Wednesday, May 23, 2007

John Kenneth Galbraith on the Iraq Study Group

Baker's and Hamilton's Iraq Study group exemplified the clichés and inept analyses that have characterized popular discussion of the Iraqi and Vietnam wars. The idea that a committee of many uninformed former politicians could arrive at an informed military strategy was as silly as the report's media attention.

David Farber's excellent book, Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), explains the Hamilton-Baker phenomenon. Farber writes very well. He and I do not agree politically, but I appreciate his historical knowledge, competence and fine writing. Sloan's own book, My Years with General Motors, also is a fascinating, brilliant book, but dull as dust because of Sloan's writing style (Sloan was an MIT-trained engineer whose vision created the mid-twentieth century "concept of the corporation", and is of course forgiven for dry writing). Farber adds to Sloan's book by providing considerable historical context, detail and rich writing. For example, in John Kenneth Galbraith's classic Great Crash 1929 Galbraith writes of the role of John J. Raskob, and Farber gives us wonderful detail about Raskob's role as GM treasurer and "pal" of the staid Alfred P. Sloan.

On p. 138 Farber reminds us of Galbraith's "acerbic" assessment of the series of White House meetings that Herbert Hoover called concerning the downturn in the stock market in late 1929. Sloan attended one of these meetings of "business, farm and even labor leaders" on November 21, 1929. Farber notes Galbraith's phrasing, that can easily be applied to the Iraq study group almost exactly 77 years later about "one of the oldest, most important--and unhappily one of the least understood rites in American life.":

"This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business. The 'no-business meeting' Galbraith explained, served to create the impression that business is being done...'Even though nothing of importance is said or done, men of importance cannot meet without the occasion seeming important. Even the commonplace observation of the head of a large corporation is still the statement of the head of a large corporation. What it lacks in content it gains in power from the assets back of it...'"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

now I stay tuned..