Government and the Market:
INTERVIEWER: Who knows best? government or the free-market system?
JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: I have no doubt on that. The correct balance is pragmatic. If the market system, as you call it, has its own things that it does very well, no one could question, for example, its ability to make automobiles or grow food or provide a large part of the substance of life. But then there's an area where it doesn't work, and the distinction between
the areas where it works and the areas where it doesn't work is the basis of sound policy.
We're not, as we talk, in the United States having a big, sometimes quite mindless, argument about education. Everybody agrees that education is a public service, or almost everybody, and has to be handled, financed by the state, by the government. On the other hand, there's nobody, so far as I'm aware, suggesting that the state should take over the manufacture of automobiles, which I just mentioned, or farm products, or a wide range of other things. So it's a practical judgment that has to be made in the specific case, and it doesn't lend itself to the kind of broad theory implied in your question.
INTERVIEWER: At the end of the day, is morality at the heart of economics?
JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: No, but it can be. We're talking today in a very rich country, at a very rich time, and at the time we talk a large part of the American population, 10, 15 percent, are living below the level of enjoyment. They're hungry, they're ill housed, they are sick, and very largely as the result of the lack of income, mostly as the result of the lack of income. I would like to see a minimum income for everybody so that you have a life-supporting safety net. I think it's something a rich country like the United States can afford. And I'm not the only one with that view. Conservatives will say that people endowed [that way] won't work. Well, that's quite possible, but I'm impressed with the fact that leisure, if you're rich enough, is also a very good thing. In the past, often I've walked through Harvard Yard and have had one of my colleagues say to me, "Ken, aren't you working too hard?" Excessive work, leisure can be very good for a college professor, or somebody of affluence. Work can be unnecessary.