Galbraith served as an adviser to Democratic presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton and was ambassador to India under John F. Kennedy.
He joined the Harvard faculty in 1934. A subscriber to Keynesian economic theories, in 1958 Galbraith published The Affluent Society, one of his most influential and referenced books. It has been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than 1 million copies, an extraordinary record for a book on economics. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked the book Number 46 on its list of the 20th century's 100 best English-language nonfiction works. Excerpts from the Minneapolis Tribune:
On the idea that measures to provide economic security, such as unemployment insurance, would make workers lazy: "The notion that economic insecurity is essential for efficiency and economic advance was a major miscalculation - perhaps the greatest in the history of economic ideas. ... In fact the years of increasing concern for economic security have been ones of unparalleled advance in productivity.''
Galbraith argued that free-market economics is a myth and that a consumer-based economy ignores social needs.
William Grieder wrote in The Nation last year that Galbraith's work and ideas of 50 years ago are as important today as then:
Read Galbraith to recognize the many important matters - society's condition, for instance - excluded from the brittle, math-obsessed economics that poses as hard science. Study Galbraith's critical voice in the serious public policy debates of his time to appreciate what is missing from today's politics and media. Listen to Galbraith address such taboo subjects as corporate power to understand what honest economists should be confronting now.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Galbraith published The New Industrial State in 1967. Even after his retirement from Harvard in 1975, he continued to write. In 1987, he penned an article for Atlantic Monthly that foresaw the '87 stock market crash by examining parallels with the Great Depression.