Globalization’s Mad Scientist: On Joseph Stiglitz

Globalization’s Mad Scientist: On Joseph Stiglitz

Books discussed: The Rebel Within: Joseph Stiglitz and the World Bank, ed. by Ha-joon Chang; Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz; Making Globalization Work by Joseph E. Stiglitz.

BOOKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY
The Rebel Within: Joseph Stiglitz and the World Bank
ed. by Ha-Joon Chang
Anthem Press, 2001 300 pp $29.95

Globalization and Its Discontents
by Joseph E. Stiglitz
W. W. Norton and Company, 2003
305 pp $16.95 paper

Making Globalization Work
by Joseph E. Stiglitz
W. W. Norton and Company, 2006
384 pp $26.95

JOSEPH STIGLITZ neither looks nor behaves like a polished politician. The sixty-four-year-old professor of economics at Columbia University fits the stereotype of the rumpled academic, rushing to lectures with his jackets wrinkled and gray hair unkempt. What he says in his public addresses also runs contrary to most policymakers’ mannered declarations. Whether out of a willful desire to act impolitic or a simple ignorance of political calculations, Stiglitz has repeatedly violated the decorum of mainstream economic discussion. And in the process he has done more than perhaps any other individual to influence the unfolding debate about globalization.

For the World Bank, Stiglitz’s former employer, and the International Monetary Fund, its sister organization and Stiglitz’s nemesis, none of the economist’s public statements appeared at a less convenient time than his April 2000 article in the New Republic. Published immediately before the largest-ever protests amassed outside the institutions’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., the piece began with two of the most damning and oft-quoted paragraphs in the literature of globalization. Stiglitz wrote,

Next week’s meeting of the International Monetary Fund will bring to Washington, D.C., many of the same demonstrators who trashed the World Trade Organization in Seattle last fall. They’ll say the IMF is arrogant. They’ll say the IMF doesn’t really listen to the developing countries it is supposed to help. They’ll say the IMF is secretive and insulated from democratic accountability. They’ll say the IMF’s economic “remedies” often make things worse—turning slowdowns into recessions and recessions into depressions.

And they’ll have a point. I was chief economist at the World Bank from 1996 until last November, during the gravest global economic crisis in a half-century. I saw how the IMF, in tandem with the U.S. Treasury Department, responded. And I was appalled.

Stiglitz has always been intellectually combative, but that he would become a political renegade was not clear early in his prodigious career. He trained at M.I.T. in the early sixties. By 1970, when he turned twenty-seven, he was a full professor at Yale. He made his mark with groundbreaking...


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