Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Precis: Galbraith's Theory of Social Balance

At the beginning of the chapter Galbraith opens with an epigraph from economist and renowned social historian Richard Henry Tawney, an avid socialist who helped conceive the economic and moral viewpoint of the Labour Party (a centre-left political party in the UK) in the beginning of the 20th century. The selection from Tawney’s Equality (1952) basically says that money can’t quite buy a happy and healthy life. Galbraith builds upon this theme throughout the chapter to argue for a “social balance” of privately produced goods and the supply of public services.

The disparity between the private and public sectors, Galbraith asserts, are “no matter of subjective judgment” (186). Yet as he goes on to expound this point, he makes a series of subjective claims that are ultimately faulty syllogisms.

“The schools are old and overcrowded. The police force is inadequate. The parks and playgrounds are insufficient. Streets and empty lots are filthy, and the sanitation staff is underequipped and in need of men. Access to the city by those who work there is uncertain and painful and becoming more so. Internal transportation is overcrowded, unhealthful and dirty. So is the air.” (187)

The “deficiencies” Galbraith describes are defined primarily by antithetical terms depicting subjective qualities. He prescribes that the success of an education system relies upon tangible conditions rather than quality of curriculum and instruction. What makes a police force “adequate” or “inadequate”? What makes parks and playgrounds “sufficient” or “insufficient”? Aren’t streets supposed to be relatively dirty? If access to the city and internal transportation within the city are “uncertain” or “overcrowded”, wouldn’t this mean that THESE parts of the public sector are “insufficient” and thus in need of the private sector for viable alternatives?

Galbraith goes on to argue that the conventional wisdom of American economic theory values increased production in the private sector as a measure of a strong economy, all the while disparaging the goods and services of the public sector. He refers to the “satisfactory relationship between the supply of privately produced goods and services and those of the state” as “Social Balance”(189). According to this theory, the consumption of private goods necessarily requires a facilitative good from the public sector. However, for Galbraith, while the goods of the private sector continue to advance the facilitative goods of the public sector become inadequate. So why then does he argue for merely an increase in the production/consumption of public goods and not innovative advancements in the public sector?

“Schools do not compete with television and the movies. The dubious heroes of the latter, not Ms. Jones, become the idols of the young.” (191)

Well, perhaps Ms Jones needs to get in touch with the changing times and update her pedagogy a bit more to make it relevant for her pupils! As Galbraith mentions the question then arises, “who is to pay?” This, then, is to assume that throwing money at a problem will automatically fix it. Public goods and services must then be proactive and sustainable, rather than reactive to the private sector. Does this come in the form of money alone? I would argue that it does not. Perhaps the public sector should allocate its resources with the proactive efficiency and innovation of the private sector.

This is an example of what I'm trying to get at:

Chris Witmer 20482684

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