John Kenneth Galbraith has been immersed in economics for most of his long and remarkable life. The purpose of this extended essay is to illuminate examples of "innocent fraud" or the gulf between perception and reality in the modern American economic system--a system he had a hand in creating during his tenure in FDR's administration. Although it tackles serious subjects, the book sparkles with wit and sly understatement.
The dominant role of the corporation in modern society is one such form of innocent fraud, and he explains how managers hold the real power in our system, not consumers or shareholders as the image would suggest. Despite the "appearance of relevance for owners" capitalism has given way to corporate bureaucracy--"a bureaucracy in control of its task and its compensation. Rewards that verge on larceny." He explains how the public realm is effectively controlled by the private sector. The arms industry is but one example of this: "While the Pentagon is still billed as being of the public sector, few doubt the influence of corporate power in its decisions." Galbraith also looks at the financial world, which "sustains a large, active, well-rewarded community based on compelled but seemingly sophisticated ignorance", and in particular the Federal Reserve System, "our most prestigious form of fraud, our most elegant escape from reality." In essence, Galbraith says that the Fed, for all of its power and prestige, effectively does nothing. And he has little problem with this: "Let their ineffective role be accepted and forgiven."
Both a guide to the present and an aid to shaping the future, this slim, satisfying book is a font of wisdom, conventional and otherwise, from a respected elder statesman in the twilight of his life. --Shawn Carkonen, Amazon.com