affluent society, term coined by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society (1958) to describe the United States after World War II. An affluent society, as the term was used ironically by Galbraith, is rich in private resources but poor in public ones because of a misplaced priority on increasing production in the private sector. Galbraith argued that industrial production was being devoted to satisfying trivial consumer needs, in part to maintain employment, and that the United States should shift resources to improve schools, the infrastructure, recreational resources, and social services, providing a better quality of life instead of an ever greater quantity of consumer goods. His critique influenced efforts during the 1960s to improve the quality of public institutions and facilities. The term has lost its original ironic meaning and is now used simply to indicate widespread prosperity.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.