Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Friedman vs Galbraith

This month, HBS Working Knowledge's "What do YOU think?" compares & contrasts two great economists: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. One a Keynesian and institutionalist, the other a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism.

As I expected, the column & sum-up of discussion tilted towards Friedman (this was acknowleded by Prof. Heskin, the host). Well, I shouldn't be surprised. This is Harvard Business School, and good chunk of participants were managers, directors, owners, etc. of big businesses.

However, I'm also relieved to read this bit from Heskin:

I was struck by the number of respondents who suggested that the ideas of both Friedman and Galbraith had relevance, perhaps at different times and in different places. Henry Kwok wrote, "They brought to us two perspectives—the need for freedom to choose and the need for the government to provide an order to the economy. We cannot live with one without the other." Kamal Gupta noted that, "in the case of an economy that is coming out of poverty, like India . . . [the ideas of Galbraith] would provide for a faster redistribution of wealth. But once the economy reaches a certain threshold . . . the state should move to minimize its involvement."

And quite amused to read this one from a participant:

The real strength of the free world is not in its freedoms but in its ability to reach compromise. From that angle, Galbraith (like Keynes before him) would appear to me to be more relevant in the future. Rosy socialism was a mistake and Friedman's great role was to help stop the world from going there. Galbraith's views are more inclusive and require us to look at the social responsibilities of the successful.

As a foreigner, an HBS graduate, and an admirer of America, I find that we may now be drifting too far to the right. Viva Galbraith.

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