John Kenneth Galbraith is one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century. His more than forty books bridge the gap between academic economic theorists and the common reader, with witty, insightful, and accessible bestsellers such as American Capitalism (1952), The Affluent Society (1958), and The New Industrial State (1967). He is credited with having coined key phrases now in common parlance, most notably, ‘‘conventional wisdom.’’ His works include memoirs, novels, and art history books as well as the economic treatises for which he has made his name. Galbraith is a liberal who, in addition to writing and teaching, has played an active role in American politics. He has held various government posts and worked as a speech writer for United States Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as well as presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern.
Galbraith was born on October 15, 1908, on a farm in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada. His parents were Catherine (Kendall) Galbraith and William Archibald Galbraith (a farmer and politician). Galbraith graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Toronto in 1931, with a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry. He received a master of arts and a doctorate in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1934. From 1934–1939, he was an instructor at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. During this period, in 1937, he became a naturalized American citizen and married Catherine Atwater, with whom he had four children. From 1939–1942, he worked as an assistant professor of economics at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. From 1941–1946, during World War II and the post-war years, Galbraith occupied a variety of United States government posts, including the National Defense Advisory Commission, the Office of Price Administration, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, and the Office of Economic Security Policy. He also served on the editorial board of Fortune magazine from 1943–1948. After the war years, Galbraith resumed his academic career teaching as a lecturer at Harvard University from 1948–1949 and as professor of economics at Harvard from 1949–1975. During the 1960s, he also held various government posts—a key advisor to President John F. Kennedy and a United States Ambassador to India from 1961–1963. From 1967–1968, he served as national chairman of Americans for Democratic Action. From 1970–1971, he was a visiting fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge University, in Cambridge, England. He served as president of the American Economic Association in 1972. In 1975, he became professor emeritus at Harvard University. He and his wife lived intermittently throughout the year in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Newfane, Vermont; and Gstaad, Switzerland. Galbraith died on April 29, 2006, in Cambridge, Massachussetts.