You are invited to tomorrow's meeting of
The two scheduled agenda items are reports from the two project committees:
a. Town Hall Meeting – trying to bring Joseph Stiglitz to
b. Legislative initiative
Come and bring a friend.
The Most Misunderstood Man in America
Joseph Stiglitz predicted the global financial meltdown. So why can't he get any respect here at home?
From the magazine issue dated Jul 27, 2009
Anya Stiglitz was in the middle of a Pilates class in
Anya figured Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser, was probably just calling to gripe about Joe's latest op-ed in The New York Times. Joe Stiglitz and Larry Summers, two towering intellects with egos to match, are not each other's favorite economist. "They respect each other, but they hate each other like poison," says Bruce Greenwald, Stiglitz's friend and academic collaborator at
But Summers's aide soon called back, and this time he said it was urgent: could Professor Stiglitz come to
Such is the lot of Joe Stiglitz. Even in the contentious world of economics, he is considered somewhat prickly. And while he may be a Nobel laureate, in
Stiglitz has won fans in China and other emerging G20 nations by arguing that the global economic system is stacked against poor nations, and by standing up to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. He is also the most prominent American economist to propose a long-term solution to the imbalances in capital flows that have wreaked havoc, from the Asian contagion of the late '90s to the subprime-investment craze.
Stiglitz is perhaps best known for his unrelenting assault on an idea that has dominated the global landscape since Ronald Reagan: that markets work well on their own and governments should stay out of the way. Since the days of Adam Smith, classical economic theory has held that free markets are always efficient, with rare exceptions. Stiglitz is the leader of a school of economics that, for the past 30 years, has developed complex mathematical models to disprove that idea. The subprime-mortgage disaster was almost tailor-made evidence that financial markets often fail without rigorous government supervision, Stiglitz and his allies say. The work that won Stiglitz the Nobel in 2001 showed how "imperfect" information that is unequally shared by participants in a transaction can make markets go haywire, giving unfair advantage to one party. The subprime scandal was all about people who knew a lot—like mortgage lenders and Wall Street derivatives traders—exploiting people who had less information, like global investors who bought up subprime- mortgage-backed securities. As Stiglitz puts it: "Globalization opened up opportunities to find new people to exploit their ignorance. And we found them."
Stiglitz's empathy for the little guy—and economically backward nations—comes to him naturally. The son of a schoolteacher and an insurance salesman, he grew up in one of
Those early experiences in
Stiglitz has warned for years that pro-market zeal would cause a global financial meltdown very much like the one that gripped the world last year. In the early '90s, as a member of
That would be John Maynard Keynes, the great 20th-century economist who rocketed to international renown in late 1919 when he published The Economic Consequences of the Peace. In his book, Keynes warned that the draconian penalties imposed on
To his critics—and there are many—Stiglitz is a self-aggrandizing rock-thrower. Even some of his intellectual allies note that while Stiglitz is often right on the substance of issues, he tends to leap to the conclusion that government can make things better. Harvard economist Rogoff has called him intolerably arrogant—though he added that Stiglitz is a "towering genius." In a letter to -Stiglitz published in 2002, Rogoff recalled a moment when the two of them were teaching at
Stiglitz's defenders say one possible explanation for his outsider status in
The differences between them grew bitter in the late 1990s, when Stiglitz was chief economist for the World Bank and took issue with the way Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Summers, who was then deputy secretary, were handling the Asian "contagion" financial collapse. After World Bank president James Wolfensohn declined to reappoint him in 1999, Stiglitz became convinced that Summers was behind the slight. Summers denies this, and maintains that no rivalry exists between them. Summers's deputy Jason Furman says that Summers now "talks to [Stiglitz] a lot." "A lot" is an exaggeration, Stiglitz responds. "We've talked one or two times," he says.
Despite the Obama team's occasional efforts to reach out to him, Stiglitz remains deeply unhappy about the administration's approach to the financial crisis. Rather than breaking up or restructuring the big banks that failed, "the Obama administration has actually expanded the notion of 'too big to fail,' " he says. In a veiled poke at his dubious standing in
In other respects, Obama is embracing some of Stiglitz's views, suggests Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget—and a former Stiglitz protégé (he worked for Stiglitz during the
Today, settled as a professor at
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs