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Power, according to Professor Galbraith, is very, very elusive

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Five or six years ago in Russia I was taken out to spend the day at Gosplan - the state planning committee. Bureaucratic inflexibility was one of the topics. When it was all over, the deputy head of the planning committee and a man from one of the research organizations walked out to make sure my car was there.

''It was POURING rain. As we waited for the car, a sprinkler came on down the street, sprinkling the road. The deputy head of the planning apparatus of the whole Soviet Union said, 'There you see, professor, what we've been talking about. He's fulfilling his plan!' ''m

John Kenneth Galbraith, long known as the scourge of American corporate bureaucracy, sprawled comfortably in his living room easy chair as he enjoyed recounting this Chaplinesque scene from the other superpower's bureaucracy.

His Lincoln-size legs formed an angular arch to a distant footstool. He was discussing the shifting locus of power down through the centuries from personality (leaders with power to persuade or punish) and property (monetary reward) to today's dominant organizational power centers (corporations, unions, state bureaucracies, lobbying associations).

The takeoff point for our discussion was his 23rd book, ''The Anatomy of Power,'' published last month.

In his deadpan way, Galbraith was goring oxen by the dozen. Among the gored: secretaries of defense (''forgettable the day they leave office''), CEOs of heavy industries (''they come to resemble, intellectually and physically, the products they make''), business competition as a mechanism for efficiency (''overrated''). None were unusual targets for Galbraith wit.

But there were also surprises among the casualties as the picador of Francis Street, Cambridge, analyzed today's world. Some of the very institutions in which he believes most fervently (and, in some instances, holds membership) were gently and not so gently impaled: Ground Zero, the nuclear freeze movement in general, the Council for a Livable World, the Union of Concerned Scientists - all of which he feels have a tendency to mistake speechmaking, press-releasing, or pamphleteering for power. He calls this ''the illusion of power,'' which supplants and saps real power.


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