Power, according to Professor Galbraith, is very, very elusive
(Page 2 of 2)
''I wanted to talk about power without a great flow of moral indignation. . . . What I sat down to do in this book was not to argue a pattern of reform.'' The single exception to this non-hortatory approach is his open urging that ''all those who read these pages involve themselves'' in action against the military-industrial complex. His hope: that this will eventually encourage similar motion in the Soviet Union. He does not explain how.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Except for that single departure, his approach to power is tersely - often wryly - analytical. The bare bones of his thesis is that throughout history there have been three basic forms of power: ''condign'' (the power to coerce or compel by force), ''compensatory'' (the power to reward, monetarily or in terms of position), and ''conditioned'' (the power to change belief through persuasion or education - submission to the will of another, usually not recognized as such). In short: C, C, C.
Those types of power have been exercised through the three vehicles of power mentioned earlier: personality (which includes leadership), property (which includes money), and organization. In short: P, P, O.
The author argues that modern industrial society - capitalist and socialist alike - has evolved away from the first two C's toward onditioned power, and away from P and P toward organizational forms.
Even the military-industrial complexes of the two superpowers, while capable of the ultimate condign power, are pictured as more often using conditioned power to achieve their aims. And they have evolved to represent organization power rather than the personality power of a Napoleon or a MacArthur.
Several facets of the age of organizational power have caught Galbraith's attention:
1. ''Infinitely more people now have access to power - or the illusion of it'' - than ever before. But there is a consequent dilution of each individual's leverage.
2. The aforementioned ''illusion of power'' is widespread in all types of organizations. Peace groups petition, the President addresses Congress, a political leader wins applause from the already-converted - and we take these moves as exercises in power, not the substitutes they really are.
3. A ''synthetic personality'' often leads in the exercise of power or its illusion. Galbraith cites the head of the modern corporation or the secretary of defense as examples. Such a person owes, he says, ''a purely temporary eminence to the organization which he or she heads. . . . The head of the modern corporation is slightly known, until the day he resigns and disappears. . . .''
Despite this ironic view of today's world, Professor Galbraith is not without hope for the power of ideas. And he also believes in what he calls ''countervailing forces.'' The nonviolent protest movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are examples of the latter.
He also speaks with enthusiasm about the Japanese example. Partly, this is a matter of an economy not weighed down by defense expenditures. Partly, it is a matter of youthful, exuberant industries - ''like those of Britain and the US years ago.'' And in large measure he agrees with those who attribute Japan's success to ''its superb educational system and the high conditioning for later life it gives.''
Then, as if to avoid being over-emotive about Japan, Galbraith leaned forward and trotted out a story:
''Someone was telling me the other night . . . about an airplane hijacking over the Pacific. Three businessmen - a Frenchman, a Japanese, and an American - were taken prisoner by terrorists. They were scheduled to be shot. Each was given one last wish. The Frenchman asked if he could telephone his wife in Paris , and he was allowed to do so. The Japanese businessman asked if he could give one last speech on Japanese industrial management. And the American asked if he could be shot first, so he wouldn't have to hear another speech on Japanese management.''
With that, the only American economist taller than Paul Volcker uncoiled himself and led the way into his study. It is lined with photos of the author towering over anyone who was anyone in the liberal pantheon over the past 40 years.
One wall, though, is populated with carved elephants, trunks akimbo. ''From India,'' he said, ''not the GOP.''