affluent society

Cultural Dictionary

affluent society definition

A society in which scarcity of resources is not the predominant condition, and a general level of economic well-being has been achieved by most members of society. The term was made current by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society, which described conditions in the United States after World War II.

Note: Conventional economic theory is based on the assumption that resources are scarce. Therefore, it makes increasing production in the private sector and limiting interference and regulation from the government a priority. In Galbraith's affluent society, this priority is misplaced because scarcity is not predominant. The continued pursuit of conventional economic objectives in an affluent society leads to the conditions Galbraith observed in postwar America: private-sector affluence and public-sector squalor. For example, affluence in the private sector led to the mass availability of automobiles. Because public-sector interference (in the form of regulation and taxation) was discouraged, however, governments could not afford to build adequate roadways to accommodate those automobiles.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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