After World War II, life for the Americans started improving. The economy started recovering from the effects of the great depression. However, the Americans did not change their approach to life. They did not take advantage of the improving economic situation to improve their situations. Instead, they just applied conventional wisdom; those ideas acceptable by the society, and which the society finds difficult to change. They ignored creativity and innovation, which would have allowed them to generate new ideas to improve their economic situation. In his book, The Affluent Society, Galbraith advocates for restructuring of the US post-World War II economic systems, to enhance economic recovery and steer the economy towards growth. However, Galbraith starts his book with a completely different topic, where he first discusses conventional wisdom and strategies for arguing. Although it is unusual, there are various reasons why he does this. Galbraith argues that conventional wisdom is problematic and can hinder successful structuring of the economy. Therefore, he wants the audience to be open to his ideas and accept them, since he has enlightened them on the flaws of conventional wisdom.
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According to Galbraith, conventional wisdom is those ideas that are widely accepted and approved by the society, which are necessary and almost indispensable (Galbraith, 1958). According to Galbraith, conventional wisdom is detrimental to economic growth, since it hinders people from think widely and being innovative, thus hindering development. Thus, conventional wisdom seeks to maintain the status quo, at the expense of looking for ways to improve the situation or devise ways of solving problems. The problem with conventional wisdom is that, it hinders people from thinking widely and generating new ideas. It makes people reluctant to think about progressive ideas that can propel them forward. Galbraith (1958) perceives that there is a difference between normal life trends, and the way the economy operates. According to him, “Economic like other social life does not conform to a simple and coherent pattern,” (p. 6).
Therefore to grow the economy of the United States, it is necessary to do away with conventional wisdom. The danger posed by conventional wisdom is that, it has the potential of corrupting creative and progressive individuals, rendering them less proactive in generating and advancing ideas that can enhance economic growth. Since conventional wisdom does not surrender, it can catch up with people who had good ideas on improving the situations, and corrupt their way of thinking, making them remain redundant (Galbraith, 1958). For example during the great depression, people used to live a life of poverty, with minimal resources to survive. Therefore, they gave up most of the progressive ideas they had, since they could not get the requisite resources to implement those ideas. The US post-World War II economic systems have improved, thus creating many opportunities. However, people have been corrupted by the laxity they had adapted during the great depression, thus they are not proactive in taking available opportunities presented by the improving economic conditions (Galbraith, 1958).
Considering “the fact that an almost infinite variety of goods await the consumer’s attention,” (p. 120), it is vital to think carefully on how to commit the available resources (Galbraith, 1958). Poverty enhances broad thinking and generation of ideas on how to overcome it (Galbraith, 1958). A poor person does not have sufficient resources to meet all his/her needs, and, therefore, will constantly devise ways of improving his/her situation by seeking remedies to his/her shortages. Additionally, a poor person will always seek for ways to use his/her few resources so that he/she can multiply them and improve his/her situation. Contrary, the rich has a tendency of using their resources for wrong purposes as they have not keenly thought on how to utilise them. Thus, poor people apply creativity and innovation to improve their situation (Galbraith, 1958). It therefore follows that structuring the economy to enhance its growth applies the same principles. If economic structuring is to be successful, there is a need “to divorce economics from any judgment,” and stop approaching it with conventional wisdom (Galbraith, 1958).
Galbraith observes that there has been affluence in the United States, mostly possessed by the Europeans (Galbraith, 1958). He further observes that this affluence is shaping the future of the United States, since it has been accepted as the basis of the future economy (Galbraith, 1958). Accepting affluence as the basis of the future will be detrimental to economic improvement of the United States, since it will not create room for creativity and innovation. Human wants cannot be satisfied fully. According to Galbraith (1958), “The more wants are satisfied the more wants are born,” (p.124). This means that human beings are always striving to satisfy their needs. The same way, man should adapt creativity and innovation since they will spur growth and economic improvement. On the contrary, conventional wisdom will hinder this advancement, since it does not promote generation of new ideas. Originality is, therefore, one of the pillars of economic development, where new and creative ideas are generated through strategic reasoning to better the economy (Galbraith, 1958).
In conclusion, without new ideas, there is no growth. Therefore, strategic arguing can be applied to enhance economic growth, through generating new ideas. Conventional wisdom, which deals with preserving the current situation, is detrimental to economic advancement. Since human needs cannot be fully satisfied, the need to constantly improve the existing situation creates an avenue for better economy. Thus, wealth and affluence are detrimental to economic improvement, since they hinder the generation of creative and innovative ideas. Galbraith has articulated these ideas well, through backing them up with valid arguments. Therefore, people will understand and agree with his arguments.
Galbraith, J. K. (1958). The Affluent Society. Boston, USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.