The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. It is an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities. The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor. The man who has struck it rich in minerals, oil, or other bounties of nature is found explaining the debilitating effect of unearned income from the state. The corporate executive who is a superlative success as an organization man weighs in on the evils of bureaucracy. Federal aid to education is feared by those who live in suburbs that could easily forgo this danger, and by people whose children are in public schools. Socialized medicine is condemned by men emerging from Walter Reed Hospital. Social Security is viewed with alarm by those who have the comfortable cushion of an inherited income. Those who are immediately threatened by public efforts to meet their needs — whether widows, small farmers, hospitalized veterans, or the unemployed — are almost always oblivious to the danger.

j k galbraith
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
“Wealth and Poverty,” Speech, National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty (13 Dec 1963)

Galbraith used variations on this quote over the years.
  • The above quotation was from a speech given, that was then entered into the Congressional Record, Vol. 109, Senate (18 Dec 1963).
  • This material was reworked into an article "Let us begin: An invitation to action on poverty," in Harper's (March 1964), which was in turn again entered into the Congressional Record, Vol. 110 (1964).
  • One of the last is most often cited: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. It is an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities. The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor." ["Stop the Madness," Interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002)]
Added on 19-May-09 | Last updated 26-May-15
Link to this post
Topics: , , , , , , , , ,
More quotes by Galbraith, John Kenneth

7 Responses to “Wealth and Poverty,” Speech, National Policy Committee on Pockets of Poverty (13 Dec 1963)

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Great catch. That article doesn’t seem to be available on the internet anymore — how in the world did you come across it?

  2. Pingback: Citizens United: Ushering America Toward a Feudal Society - LA Progressive

  3. Pingback: ~~Admin - Doing the Numbers: 3/2014 | WIST

  4. Crash Skeptic says:

    How can a quote Galbraith supposedly said in 2002 appear in a book of quotations published in 1993?

  5. Dave says:

    That’s one of the issues with the quote. It’s commonly cited as 2002 in the G&M , but it is (was — the page is no longer visible) also quoted in a 1993 book. Galbraith using the core phrase (“superior moral justification for selfishness”) can also be found in a 1998 book, another 1998 book, etc.

    The bottom line seems to be that Galbraith used variants of the quote over the years, but the 2002 version was the one that was most visible when the quote “took off” (perhaps on his death in 2006) and so was used as the common citation.

  6. I think you’ll find the earliest version is this, from 1964:

    “The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

    Galbraith “Let us begin: An invitation to action on poverty”, Congressional record: Proceedings and debates of the 88th Congress, Second session (1964) volume 110, part 3, page 4075.

    .

  7. Dave says:

    Thanks, Jay. I actually (as noted above) found an earlier set of references (from 1963), but you set me on that course; I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>