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Contribution to Book
John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Alexander J. Field, Santa Clara University
Document Type
Book Chapter
Publication Date
Oxford University Press
Galbraith, John Kenneth (15 Oct. 1908-29 Apr. 2006), economist and author, was born in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada, to Archibald Galbraith and Sarah Catherine Kendall. Galbraith, who advanced and reinterpreted institutionalist and Keynesian traditions in economics while promoting a liberal and progressive political agenda, was arguably the best-known and most influential economist and public intellectual of his generation. He published dozens of books, served in a number of high-level government positions, and, as a faculty member at Harvard University for more than a quarter of a century, advised every Democratic president from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Galbraith's political education began at the hands of his father, who was active in agrarian politics in Ontario. Galbraith's formal education at the outset was rudimentary. It began at a one-room school on Willy's Sideroad and continued for four years at Dutton High School, followed by a fifth year at St. Thomas High School (the additional year necessitated by inadequate elementary school preparation). He matriculated at Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, where he pursued a B.Sc. in agricultural economics. His major was animal husbandry. In a Time interview he later described OAC as "not only the cheapest but probably the worst college in the English-speaking world." Approaching graduation, and seeking wider horizons, he applied for and won a Giannini Fellowship in Agricultural Economics, and in 1931 journeyed westward and to the United States to pursue graduate study at the University of California at Berkeley. By all accounts (including those of the FBI) he now became a much stronger student, although he was aware that students and faculty in the regular economics department considered those in the department of agricultural economics as second class. His doctoral dissertation, which in retrospect Galbraith viewed as "without distinction," examined county expenditures in California.
Chapter of
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Susan Ware
Citation Information
Field, Alexander J. 2013. “John Kenneth Galbraith.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available online at