In the fall of 1934, a twenty-five- year-old Canadian economist freshly arrived at Harvard stood at a crossroads. How had he gotten there? What forces had propelled him, and what had brought his world to such a juncture? We need to turn back a quar- ter century to 1908, which for many today feels like a simpler time, to answer those questions.
On October 15 of that year, John Kenneth Galbraith was born into one of the world’s quieter and more remote corners, the hamlet of Iona Station, Ontario, Canada. He was delivered, at home, as most children were in those days, in the back upstairs bedroom of his family’s two-storey, white clap- board farmhouse. Several days later, the local weekly, The Dutton Advance, duly noted the baby’s healthy arrival, the third child born to William Archibald Galbraith and his wife, Sarah Catherine Kendall Galbraith.
Like neighbouring farms along Hogg Street, as the road was known, the Galbraith property gave off an air of a modestly comfortable and secure prosperity. Although farm equipment and livestock shared the various struc- tures scattered across the large yard, the neighborhood itself felt quietly genteel by rural standards. (According to local legend, boosters had added the second g to ”œHogg” Street to betoken the gentility.)
But however pastoral and remote, this rural countryside was far from untouched by the outside world. Iona Station is located about as far south as a Canadian town can be, set low in the province of Ontario just a few miles above Lake Erie’s northern shore. Cleveland lies only sixty miles south, across the lake; Detroit is a hundred miles west and Buffalo only a bit far- ther east. Regularly each morning, the big-city newspapers would arrive from Toronto, Ottawa, and Windsor, pitched along with the mailbag onto the local station platform from a pass- ing express train.
Each evening, the local farmers would pause after dinner and final chores to read from those papers, typ- ically from the Toronto Globe, known locally as ”œthe Bible” for its stalwart Liberal Party support and progressive views, and the faith these Scots- Canadians placed in it. Some read by kerosene light, others (including the Galbraiths) by their recently installed electric lamps. Most checked the grain and livestock prices in Chicago or Toronto first, then the car-loadings of wheat in Minneapolis or Winnipeg or the tons of flour processed by mills in nearby Buffalo. After that, some readers " though not all " turned back to the front pages, to learn about broader matters, including affairs in Ottawa and Washington and the events and larger forces that shaped them.
Since prehistoric times agriculture had employed most men and women, but it was now in a downward employment spiral on both sides of the Atlantic, as farmers everywhere well knew. In 1908, farming and farm- related work still occupied a majority of Canadians and Americans, but just barely. (By 1911, Canada’s rural popu- lation outnumbered city dwellers by about one million out of a seven mil- lion total, though in Ontario, a slight majority was by then urban.) The direc- tion of change toward cities, factories, shops, and services was irreversible.
Canada was scarcely immune to the same forces and debates " indeed, the country’s official centenary history refers to the period as the time of Canada’s ”œGreat Transformation.” During the tenure of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberal Party, between his first election in 1896 and his narrow defeat fifteen years later, Canada’s small popu- lation grew by nearly 50 percent, heavi- ly augmented by immigrant growth, much of it from non-English-speaking countries. Industrialization redefined the balance between the city and coun- tryside and, because many new factories were US-owned, between Canada and its powerful southern neighbor. The western provinces acquired new power vis-à-vis Ontario and Quebec. New sources of mineral wealth and energy were opened in the north, and wheat became Canada’s signature export.
But the optimism was shadowed with doubts, resistance, and con- flict. Canada’s cities, like those in the United States, were all too typically, as one historian described them, ”œa place of violent contrasts, a home for the very rich and the very poor, for the rural immigrant from a neighbouring county or a far distant land, and the native urbanite, for respectable church-goers and for prostitutes, a place of conspicuous consumption and forced destitution.” One govern- ment study of Toronto’s housing con- ditions, published shortly before Galbraith’s birth, found, for example, that ”œthere is scarcely a vacant house fit to live in that is not inhabited, and in many cases by numerous families; in fact…respectable people have had to live in stables, tents, old cars, sheds (others in damp cellars), where we would not place a valued animal, let alone a human being.” And on Canada’s farms, conditions were often equally harsh, since farmers faced falling prices for farm goods as acreage and productivity grew, rising prices for manufactured and consumer goods, high freight rates, processor monopo- lies, protective tariffs, and rural depopulation. They were becoming restive and, fre- quently, radical.
During Laurier’s admin- istration, the restive- ness of Canada’s farmers spurred new forms of rural organization. More impor- tant politically, often radi- cal new ”œfarmers’ unions” also appeared, especially in the west, where wheat harvests multiplied a stunning tenfold in the Laurier years. These new ”œunions,” redolent with the same Populist sym- pathies that had sparked William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 campaign in the United States, swiftly displaced their politically quieter predecessors, like the Grange.
In Ontario, this new impulse for agrarian organizing led to formation of the United Farmers of Ontario a year before Galbraith’s birth. Mostly con- tained in their agitation during the Laurier years by the shrewd prime minister’s delicately balanced policies, by 1921 the UFO, with Galbraith’s father Archie active in it, would not just overthrow the provincial govern- ment but permanently reshape the nation’s traditional two-party system. In a stunning political stroke, which in many ways succeeded where Bryan’s 1896 Populist campaign in the United States had failed, it ushered in a new era in Canadian politics.
But in 1908, although farmers across Canada were restive, in Elgin County, Ontario, support still inclined strongly and steadily, as it had for many years, to Laurier and the Liberals. This was not because places like Iona Station escaped the economic pressures bearing down on all farmers then, but because local farm- ers had several particular advantages. First, they practiced a mixed agriculture of crops and livestock, never depending solely on a single crop such as wheat for their incomes, as did so many in western Canada. Second, time and again, they proved themselves adept at shifting the mix when market conditions changed. Third, they had the railroad.
Besides being blessed with a tem- perate climate (the weather’s extremes moderated by nearby Lake Erie), Iona Station was bisected by the major rail line connecting Buffalo to Detroit. Indeed, Iona Station owed its existence to the line and the entre- preneurs who’d built it in the 1870s. Originally intended to transport set- tlers and goods west to Michigan farmlands, within a few years it was bringing their products (and eventu- ally, the industrial outpourings of Detroit and other Michigan cities) to eastern markets. When the railmen encountered important farm roads crossing their right-of-way, they would build a small terminal of sorts to service the surrounding economy; hence ”œIona Station,” the name cho- sen in recognition of the local Scottish majority who had long ago named the adjoining hamlet Iona.
The Galbraiths’ own family histo- ry in southern Ontario dates back to the early nineteenth century and per- haps the late eighteenth " family records aren’t clear. Galbraith has writ- ten that his first Canadian ancestor was born in the 1770s in western Scotland, but never mentions when he reached Canada. Other family mem- bers date that arrival around 1820.
The first Archie Galbraith and his wife appear to have arrived as home- steaders in Canada in 1819 (possibly 1818) aboard a small passenger ship laden with several dozen like-minded Scottish families. With them, the couple brought four of their six chil- dren (the other two had died in Scotland as infants).
Like most of those aboard the ship, the Galbraiths had been persuaded by land agents in Scotland to begin their new lives on what was called ”œthe Talbot Settlement,” an immense, sup- posedly fertile tract of southern Ontario purchased in 1803 by Colonel Thomas Talbot, a minor figure of the English- installed Anglo-Irish nobility. Already approaching middle age, Archie and Mary had not made the decision lightly, but they had seen no future in Argyllshire.
The passengers quickly dis- covered on their arrival at tiny Port Talbot on Lake Erie’s north shore that the Talbot Tract, far from being the prime farmland the colonel’s agents had described, was heavily wooded, with soil of uneven quality, loamy in some parts, sandy in others, and sparsely populated. Like their fellow settlers, the Galbraiths consequently would spend years working the land into first-rate condition. The fifty-acre plot they chose (not far from where Ken Galbraith was later born), and the work they put into it proved beneficent in one respect, though: having arrived when he was nearly fifty, Archie lived to be 103, his wife Mary, to 79.
By the time of Ken Galbraith’s birth in October 1908, the Scots had turned much of vast old Talbot Tract into a prosperous patchwork of family farms. The loamy soil that had once intermingled with sandy, ill- drained lands, had been transformed through effort and skill over several generations into rich fields of corn, beans, oats, hay, and pasturage for fat herds of cattle and sheep. The cattle, especially the purebred Shorthorns which the Galbraith family raised, were the community’s pride.
As a boy, young Ken looked for- ward eagerly each fall to the nearby Wallacetown Fair, and competition with Duncan Brown, a neighboring farmer, to decide whose family had raised the best Shorthorns. One year the Browns would take first place, and the Galbraiths second; the next year the order would be reversed. But the competition was neighborly, and the two families regularly divided the prize money, forty or fifty dollars between them. ”œMy pets were really those cat- tle. I was always quite involved with them and gave them a lot of atten- tion,” Galbraith says.
Farm life easily and naturally formed the early center of his life, and it imbued him with habits that endured throughout his life. Foremost was his capacity for hard work, despite an often laconic posture that suggested to some an easygoing country gentle- man. ”œA long day following a plod- ding, increasingly reluctant team behind a harrow endlessly back and forth over the uninspiring Ontario ter- rain persuaded one,” he wrote, ”œthat all other work was easy.”
His work habits were reinforced by his relations with his younger brother Bill, who proved as inattentive to family chores as Ken was dili- gent. Two years younger, Bill was the family charmer, ”œgregarious, good- looking, feckless, exceedingly popular with the boys and girls of the neigh- borhood, carefree, and lazy,” as one acquaintance put it " and, like his father and brother, unusually tall. Bill was also the natural athlete of the family, while Ken’s sporting interests were desultory at best.
With his two sisters, Alice, four years older, and Catherine, five years younger, things were different. Alice, who never married, grew up to become a teacher like her father, working for many years with retarded children; much beloved by family, friends, and stu- dents, she died in 1974. Catherine (who also became a teacher) and Ken were the clos- est, bound together from child- hood until her death in 2002 by a love of reading and words. Galbraith’s parents were much adored by all four chil- dren, and in the latter’s com- mon retelling of childhood tales, both figure prominently. Early on, though, tragedy struck: in October 1923, their mother, Kate, died suddenly. Ken had turned fifteen just three days earlier.
Galbraith, despite his prolific writing, has never described either the circumstances or emo- tions surrounding his mother’s death. In his memoirs more than five hundred pages long, there is only one austere sentence about her: ”œMy mother, a beautiful, affectionate, and decidedly firm woman, died when her children " my brother, my two sisters, and I " were not yet all in their teens.” Nothing more, among the thousands of pages written in his life, exists.
Kate Galbraith’s funeral was attend- ed by hundreds of neighbors and rela- tives, the largest funeral in years, according to the local paper, which eulogized her for her work with the schools and the local women’s institute. Devastated by Kate’s death, her husband seemed lost for almost two years after- ward. Christmas that first winter was an especially somber time for the family.
For Ken especially, his father’s pub- lic involvements proved not only consoling but an avenue into the larg- er world of politics and public debate. Among the Scots of Elgin County, Archie Galbraith was well known and highly regarded. In addition to being a successful farmer who kept up with the latest methods and tech- nologies, he always found time for commu- nity involvement. He helped establish the local telephone exchange and a cooperative insurance company, and for many years was a township and county official, supervis- ing the auditing of local finances.
Archie Galbraith was also a man of decided opinions. A life- long activist in Laurier’s Liberal Party, an allegiance to which the Scots of southern Ontario generally adhered, he was a prominent public speaker on behalf of candidates and causes alike. Six feet, nine inches tall, with reddish- brown hair, a thick mustache, and the large, rough-hewn handsome features he passed on to his son, Archie was constantly sought out by neighbours and clansmen for his opinions on many matters, from proper farming methods to whom to support for prime minister or MP in upcoming elections. ”œIf Archie approved, one was safe to go ahead,” one friend recalled, ”œbut if the project was faulty, he had the gift of seeing straight through to the hidden weakness, and with his dis- approval the scheme was con- demned.” Another acquaintance said simply of him that in Elgin County, Archie Galbraith’s ”œword was as good as a Dominion of Canada bond.”
Archie’s political beliefs were as influential on his son as his public service. Canadian politics had been safely divided since the 1860s between the Liberals and Conservatives, with the Liberals under Laurier after 1896 the dominant force until his narrow loss of power to the Conservatives in 1911. But the First World War created a crisis in what had been a durable two-party system. The issue that trig- gered it was simple: conscription, the draft of Canadians to serve as Allied troops in Europe’s Great War.
In 1914, Canada had entered the war alongside Britain in a patriotic and bipartisan mood of support among its middle and upper classes (though less so among its urban workers and the French Québécois). Canadians’ support for the war had waned dramatically by 1916, though, as the cost in men and materiel grew horrific. (Sixty-eight thousand of the 242,000 soldiers from Ontario alone were dead, wounded or missing by war’s end.) Volunteers for the armed forces plummeted, and the Conservative government, under pres- sure from Britain, decided that it would have to implement conscription.
This created an enormous and bitter division within the Liberal Party, and in 1917 the party openly split, with one wing (including the now aged Laurier) entering a coalition ”œUnion” government with the Conservatives, and the other wing restively searching for alternatives that would sustain their opposition to the draft. Conscription and the Unionists narrowly won in the passionately fought December 1917 election; but this ”œbitterest campaign in Canadian history” left deep, gaping wounds throughout the country.
Yet Archie’s service on the county draft board and his willing deferment of local boys grew from more than what his son has described as residual Scottish distrust of their English over- lords. It was at the heart of a bitter and fundamental national political battle. In 1917 hundreds of thousands of angry Canadians, including the Galbraiths, abandoned the Liberal Party and the once beloved Laurier in favor of the rebellious party wing that opposed conscription and its Union Government supporters. Within months of the war’s end in November 1918, the opponents of the now-hated Unionists struck back. Out on the Canadian prairie, anger burst forth in the fabled and brutally fought Winnipeg general strike, just one of so many strikes throughout the country in 1919 that a record was set for Canadian labor strife.
Ontario farmers like Archie Galbraith, who’d broken with their Liberal Unionist colleagues, now presented the government with an unprecedented challenge. Hundreds of thousands of them bolted the provincial Liberal Party for a new third party that had suddenly appeared, the United Farmers of Ontario. Having begun twelve years earlier as a reforming farm movement, by the end of 1919 the UFO shocked the country by sweeping Ontario’s elections; rural counties like Elgin formed the heart of its support.
The new party was led by E.C. Drury, a politically gifted forty-six- year-old farmer who had been a well- known, well-liked figure in the prewar Liberal Party. A head of the National Grange (and son of the province’s first Minister of Agriculture), Drury now almost overnight found himself premier of Ontario after successfully forging a coalition with the Labour Party, which had been marginal until 1919 but now spoke for thousands of angry urban workers. His new gov- ernment horrified the Canadian political establishment, with the Crown-appointed lieutenant gover- nor of Ontario, Sir John Hendrie, declaring it as ”œa move away from party representation toward class or factional representation.” Some lead- ers took an even darker view, wildly identifying the United Farmers with Bolshevism and even with the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein.
Canadian farmers were not Leninists or Irish nationalists, but they were nonetheless in a revolution- ary mood. As Drury assured his sup- porters: ”œThe United Farmers of Ontario form the nucleus of a new party which is going to sweep the two old parties into a single organization, which they really are, a new party that will stand for wisdom, justice and hon- esty in public affairs; a party untainted by campaign funds contributed by selfish interests, that will cleanse the whole of public life of Canada.”
The party’s inspiration was an unadulterated agrarian populism, deeply fused with the language of the Christian Social Gospel movement " precisely the kind that William Jennings Bryan had spoken for in the United States in 1896 and that Governor Robert La Follette of Wisconsin would champion in 1924. W. C. Good, one of the UFO’s early leaders, put it simply: ”œGod made the country, Man made the town.”
Once in office, the new Farmer- Labour government moved swiftly. ”œIn our first two sessions,” Drury later wrote, ”œwe enacted such a pro- gram of social legislation as Ontario and indeed all Canada and North America had never seen, or perhaps thought possible.”
He did not exaggerate: minimum wage laws for women, expanded wel- fare for widows and orphans, civil service pensions, workers’ compensa- tion reforms, education overhaul, new taxes on corporations and utili- ties, new public savings banks, new credits for farmers and cooperatives, rural road and rail construction, giant public hydroelectric projects, even the critical funding for medical research that led to the discovery of insulin " all these now poured forth from the Drury government.
Despite these early legislative achievements, however, the rebellion didn’t last. Unlike the New Deal, the Farmer-Labour government, and with it the United Farmers, collapsed within four years of Drury’s taking office. In retrospect, its failure seems inevitable: tensions between farmers and workers over wage reforms, between the coun- tryside and cities over tariff policy (with farmers devoutly in favor of free trade), and, perhaps most important, divisions over alcohol had torn at the young coalition from the start.
The farmers were temperance men, and their newly enfranchised wives were even dryer; workers and the cities, by and large, weren’t. But Drury’s government had chosen to support provincial prohibition, and as the 1923 elections approached, it became the party’s divisive sword, just as conscription had been for the Liberals in 1917. In a light turnout, the government fell to the Conservatives, whose campaign slogan, ”œbusiness methods in administration,” firmly echoed the new Republican era in the United States.
Ken Galbraith was only eleven when Drury was elected and fourteen when the Farmer-Labour government failed, and one can easily imagine him listening to his father dis- cuss politics on those Sunday afternoons, absorb- ing lessons that would reappear years later in a parallel to his father’s own political journey. In the mid-1960s, Galbraith became a vocal, vehement opponent of America’s war in Vietnam, a leader of the ”œDump Johnson” movement, and floor man- ager for the insurgent Senator Eugene McCarthy at the 1968 Democratic Convention. As happened with his father, his disaffection grew out of wartime policies, not least the draft, and a steadfast belief that certain core values took precedence over party loy- alties. McCarthy lost the Democratic nomination to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Humphrey then lost to the Republican Richard Nixon. But like his father before him, Galbraith refused to abandon politics. Four years later, he helped lead the successful fight to nominate Senator George McGovern on the Democratic ticket, a man who in many important respects resembled Drury, and whose insurgent campaign similarly shared the quali- ties and spirit that had once character- ized the UFO.
For the teenaged Galbraith, the loss of his beloved mother in 1923, then his father’s heartbroken with- drawal after her death (and the col- lapse of the UFO the same year) had inevitable effects, although through- out his life he remained oblique about what they were. He acknowl- edged that he struggled with school over the next two years after his mother’s death, but blamed his trou- bles on ”œfoot problems.” (His sister recalled only that he had flat feet.) But even before then, high school hadn’t been easy; he’d entered it at age twelve, hadn’t been well pre- pared by his one-room Willey’s School experi- ence, and found the atmosphere, under what he describes as a tyrannical principal, repellent. Because the Galbraith children trav- eled the six miles to school by horse and buggy, they were fre- quently late, which resulted in routine pun- ishment.
So after spending a fifth year attending nearby St. Thomas High School, Ken graduated in June 1926 and three months later set off for col- lege in Guelph, Ontario. A month shy of turning eighteen, he must have found Guelph attractively far away from the traumatic pains he associat- ed with home. The two-and-a-half- hour train ride that carried him and two other local boys there marked the start of a fresh life and the chance for distracting new adventures. It was the farthest he’d ever been from home. Adventure for college freshmen is always relative, and in this Galbraith was no exception. Guelph, only eighty miles northeast of Iona Station, hardly qualified even as a provincial metropolis, but it was home to Ontario Agricultural College, the ”œfarm school” branch of the much more distinguished University of Toronto. OAC wasn’t young Ken’s first choice; indeed, he hadn’t made a choice about where (or even whether) to attend college. That had been his father’s decision, announced perfunc- torily the previous fall, near the end of a hard day that the two had spent cleaning and repairing the family’s granary. Archie " without pausing or even looking up from his work " had simply remarked quietly, ”œI think you’d better decide to go on to college at Guelph.” It never occurred to Ken to protest the decision.
OAC was a practical choice, though. Tuition fees were nominal (twenty dollars annually for the first two years, fifty dollars thereafter, with room and board an additional five to six dollars per week), and the entrance requirements undemand- ing. To enroll, one had to be eight- een, show evidence of ”œmoral character and physical ability,” and produce a certificate affirming that one had spent at least a year on a farm, and thereby acquired ”œa practi- cal knowledge of ordinary farm oper- ations, such as harnessing and driving horses, plowing, harrowing, drilling, etc.” A high school diploma was not listed among the school’s entrance requirements.
Galbraith years later created a furor at his alma mater by referring to it in a Time interview as in his youth ”œnot only the cheapest but probably the worst college in the English- speaking world.” There was much angry talk in Guelph about rescinding the honorary degree he’d been given as ”œOAC’s greatest living alumnus,” and dozens of outraged alumni wrote to denounce him. Galbraith eventual- ly backtracked, but only slightly, claiming that his comment applied to OAC in his undergraduate years and that he would allow that Arkansas A&M was no doubt worse, although there was some question whether English was spoken there.
Yet by the standards of the times OAC offered a decently advanced cur- riculum in farm management prac- tices, if not much else. The college’s thirty full-time professors included three Ph.D.s, and classes in the humanities, social sciences, and natu- ral sciences, beyond nominal intro- ductory offerings, were considered best reserved for Toronto’s main cam- pus and its more urbane student body. Still, as he walked onto the school’s grounds for the first time, Ken recalled, ”œit was a lovely autumn day, the campus was extremely beau- tiful, the football team was practicing. I was shown to my room " and I felt I had arrived.”
Galbraith spent five years at OAC, the fifth year necessitated by health problems (”œan incipient tuber- culosis”) and his weak high-school preparation. His major was animal hus- bandry, and he seems to have done quite well, mastering degree require- ments in field husbandry, poultry hus- bandry, horticulture, soil management, forestry, veterinary principles, and api- culture with relative ease; he graduated with distinction. This he credits, how- ever, less to the excellence of his teach- ers than to the practices he’d learned from his father and their neighbors. (He likes to recall that among the pro- found insights of his dairy husbandry professor was the gravely offered observation that ”œthe dairy cow is the foster mother of the human race.”)
For this young, ungainly, but very bright farmboy, the awkward- ness that came with his upbringing, especially when faced with the rela- tive ”œsophistication” of his more citi- fied classmates, was overcome finally through his discovery of writing. Among the otherwise mediocre facul- ty, Galbraith found two English teachers, O. J. Stevenson and E. C. McLean, who were ”œwell known Canadian literary figures, of the sec- ondary sort,” but demanding enough. Students wrote weekly com- positions that were corrected and evaluated meticulously, and Galbraith soon became one of their favorites. ”œThat was where I first became involved in writing.” Building on his new-found abilities, he helped found a college newspaper, The OACIS, which he mischievously claims he edited with enough inde- pendence that it ”œgave maximum offense to the faculty” (elsewhere he has said that in truth ”œI kept well to the side of safety”).
Seeking a wider audience, he started freelancing a few pieces on contemporary agricultural issues for two small western Ontario papers, the St. Thomas Times Journal and the Stratford Beacon Herald. This led in turn to the offer of a weekly column, for which he was paid the munifi- cent fee of five dollars per column. It was ”œan enormous sum,” he proudly remembered, which ”œpaid for all my forms of recreation.”
Recreational opportunities were, however, limited. Among its other deficiencies, OAC enrolled few women, and of those, none " at least in Galbraith’s recollection " was interesting to or interested in him. OAC did, however, allow him to trav- el, including a trip his senior year all the way to Chicago for the 1930 International Livestock Exhibition, an expedition he still considers ”œthe greatest triumph of my college days.” The trip included stopovers to view agricultural facilities at Michigan State, Purdue, and the University of Illinois, and it opened entirely new vistas in his life.
Hog grading wasn’t quite at the high frontier of his now-stirring ambitions. In the summer of 1930, a research job interviewing more than a hundred tenant farmers and their fami- lies underscored for Galbraith the poignant suffering the Depression was inflicting on the province’s once- prosperous (and still ingenious and hardworking) rural population, and it led him to conclude that something was terribly wrong with the way agricultural markets worked. Farming was as close to neoclassical textbook perfection as exist- ed, a world generally of small producers and small buyers (there were certainly exceptions) who competed sedulously, adopted new technologies, improvised new marketing strategies, sought out new customers " all the things that in the modern equilibrium-based conception of free markets should guarantee success. And yet they didn’t. Galbraith, entering his last year at OAC, decided to find out why " and so he enrolled in a course on agricultural economics. His interest was not purely abstract: if he ”œcould there come to understand the real problem [behind the Depression]…that understanding might also help me get a job.”
Realizing the intellectu- al and occupational promises of academic eco- nomics, even agricultural economics, was not easy at OAC. The school offered no major in the field, and the half dozen courses available were stronger on simple and practical application than on theory. (OAC’s pedagogical approach offered ”œso wide ranging an educa- tion,” Galbraith dryly remarked in his memoirs, that it ”œinvolved some sacri- fice of depth.”) Still, the classes hinted at a world more challenging than life on the farm or, more exaltedly, as a county agent.
The moment he truly committed himself to economics came in the autumn of 1930, when he happened upon a poster tacked to the bulletin board at the campus post office. It advertised graduate research fellow- ships being offered by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. The annual stipend was $720, a princely sum " and the lure of California, an exotic place by compar- ison to Guelph, was strong. He applied shortly afterward, and some months later received notice that he’d been accepted.
And so, in late July 1931, after sever- al weeks spent back on the family farm, Ken Galbraith departed his life in Canada never to return, save for short visits.
Excerpted from John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics, by Richard Parker, by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2005.