter found that "our anti-intellectualism is, in fact, older than our national identity." He cited, among others, the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote in 1642, "The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee"; and Baynard R. Hall, who wrote in 1843 of frontier Indiana: "We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness."

http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i15/15b00701.htm



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 10:51:22 AM EST
Gitlin is also good on developments since Hofstadter (and Galbraith) wrote, e.g.:


When Hofstadter wrote, the dominant intellectuals were either experts or ideologues. The most influential pundit was Walter Lippmann. But the crucial public development since Hofstadter's time is the rise of the pseudo-intellectual, thanks to the premium on smirking and glibness, which, in much of the popular mind, passes for intellect. The pundit is a smart person in both senses -- intelligent and a smarty-pants -- and his knowingness about how the game is played is a substitute for knowledge about what would improve society. Punditry is to intellectual life as fast food is to fine cuisine.



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 11:20:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do I doubt that either Cotton or Hall would follow their own advice and find unlearned or ignorant bad men as husbands for their daughters?  I suspect that what they were describing were the preferred characteristics of employees or laborers.  I am not familiar with the biographies of either man, but, given the times and their quotes I would not at all be surprised to find a strong streak of sadism in their characters.  They probably just wanted victims.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 10:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Galbraith's comments are right on point but I would also add the increase of the working class to being receptive to the Republican brand of conservatism also stems from the day Lyndon Johnson signed the 'Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965'. Johnson said on tht day the Democrats have lost the South for generations with his signing this act. Prior to this, most working class were Democrats who still believed in the party of FDR and the unions but were also 'Southern prejudiced'. The Republicans,beginning with Nixon, played upon these racial prejudices and has led the Republican Party up until this election to control the South and the Presidency for thirty one years out of the fourty three years since Johnson signed the Act.
by An American in London on Mon Oct 20th, 2008 at 05:08:02 PM EST
I agree, in general, but how do you explain the phenomena of Democrats Carter and Clinton?  I also recall much criticism heaped upon Republican D.D. Eisenhower during his terms for the role he played as an advocate for civil rights (Little Rock - 1957).  I believe it was the era and the movement, not the party or the man in the White House, that caused the reversal.  Unfortunately, for the Democrats, other issues have also resonated badly for them in certain regions.

My main point, that I seem make more than even I like, is that the two parties are not all that different at the core and they tend to move with the tide but only when they are in danger of drowning.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Oct 22nd, 2008 at 06:55:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, in general, but how do you explain the phenomena of Democrats Carter and Clinton?

Carter rode into the White House on the back of Watergate.

Clinton is an unusually skilled demagogue, and Bush the Elder is a feckless incompetent. Plus, there was a schism in the GOP in '92.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 23rd, 2008 at 11:28:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Carter rode into the White House on the back of Watergate.

Clinton is an unusually skilled demagogue...

You could make both these points about Obama, and many have.


I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Oct 23rd, 2008 at 09:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for Obama to lead the US back towards a path of responsible economic policy, honourable foreign policy and non-suicidal environmental policy. It'll be nice if he doesn't actively break things, but if I had to bet money, I'd say that he's just Clinton, take two.

That said, Obama has two things Clinton and and Carter didn't: What looks for all the world like a massive victory, and what we already know will be an equally massive financial shitpile.

The former will give him the clout and the latter the political cover to enact real, serious change, if he wants to.

But as I said, I'm not holding my breath.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 23rd, 2008 at 09:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll buy that.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Oct 23rd, 2008 at 11:08:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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