John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard professor who won worldwide renown as a liberal economist, backstage politician and witty chronicler of affluent society, has died, his son said. He was 97.
Galbraith died of natural causes on Saturday night at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, where he was admitted nearly two weeks ago, Alan Galbraith said.
During a long career he served as adviser to Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, and was John F. Kennedy's ambassador to India.
"He had a wonderful and full life," his son said.
Galbraith, who was outspoken in his support of government action to solve social problems, became a large figure on the US scene in the decades after World War II.
He was one of the US' best-known liberals, and he never shied away from the label.
"There is no hope for liberals if they seek only to imitate conservatives, and no function either," Galbraith wrote in a 1992 article in Modern Maturity, a publication of the American Association of Retired Persons.
One of his most influential books, The Affluent Society, was published in 1958.
It argued that the US economy was producing individual wealth but hadn't adequately addressed public needs such as schools and highways. US economists and politicians were still using the assumptions of the world of the past, where scarcity and poverty were near-universal, he said.
"The total alteration in underlying circumstances has not been squarely faced," he wrote. "As a result, we are guided, in part, by ideas that are relevant to another world ... We do many things that are unnecessary, some that are unwise, and a few that are insane."
In 1999, a panel of judges organized by the Modern Library, a book publisher, picked The Affluent Society as No. 46 on its list of the century's 100 best English-language works of nonfiction.
"He's an amazingly imaginative and creative and hardworking person," fellow economist Paul Samuelson said. "There's no day that goes by that he doesn't write every morning, and it adds up to a lot."
Galbraith also was known for his theories on countervailing forces in the economy, where groups such as labor unions were needed to strike a political and social balance.
Richard Neustadt, a Harvard colleague who also served as an aide to presidents Kennedy and Truman, said Galbraith demonstrated how "you have to empower people directly before they could fight for themselves."