Guest Post: Is UTA's James Galbraith A True Economist?

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Submitted by Taylor Conant at Economic Policy Journal

Is UTA's James Galbraith A True Economist?

It's hard to arrive at that conclusion after listening to an hour long interview/debate on Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio program between Austrian economist Robert Higgs and Keynesian "economist" James Kenneth Galbraith.

Most
of Galbraith's support for Keynesian government intervention rest on
what he believes one could "reasonably" argue, where the word
"reasonable" is always and everywhere a Marxist code-word for "What I
think I can get unprincipled people to agree to my stealing without too
much fuss."

Furthermore, he puts forth this bizarre notion of
"social value" as opposed to economic value as the standard by which he
judges whether government expenditure or regulation is worthy of his
support (note, there are few, if any, government activities that do not
meet the muster of Galbraith's rigid
standards). The odd thing about "social value" is it seems completely
undefined beyond his personal, arbitrary declarations. This means that
other economists and scientists wishing to recreate Galbraith's
economic studies and verify they arrive at the same findings as he does
are unable to do so. It also means that there is no metric by which one
can compare economic value and "social value" in order to judge if, for
example, the "social value" gained by a program of mass highway
building during the Great Depression outstrips the economic cost of
doing so, arriving at a surplus of utility (Galbraith doesn't even make
it clear if utility can be derived from "social value").

In
other words, economists are individuals who study the production and
consumption of scarce resources amongst societies. They refer to
marginal utility and subjective value theories in analyzing the choices
individuals make in their patterns of production, consumption and
exchange to arrive at conclusions about economic efficiency and the
economic value of courses of action pursued by the various actors
within an economy.

Galbraith does none of these things. In fact,
he explicitly discounts the value of studies of economic value, in
favor of his "social value" and "social rate of return" on investment.
Galbraith, then, is not an economist studying the economy but rather a
socialist studying society and how it responds to the various arbitrary
dictates of the political elite that have captured it. Yet, "study" is
perhaps too kind a word to describe what Galbraith does on an
intellectual level, because it implies something academic or scientific
in nature when the truth is that Galbraith, as a socialist, is a
politician, not a scientist.

In fact, he's much further from a
practitioner of science and much closer to a practitioner of divine
mysticism. Galbraith is like some kind of self-appointed high priest of
the social value cult, the only one able to communicate with the social
value gods and return from the holy mount with the latest prophecy.
What if someone else wants to go up and have a word with the spirits?
Sorry, says Galbraith, they only talk to me. But, I think you're wrong,
says you. I'll be the judge of that, says Galbraith.

So,
Galbraith is not a true economist but a politician masquerading as one.
He's also not much of a historian, which makes his interactions with
Higgs (who is a historian, specifically a scholar of economic history)
all the more comical. Whereas economics, according to the Austrian
school, is a science of deductive logic rather than empirical
examination, history is decidedly a study based in and on human
experience. That's what history is, or is supposed to be, a record of
human events and experience. And yet, it is here where Galbraith's
arguments fall flat on their face even harder than in the theoretical
arguments department.

Galbraith continually argues for a
particular form of enlightened, compassionate, interventionist statism.
He supports this imaginary benevolent State on the grounds that "we're
better off when the government works efficiently." But how are we off
when the government works inefficiently, or worse yet, works in the
specific interest of a few against the many? Here, Higgs points out,
the record on the matter is clear-- that the State is a predatory
nightmare at its worst and a bumbling, idiot buffoon at its best, that
history is an almost completely uninterrupted record of it being so and
that given that kind of track record, it's a bit naive to hope or
expect for the State to ever be anything else in the future given the
clear demonstration of its nature in the past.

Galbraith, the non-economist, non-historian's response? "You can point to many failures, but you can also point to some successes"
in studying the record of regulators, bold emphasis mine. It seems from
Galbraith's imprecise choice of words that even he is aware of the
futility of his viewpoint, and yet he holds to it anyway. Even more
appallingly, Galbraith observed that the original gold standard in the
United States was "controlled to the benefit of the money center banks
in New York," and yet, acknowledging this fact of history he supports
the Federal Reserve system and the fiat currency monetary regime it
controls. But who, then, does Galbraith think controls the Federal
Reserve? Apparently not, still, the money center banks of New York.

Another
thing Galbraith proves he is not in this debate is a sound legal or
ethical philosopher. Perhaps to burnish his "realist" credentials
vis-a-vis the incredulous "romantic" idealist Bob Higgs, Galbraith
announces to the listeners that "government is not a dirty word to me.
Instead, I think of government as a tool."

Oh yes, government is
a tool, and a mighty tool at that, much like the swords, clubs, chains,
prisons, guns, bombs and tanks that government is after you remove all
the fancy, euphemistic governmental-rhetoric. Galbraith lobbed a lot of
logical softballs that any sound thinker could've smashed out of the
ballpark, but claiming that "government is not a dirty word" as if this
brought him and his ideas out of the clouds, planting them firmly on
the ground, has got to be one of the more imbecilic moves Galbraith
made.

Seeing that the idea of theft and the use of violence to
achieve social ends is not a taboo one in Galbraith's mind, one is left
to conclude that the only reason Galbraith prefers and advocates for
the State's criminality over private criminality is because Galbraith
concedes the libertarian point that the State is nothing but a monopoly
crime syndicate. And because of its unique monopoly position amongst
mafia groups, the State is therefore the the most efficient band of
thieves around.

Galbraith is a great many things, for sure. As a
man who understands almost nothing about the subjects he regularly
opines on, he is undoubtedly a fool, and a self-deluded one at that. As
a tool of the State and its beneficiary elites, he has proven himself
to be a consistent and able-minded socialist politician. But a
historian, an etho-legal philosopher and an economist, James Kenneth
Galbraith surely is not.