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April 5, 1982

Economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith—author of American Capitalism (1952), The Affluent Society (1958) and Annals of an Abiding Liberal (1979)—lectured on “The Great Conservative Revolt” in the Villard Room. In his speech, Galbraith criticized conservatives’ actions and policies in the post-World War II period that destroyed an “economic and social consensus” about the role of government. According to Gordon Shepherd, writing in The Miscellany News, Galbraith found conservatives’ “simplistic” position—“liberty is measured by the depth of the uncollected garbage in the slums”—“deeply questionable,” and he said their “romantic” critique—“auto, steel and interstate trucking trades want no regulation, except, of course, when the competition gets rough—“ignores the historical forces which make a pure market…virtually impossible.”

The conservatives’ “real” attack, Shepherd continued, “has three facets—expenditure on social services is too great, the quality of public administration is deficient and the consensus no longer works—and is justified on all counts.” Suggesting that these three elements raised by the “conservative revolt” might be addressed systemically, Galbraith told his large and enthusiastic audience that the Reagan Administration “incorporates all the old elements of failure, although it has to be said in its favor, in a somewhat more imagiinative way.”

The Years