The Age of Uncertainty

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The Age of Uncertainty
Created byJohn Kenneth Galbraith
StarringJohn Kenneth Galbraith
Country of originUnited Kingdom, United States, Canada
No. of episodes15
Running timeapprox. 60 minutes (per episode)
Original release
ReleaseJanuary 10 (1977-01-10) –
April 2, 1977 (1977-04-02)

The Age of Uncertainty is a 1977 book and television series about economics, co-produced by the BBC, CBC, KCET and OECA, and written and presented by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith.


Galbraith fully acknowledged the successes of the market system in economics but associated it with instability, inefficiency and social inequity. He advocated government policies and interventions to remedy these perceived faults.[1] In his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973) he proposed the extension of the planning system used in the industrial core of the economy to the wider market economy. He argued for a new socialism, with more steeply progressive taxes, public housing, medical care and transportation, public support of the arts and the conversion of some corporations and military contractors into public corporations.[2]

He was the most read social scientist of his era.[citation needed] Galbraith's association with the U.S. Democratic Party and his criticism of fellow economists, who promoted individualistic free-market economics that he perceived as a false social reality, occasioned strong responses.[3] He was of the opinion that "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding".[4]

In the midst of the Watergate scandal in the summer of 1973 Galbraith was called by Adrian Malone of the BBC and asked if he would be interested in doing a television series on the history of economic or social ideas. Galbraith had been thinking of retirement but quickly accepted Malone's proposal. At an early point they settled on the title "Age of Uncertainty" to reflect the sharp contrast between the great certainty in 19th century economic thought with the much less assured views in modern times.[5]

As discussions about the series continued a further theme was developed: that what people believe about the workings of markets and their relationships to the state shapes history through the laws that are enacted or discarded.[5] It was therefore decided that the treatment of these themes would loosely fall into two parts, ideas followed by their consequences.[6]


The content of the series was determined by Galbraith with the presentation style directed by his colleagues in the BBC. Galbraith began by writing a series of essays from which the scripts were derived and from these the book emerged which in many places goes beyond the material covered in the relevant television episode.[7] The series was three years in the making.

Series outline[edit]

  1. The Prophets and Promise of Classical Capitalism
  2. The Manners and Morals of High Capitalism
  3. The Dissent of Karl Marx
  4. The Colonial Idea
  5. Lenin and the Great Ungluing
  6. The Rise and Fall of Money
  7. The Mandarin Revolution
  8. The Fatal Competition
  9. The Big Corporation
  10. Land and People
  11. The Metropolis
  12. Democracy, Leadership, Commitment
  13. Weekend in Vermont (three one-hour programmes in which Galbraith discusses economics, politics and international relations with guests such as Henry Kissinger, Georgy Arbatov and Edward Heath). These interviews are not covered in the book.


The leader of the British Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher, and Keith Joseph objected to the screening of the series by the BBC as they perceived it too biased for a state-run TV station. Milton Friedman was brought over from Chicago to lecture against Galbraith's economic viewpoints with Nicholas Kaldor opposing him.[8] The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, publications associated with the Conservative political party, dismissed the series whilst the Financial Times and New York Times viewed it positively.[9] Milton Friedman presented his own response to Galbraith in his series Free to Choose.[3]

Along with his other works Economics and the Public Purse and Money, The Age of Uncertainty reinforced Galbraith's stature as a major American economist who upheld and championed traditional Keynesian economics as opposed to the more free market and liberal economic theories of Milton Friedman.[10]


  • The Age of Uncertainty, John Kenneth Galbraith, BBC – Andre Deutsch, 1977, ISBN 0-563-12887-9


  • Angus Burgin, Age of Certainty: Galbraith, Friedman, and the Public Life of Economic Ideas. In: Tiago Mata/Steven G. Medema (eds.), The Economist as Public Intellectual (= History of Political Economy, annual supplement), Durham 2013, pp. 191–219


  1. ^ Markets or Governments: Choosing between imperfect alternatives, Charles Wolf, p. 2, MIT Press, 1993, ISBN 0-262-73104-5
  2. ^ "John Kenneth Galbraith, Iconoclastic Economist and Diplomat, Dies at 97", The New York Times, 1 May 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2009 [1]
  3. ^ a b The Routledge dictionary of twentieth-century political thinkers, edited by Robert Benewick and Philip Green, p. 77, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-09623-5
  4. ^ The Business of Commerce: Examining an honorable profession, James Chesher, Tibor R. Machan, p. 14 (quoting Galbraith in The Age of Uncertainty), Hoover Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8179-9622-2
  5. ^ a b Galbraith, p. 7
  6. ^ Galbraith, p. 8
  7. ^ Galbraith, p. 7,8
  8. ^ Economist With a Public Purpose: Essays in Honour of John Kenneth Galbraith, edited by Michael Keaney, p. 4, Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-21292-8
  9. ^ "Television and radio in the United Kingdom", Burton Paulu, p. 243-244, University of Minnesota Press, 1981, ISBN 0-8166-0941-1
  10. ^ The Encyclopedia of the History of American Management, Morgen Witzel, p. 189, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 1-84371-131-1

External links[edit]