The Economics of Innocent Fraud

Overview

John Kenneth Galbraith has long been at the center of American economics, in key positions of responsibility during the New Deal, World War II, and since, guiding policy and debate. His trenchant new book distills this lifetime of experience in the public and private sectors; it is a scathing critique of matters as they stand today.
Sounding the alarm about the increasing gap between reality and "conventional wisdom" — a phrase he coined — Galbraith tells, along with much else, ...

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Overview

John Kenneth Galbraith has long been at the center of American economics, in key positions of responsibility during the New Deal, World War II, and since, guiding policy and debate. His trenchant new book distills this lifetime of experience in the public and private sectors; it is a scathing critique of matters as they stand today.
Sounding the alarm about the increasing gap between reality and "conventional wisdom" — a phrase he coined — Galbraith tells, along with much else, how we have reached a point where the private sector has unprecedented control over the public sector. We have given ourselves over to self-serving belief and "contrived nonsense" or, more simply, fraud. This has come at the expense of the economy, effective government, and the business world.
Particularly noted is the central power of the corporation and the shift in authority from shareholders and board members to management. In an intense exercise of fraud, the pretense of shareholder power is still maintained, even with the immediate participants. In fact, because of the scale and complexity of the modern corporation, decisive power must go to management. From management and its own inevitable self-interest, power extends deeply into government — the so-called public sector. This is particularly and dangerously the case in such matters as military policy, the environment, and, needless to say, taxation. Nevertheless, there remains the firm reference to the public sector.
How can fraud be innocent? In his inimitable style, Galbraith offers the answer. His taut, wry, and severe comment is essential reading for everyone who cares about America's future. This book is especiallyrelevant in an election year, but it deeply concerns the much longer future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this thin volume, Galbraith, the noted economist and presidential adviser, serves up a pessimistic view of today's U.S. economy. Drawing on the omnipresent headlines of corporate scandal and greed, Galbraith explains that as the economy suffers, the overall state of American society declines as well. He points to a number of cases of "innocent fraud," or the gap between reality and conventional wisdom. The author bemoans the emphasis on gross domestic production, or GDP, rather than cultural or artistic advances. Companies, not the public, decide what products to make. Galbraith believes that decisions in various corporate arenas are made based on profits, rather than sound business strategies. Furthermore, he says that shareholder meetings, with a few rare exceptions, are pointless because "Shareholders-owners-and their alleged directors in any sizeable enterprise are fully subordinate to the management.... An accepted fraud." He also calls the rapid Internet growth and subsequent bubble another example of fraud as millions of analysts predicted rapid growth for so many companies, but ultimately many employees were laid off. Even more dismaying to Galbraith is the power of the Federal Reserve, which is credited with prompting economic resurgence when, in his view, the institution has limited real power. This brief treatise is a well-written, logical argument about the state of the economy. However, readers may be disappointed because the short concluding chapter offers few realistic solutions. (Apr.) Forecast: Given Galbraith's reputation and the ongoing criminal trials of CEOs, this book should get review attention and early sales could be strong. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141045139
  • Publisher: Penguin Books, Limited (UK)
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010

Meet the Author

John Kenneth Galbraith who was born in 1908, is the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard University and a past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the distinguished author of thirty-one books spanning three decades, including The Affluent Society, The Good Society, and The Great Crash. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, Oxford, the University of Paris, and Moscow University, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Order of Canada and received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2000, at a White House ceremony, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

The Economics of Innocent Fraud

Truth for Our Time
By John Kenneth Galbraith

Houghton Mifflin Company

Copyright © 2004 John Kenneth Galbraith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0618013245

Introduction and a Personal Note

For some seventy years my working life has been concerned with
economics, along with not infrequent departures to public and political service
that had an economic aspect and one tour in journalism. During that time I
have learned that to be right and useful, one must accept a continuing
divergence between approved belief—what I have elsewhere called
conventional wisdom —and the reality. And in the end, not surprisingly, it is
the reality that counts. This small book is the result of many years of
encountering, valuing and using this distinction, and it is my conclusion that
reality is more obscured by social or habitual preference and personal or
group pecuniary advantage in economics and politics than in any other
subject. Nothing has more captured my thought, and what follows is a
considered view of this difference.
A lesser point: Central to my argument here is the dominant role
in the modern economic society of the corporation and of the passage of
power in that entity from its owners, the stockholders, now more graciously
called investors, to the management. Such is the dynamic of corporate life.
Management must prevail.
As I was working on these pages, there came the great breakout
in corporate power and theft with the unanticipated support of cooperative and
corrupt accounting. Enron I had noticed as an example of my case; there
were to be more in the headlines. Perhaps I should have been grateful; there
are few times when an author can have such affirmation of what he or she
has written. The corporate scandals, as they are now called, dominated the
news because of exceptionally competent and detailed reporting. I forgo
repetition here. I do, however, make reference to the restraints to which
managerial authority must now be subject, but these are a small part of the
story. More to be told is of the longer and larger departure from reality of
approved and conditioned belief in the economic world.
Dealt with in this essay is how, out of the pecuniary and political
pressures and fashions of the time, economics and larger economic and
political systems cultivate their own version of truth. This last has no
necessary relation to reality. No one is especially at fault; what it is
convenient to believe is greatly preferred. This is something of which all who
have studied economics, all who are now students and all who have some
interest in economic and political life should be aware. It is what serves, or is
not adverse to, influential economic, political and social interest.
Most progenitors of what I here intend to identify as innocent fraud
are not deliberately in its service. They are unaware of how their views are
shaped, how they are had. No clear legal question is involved. Respons from violation of law but from personal and social belief. There is
no serious sense of guilt; more likely, there is self-approval.
This essay is not a totally solemn exercise. A marked enjoyment
can be found in identifying self-serving belief and contrived nonsense. So it
has been for the author and so he hopes it will be for the reader.

Copyright © 2004 by John Kenneth Galbraith. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Economics of Innocent Fraud by John Kenneth Galbraith Copyright © 2004 by John Kenneth Galbraith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction and a personal note
I The nature of innocent fraud 1
II The renaming of the system 3
III The economics of accommodation 11
IV The specious world of work 17
V The corporation as bureaucracy 23
VI The corporate power 29
VII The myth of the two sectors 33
VIII The world of finance 39
IX The elegant escape from reality 43
X The end to corporate innocence 49
XI Foreign and military policy 53
XII The last word 57
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