Sunday, July 19, 2009

better late than never...

Funny how Newsweek forgot about Joe Stiglitz for the last eight years.... Why Washington Ignores an Economic Prophet: "...Joe Stiglitz. Even in the contentious world of economics, he is considered somewhat prickly. And while he may be a Nobel laureate, in Washington he's seen as just another economic critic—and not always a welcome one. Few Americans recognize his name, and fewer still would recognize the man, who is short and stocky and bears a faint resemblance to Mel Brooks. Yet Stiglitz's work is cited by more economists than anyone else's in the world, according to data compiled by the University of Connecticut. And when he goes abroad—to Europe, Asia, and Latin America—he is received like a superstar, a modern-day oracle. 'In Asia they treat him like a god,' says Robert Johnson, a former chief economist for the Senate banking committee who has traveled with him. 'People walk up to him on the streets.'

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. Beijing has more or less endorsed Stiglitz's idea for a new global reserve system to replace the U.S. dollar as the world currency. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been influenced by Stiglitz's work, especially when 'he talks about the economics of poor people,' says Fang Xinghai, the head of Shanghai's financial-services office. But his stature is huge in Europe as well: French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently featured him at a conference on rethinking globalization.And earlier this month, while traveling to Europe and South Africa, Stiglitz received a call from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office: could he return through London and help the P.M. get ready for the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh?

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....'"