I thought I ought to follow the example of my fellow original positioners and post from my summer reading list. Today’s reading was John K. Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (1958). Galbraith begins his famous chapter on the “Theory of Social Balance” with the following claim:
“The final problem of the productive society is what it produces. This manifests itself in an implacable tendency to provide an opulent supply of some things and a niggardly yield of others. This disparity carries to the point where it is a cause of social discomfort and social unhealth. The line which divides our area of wealth from our area of poverty is roughly that which divides privately produced and marketed goods and services from publicly rendered services. Our wealth in the first is not only in startling contrast with the meagerness of the latter, but our wealth in privately produced goods is, to a marked degree, the cause of crisis in supply of public services. For we have failed to see the importance, indeed the urgent need, of maintaining a balance between the two” (p. 187).
Greater private production, Galbraith notes, requires greater public provision. For example, the production of automobiles requires the building and maintenance of roads, street signs, employment of traffic cops, regulation of parking, provisions for dealing with ecological consequences of cars, etc. American society, he argued 52 years ago, was remarkably out of balance. Has his work stood the test of time?