Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

John Kenneth Galbraith, aka "Ken"

Canadian-born American Economist, Diplomat, Writer

"Wisdom, itself, is often an abstraction associated not with fact or reality, but with the man who asserts it and the manner of its assertion."

"The problem in those people who formed their ideas in the 1940's and the 1950's and have never changed them as the world changed. There is something wrong with people who make up their minds and don't change them."

"[The] men of the technostructure are the new and universal priesthood. Their religion is business success; their test of virtue is growth and profit. Their bible is the computer printout; their communion bench is the committee room."

"If peace and survival are to be achieved, the search must almost certainly go beyond the effort to find a balance in thermonuclear terror."

"In a community where public services have failed to keep abreast of private consumption things are very different. Here, in an atmosphere of private opulence and public squalor, the private goods have full sway."

"There is certainly no absolute standard of beauty. That precisely is what make its pursuit so interesting"

"More die in the United States of too much food than of too little."

"The more underdeveloped the country, the more overdeveloped the women."

"People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage... In economics, the majority is always wrong."

"Economics is not primarily an expository science; it also serves the controlling economic interest."

"The urge to consume is fathered by the value system which emphasizes the ability of society to produce."

"In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone."

"Ideas are inherently conservative. They yield not to the attack of other ideas but to the massive onslaught of circumstances with which they cannot contend."

"In economics, as in anatomy, the whole is much more than the sum of the parts."

"It is possible that people need to believe that they are unmanaged if they are to be managed effectively."

"Originality is something that is easily exaggerated, especially by authors contemplating their own work."

"People are the common denominator of progress. So… no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated. It would be wrong to dismiss the importance of roads, railroads, power plants, mills and the other familiar furniture of economic development. . . . But we are coming to realize . . . that there is certain sterility in economic monuments that stand alone in a sea of illiteracy. Conquest of illiteracy comes first."

"Knowledge is power. But knowledge without character and wisdom is nothing, or worse."

"Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."

"Regulatory bodies, like the people who comprise them, have a marked life cycle. In youth they are vigorous, aggressive, evangelistic, and even intolerant. Later they mellow, and in old age – after a matter of ten or fifteen years – they become, with some exceptions, either an arm of the industry they are regulating or senile."

"The culture of organization runs strongly to the shifting of problems to others – to an escape from personal mental effort and responsibility. This, in turns, becomes the larger public attitude. It is for others to do the worrying, take the action. In the world of the great organization, problems are not solved but passed on. And there is a further effect. The delegation process just cited adds ineluctably to the layers of command and to the prestige associated with command. That prestige is regularly measured by the number of individual subordinates."

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

"The great dialectic in our time is not, as anciently and by some still supposed, between capital and labor; it is between economic enterprise and the state."

"The enemy of conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events."

"The greater the wealth, the thicker will be the dirt."

"The tendency of bureaucracy [is] to find purpose in whatever it is doing."

"There are two classes of people who tell what is going to happen in the future: Those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know."

"The worst policy is one made in secrecy by experts."

"These men of the technostructure are the new and universal priesthood. Their religion is business success; their test of virtue is growth and profit. Their bible is the computer printout; their communion bench is the committee room."

"People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage."

"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

"What is thought to be the responsible public opinion is, at any given time, a reflection of the needs and interests of the corporate technostructure."

"War remains the decisive human failure."

"Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding."

"Economics is a subject profoundly conducive to cliche, resonant with boredom. On few topics is an American audience so practiced in turning off its ears and minds. And none can say that the response is ill advised. "

"If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. "

"All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. "

"In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong. "

"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership. "

"In economics, the majority is always wrong. "

"In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability. "

"The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events. "

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite. "

"The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking. "

"One of the greatest pieces of economic wisdom is to know what you do not know. "

"Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."

"There are times in politics when you must be on the right side and lose. "

"You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too. "

"People are the common denominator of progress"

"In the usual (though certainly not in every) public decision on economic policy, the choice is between courses that are almost equally good or equally bad. It is the narrowest decisions that are most ardently debated. If the world is lucky enough to enjoy peace, it may even one day make the discovery, to the horror of doctrinaire free-enterprisers and doctrinaire planners alike, that what is called capitalism and what is called socialism are both capable of working quite well."