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‘And that which should occur finally occurred: the well-deserved ruin of the gullible, while the professor peacefully continued to enjoy his tenure’

To inspire our summer reading Corporate Finance Lab asked a few prominent lawyers and friends of the Lab: (1) which books were formative for you as a lawyer? en (2) what is your summer reading or what do you recommend? Today: Xavier Dieux, professor emeritus at the ULB, lawyer at the Brussels bar and member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

Three proposals for a “Galbraithian” summertime:

1. Richard Parker: John Kenneth Galbraith – His Life,  His Politics, His Economics (The University of Chicago Press, 2005, 820 pages).

He is one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century in economics, the “foremost economist for non-economists” according to a double meaning judgment of his dear colleague Paul Samuelson. Aside from being in charge of price control in the administration of F-D. Roosevelt during the 2nd world war, the US Ambassador in India during the JFK era, and the counsel of several candidates of the Democratic Party to the US presidential elections, John Kenneth Galbraith (1908- 2006) has been for years a well-respected professor of economics at Harvard University and the famous author of numerous masterworks such as, among many others, “The Affluent Society”, “The New industrial State”, “Economics and the Public Purpose”. Despite the technicity of their subject matters, many of his books reached a large audience as best sellers,  which could perhaps explain why his was not nobelized.  In a much informed biography, Richard Parker presents a fascinating journey through the life and thoughts of John Kenneth Galbraith, no facets of his inspiring personality being omitted. Even if published almost twenty years ago, it remains one of the best access points to the enduring ideas of a free spirit, more than ever deserving to be revisited for having paved the way, much ahead of our time, to corporate social responsibility of the great Firm regarded as a political entity.

2.- John Kenneth Galbraith, A tenured Professor (Mariner Books, 1990, 197 pages).  

Not only a great economist in the broadest meaning of the word including politics and sociology, John Kenneth Galbraith was also well recognizable by his style and his sense of humor – an expanded quality within the academic world as well-known  by everyone –  often completing the endless enumeration of his “exceptional” merits, by the one in charge of the introduction of his subsequent speech, with a humble “All true” accompanied by a restrained smile. He did not restrict his activity as a writer to essays in economics. In 1990, he published a novel telling the story of a “tenured professor” at Harvard University, who proposed a stock forecasting model assuring success to any investor. And that which should occur finally occurred: the well-deserved ruin of the gullible, while the professor peacefully continued to enjoy his tenure. A satiric anticipation of the depravation of our time shaped as nothing but a perpetual mimetic phenomenon, greed hand in hand with ignorance as cyclically confirmed through the history of finance. Here, a “romanced” version of his essay on the 1929 crisis entitled “The Great Crash” that did not get, as such called, a great success in airports’ libraries as he observed it at some occasions, travelling for delivering his speeches all over the world.  

3.- John Kenneth Galbraith, Money, Whence it came, where it went (Princeton University Press, 2017, 392 pages).

A new wave of conceptual speculation is ongoing as regards the very nature – if any – of money, as a phenomenon in permanent (r)evolution. Aside from the appearance of crypto-currencies, the question more fundamentally arises whether money is something or nothing  but a dematerialized instrument of monetary policy and central banking – a kind of “social equity” at the very best.  This work is a new print of a book published by John Kenneth Galbraith in 1975, together with a foreword of his son, James Galbraith. For anyone fascinated by the supposed mystery of money over the ages and intrigued by its current mutation, it constitutes an indispensable instrument of demystification. It was written parallel to a TV series entitled “The age of uncertainty”, realized by Galbraith himself in the seventies for the BBC and CBS. The series gained a controversial reception and it has been told that “Free to Choose”, another TV series realized by Milton Friedman and broadcasted in 1980, was a reply to “the Age of Uncertainty”, ordered to Milton Friedman by some political opponents to the so-called  “propaganda” activism of Galbraith. Those who would want to immerge themselves in the atmosphere of that time are invited to a YouTube viewing of three portions of the aforementioned Galbraith Series. “Week end in Vermont” is their subtitle: a weekend in the summer residence of Galbraith with Henry Kissinger, Arthur Schlessinger jr, Edward Heath, Katharine Graham (at that time editorialist of the Washington Post) as well as, among others, Georgi Arbatov (an advisor of Leonid Brejnev). Only few may have the chance to welcome at home such a party.

Others:

1.- Michael Pye, Antwerp – The Glory Years  (Allen Lane – Penguin Books, 2021, 271 pages)

A vibrant story of Antwerp as the hub city of the known world in the 16th Century: the author compares the position of Antwerp at that time, before it was succeeded by Amsterdam, to the position of Paris in the 19th  Century and the one of New York in the 20th Century. Not without any relation with the history of Money as proposed by Galbraith, Chapter 8 refers to the role then played by Antwerp as regards the development of  “Beurs or Exchange” practices. 

 2.- Henry Kissinger, Leadership – Six studies in World Strategy (Allen Lane – Penguin Books, 2022, 495 pages).

Troubled times like the present one confirm that History is not only the necessary result of systemic, global, societal, economic or cultural evolutions (see in France: the so-called “Ecole des Annales”). It occurs that the leadership of some individuals constitutes another kind of necessity when peace, depending on a so-called international order that is unstable by nature, is under attack. Aside from having been an influent and controversial Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger was also a professor of History and Government at Harvard University. “A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problem of Peace 1812-1822” was the subject matter of his doctoral dissertation. “Leadership”, his last book, might be regarded as an extension of his demonstration, invigorated by his own experience throughout the second half of the 20th Century. The life and ideas of some leaders who provided a decisive contribution to the (re)profiling of the international order of their time (Adenauer, De Gaulle, Sadat and so on) is scrutinized in a vivifying style that restores the human face of the great History

The book(s) that shaped my intellectual identity (if any) as a lawyer?

(i) Not a book but an article on the “Concept of Cause” as a fundamental of Contract Law by Pierre Van Ommeslaghe (“Observations sur la théorie de la cause dans la jurisprudence et dans la doctrine moderne“, Revue Critique de Jurisprudence Belge, 1970, p. 328), for  the demonstration force, the position steadiness, the reasoning rigor.

(ii) Jean Van Ryn: all his writings, including Principles of Commercial Law (Principes de droit commercial), for the style fluidity and the sense of crystal-clear demonstration.

(iii) Hayek (Law, Legislation and Liberty) and Ripert (Aspects Juridiques du Capitalisme Moderne) for having internalized in the legal analysis the societal dimension of economics and politics.

Xavier Dieux




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