Stiglitz has been on a journey—both personal, and politicalby Tom Clark / September 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Joseph Stiglitz has written a new book about the euro. At least that is what it says on the cover. But when I put it to the softly-spoken professor, who gives every impression of choosing his words with painful care, that the book is not really about the euro at all, he is only too happy to agree.
Your real target, I rather presumptuously suggest to the Nobel laureate and former World Bank Chief Economist, is not really the structural flaws of the single currency. No, your real game here—I press on—is an all-out assault on the “Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan ideology which happened to have been in fashion when the euro was created.” To my relief, Stiglitz doesn’t take umbrage, but smiles, nods, and finally says “that’s right.”
In the amicable hour to come, I will hear this once über-respectable figure rail against the corporate “capture” of public institutions, hail the “progressive” credentials of Jeremy Corbyn, and explain that when it comes to the next spin of globalisation, a process which he once championed, that you might very well judge that “you don’t want to do it.”
Stiglitz first came to prominence in the field of information economics—if that is not a contradiction in terms. For decades, he was a world champion in this decidedly minority sport, picking up prestigious medals for scholarship as long ago as the 1970s, but he ploughed away in seclusion of the academy until Bill Clinton came knocking, and in 1993 enlisted the economist as a guru of the “Third Way,” the intellectual rationalisation of Clinton’s middle-of-the-road electoral strategy.
It was the start of a personal journey, which has taken Stiglitz from a life of academic obscurity, and transformed him into a familiar pundit and occasional power player. But it set him off, too, on a political journey, which reveals much about the shifting tides within economics and the polarisation of American politics.
A couple of decades ago, Stiglitz might have been described as a mainstream technocrat, albeit one more concerned with the poor than most. Indeed, his British collaborator Tony Atkinson says the pair of them used to joke that he was the “right-wing half of our partnership.”