Richard Parker

Richard Parker is the author of John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics. He teaches at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Recent Articles

How They Wrecked the Economy

During a break at a recent conference on the future of economics, I was carrying the galleys of Jeff Madrick's new book, Age of Greed , when I got into a conversation with Paul Volcker. At 83, the former Fed chairman is a bit hunched but still sharp as an old hawk. Glancing at the book's title, he asked what it was about. "The recent meltdown on Wall Street," I answered, "and how it evolved from deep origins over the past 40 years." "Ah, that's a good topic," he replied, "though frankly, I've never thought greed defined just one age in American history." The twinkle in his eye made me realize he'd formulated his answer before asking his question--a valuable talent for a central banker. Volcker is right, of course, that far too much of American history is a history of greed--for land, furs, minerals, slaves, factories, art, power, recognition, and money without limits. Yet many of us want to believe that America is about something more and that our common effort can lead to a common...

Why They Win

Two new books say Republicans owe their victories to market-mania. Both books oversimplify.

The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics by Jonathan Chait (Houghton Mifflin Company, 294 pages, $25.00) The Right Talk: How Conservatives Transformed the Great Society into the Economic Society by Mark A. Smith (Princeton University Press, 267 pages, $29.95) For the past 30 years, two questions have haunted liberals: Why do Republicans keep winning? And when will it end? With the GOP's crusade for a permanent majority undoubtedly faltering, it's not hard to see why liberals are optimistic these days. Yet I don't share that optimism. The Republican Leviathan has been pronounced dead half a dozen times, and it's risen each time. But why? Jonathan Chait's The Big Con and Mark Smith's The Right Talk offer two of the latest clever answers to that question. Chait is a well-known journalist who began his career at the Prospect before moving to The New Republic , where he now writes the TRB column. In his new book he insists on being...

Ken

“Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.” --John Maynard Keynes * * * John Kenneth Galbraith loved words. Above all, he loved words he and others wrote about him. On this, “Galbraith's First Law” left no confusion: “Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue.” So it's probably best that Ken Galbraith, who died April 29 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at age 97, missed his obituaries. Far too many got him wrong. The facts of his life were there, but on what he stood for -- and what finally his life should model for us -- the reviews were all too Galbraith-as-synecdoche, the man who bespoke another era, an earlier time that he and we had long outlived. In committing this error, all sides, even with their differences, seemed guilty: the liberals wanly elegiac at the loss, the conservatives smugly self-satisfied that the things Galbraith stood for had gone to their reward long before he did, the undecided and uncommitted nervously praiseful of his...

Back To The Future

America Beyond Capitalism by Gar Alperovitz ( John Wiley & Sons, 320 pages, $24.95 ) The Pro-Growth Progressive by Gene Sperling ( Simon & Schuster, 326 pages, $25.00 ) These two books -- thick with prescriptions for America's future but ensnared in a briary thicket of often arcane facts, acronyms, abbreviations, and figures -- represent all the mixed virtues and vices of “pop policy” today (the perils of academic policy being another matter entirely). That is their less interesting feature. The greater is whether, once we've struggled through the thickets, they tell us something encouraging or alarming about the Democratic Party's -- and American liberalism's -- professional thought cadres, and their relevance to today's wars for political power. What Gar Alperovitz and Gene Sperling share is a belief that detailed policy ideas matter in those wars. But the two authors are from different branches of the modern liberal tradition (different generations as well), and their...

On God and Democrats

Shortly before the 2000 presidential race started, Gertrude Himmelfarb, the aging Athena of neoconservatism, found herself struggling to express what she felt were the core values differences between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. What she came up with was that America had become "one nation, two cultures." "One is religious, puritanical, family-centered, and somewhat conformist," wrote The Economist in describing her vision. "The other is tolerant, hedonistic, secular, predominantly single, and celebrates multiculturalism. These value judgments are the best predictor of political affiliation, far better than wealth or income." By the time the 2000 election was over, however -- even though Himmelfarb's candidate eventually won, with a little jurisprudential help -- her "two cultures" idea looked pretty poor as a description of what divides her friends from ours. True, just as she said, 91 percent of George W. Bush's voters had freely identified themselves as "...

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