When it comes to the economy today, Dr. James K. Galbraith acts as a sort of impartial judge on issues that often divide citizens. Galbraith, an economist, spoke as part of the annual Holland Lecture Series on Oct.9. For almost two hours Dr. Galbraith was clever, affable, and deeply knowledge about the issues facing our economy today. At times he was downright diplomatic.
A lecturer for the past twenty-five years and currently teaching at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in the Department of Government at the University of Texas-Austin, Galbraith spoke with ease and often brutal honesty about the last 5 years, beginning with the financial meltdown in 2009. “There was an element of paternity involved,” he said when discussing what led him to the field of economics. “I grew up in a family where these issues were naturally the most interesting and important things going on in the world.”
After college and through graduate school he found work on Capitol Hill where he did two things, worked with banking matters in the mid-70s into the early 80s and for four years after that he was the staff director of the Joint Economic Committee. After that he moved to Texas and has been “reflecting, writing and occasionally doing research.”
After an introduction by Dick Holland, there was much focus given to the timeliness of this particular lecture. Galbraith initially spoke at the Holland Lecture Series in 2009 as Lehman Brothers, Fanny Mae and others collapsed and the hotly debated Temporary Asset Relief Program began. He asked the important question, why has our economy not progressed in the last five years? For one thing Dr. Galbraith points out that the crisis was seen as a onetime thing, “a shock.” He says that many in power took the approach of “stuff happens,” and that “things go up so they must come down.”
Throughout his lecture Galbraith was critical of both conservatives and liberals. At the onset of the collapse, Galbraith pointed out that the conservatives felt there was too much government intervention and that while it was well intentioned, it was misguided. Liberals argued that this was a problem that developed in the late 80s and 90s with deregulation.
He also touched on why Obamacare has become such an intensely debated issue. Galbraith believes insurance companies support of Obamacare, but the problem doesn’t have anything to do with them or the uninsured, but those who are already insured and their fear. They may be afraid that young people who are able to afford their own health care without the employer may not have any loyalty to their company.
Throughout his lecture Galbraith was very good at relating to the audience and making issues understandable. By the end of the lecture he had warned the audience that the best thing we could do was be responsible and “defend the things that are important to you at all cost.”
Considering the many difficulties are country is facing, Galbraith sees these lectures as important because they help people find the truth and the keys to a successful society.
“My view is that a successful society has a decent barrier against destitution and real hardship and poverty,” he said, “It’s easy to provide people with the means to have food, clothing, and shelter, good public education and retirement. We know how to do this. We should not allow demagogues to say we can’t afford this. What they are basically saying is that they don’t want the larger population to have these things. They want to maintain a comfortable existence for themselves. I’m in favor of an inclusive and stable society.”
With each lecture Dr. Galbraith hopes to teach people what’s really important to hold onto during an economic crises. “The most important thing is that people not be bullied, not allow themselves to be bullied, into giving up or cutting back on the most important common insurance stabilizing program that the American middle class has left,” he said, “A lot of things have been hurt in this crisis. They lost a lot of value in their homes. They lost a lot of savings, they have gotten deeply in debt.” He points out that programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps- and deposit insurance have held our society together.
“All of these things are potentially in danger. Some of them are directly in danger by the budget crisis and they may be in danger by the compromises done to get out of this crisis. And they shouldn’t be. People shouldn’t accept that. That’s the message I would like people to take away.”