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A True American Hero: Joseph E. Stiglitz

PragmaticIdealist's picture


One theme that has taken hold of modern literature is that of the wise and yet credulous teacher unintentionally giving rise to magnamious destruction and evil at the hands of his students.

Think Obi-Wan / Darth Vader of Star Wars or Dumbledore / Voldemorte of Harry Potter.

Professor Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Laureate and globally renowned economist, unfortunately discovered that literature all too often mirrors reality this year as the Obama administration, filled to the brim with former disciples of Stiglitz, has proceeded to back the Fed / Treasury strategy of "deference to the financial sector."

The very policy that Stiglitz has been an outspoken and stalwart critic of.

Bloomberg: "Stiglitz also mentored several members of Obama’s economic team, including budget director Peter Orszag, 40, and Jason Furman, 38, deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Still, Stiglitz is critical of the president's plans to rescue the economy and questions his appointment of Summers as his top economic adviser."

Also from Bloomberg:

“The Roaring Nineties” [a book by Stiglitz] argued that the deregulation and market excesses of the 1990s laid the seeds of later crises. It inspired a speech by Obama a year ago, said a top aide from the Obama campaign, who spoke on the condition he wouldn’t be identified. The address laid out the president’s plan to reinstate and modernize regulation of Wall Street to avoid further crises."

So Obama and his financial advisors (Stiglitz-trained) used Stiglitz's words to ramp up anti-Wall Street spirit and win election... And then signed a blank check to the Fed. And will soon hire Larry Summers, a proponent for deregulation and key figure in the design of the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed longstanding banking regulations.

The same Larry Summers that Stiglitz has openly criticized: "It’s “a real concern” that people such as Summers, “who have been openly on the side of deregulation,” are back in positions of power, said Stiglitz"


For those who are unfamilliar with Stiglitz, broadly speaking he is to "Liberal" politics/economics what Ron Paul is to "Conservative" poltiics/economics. In fact, the more you read/listen to Stiglitz, the more you understand that his theories are not mutually incompatible with Austrian economics.

Indeed, listening to Stiglitz make a speech reminds us that there are still rogue scholars out there who emanate honesty, wisdom, frankness and compassion, much like Ron Paul.

The paper that won him the Nobel prize proved that informational asymmetries in a market set-up will result in a less-than-desirable outcome for society. In other words, in the face of cronyism / insider information / market imperfections / Flash Order Systems / etc, there will be no optimizing free market 'invisible hand.'

Although I have never seen him explicitly recognize Austrian economics, Stiglitz has proferred harsh criticisms of overly lax monetary policy, 'inflation-targeting' Fed policy, and has insisted on letting banks fail and restructure themselves independently of government should have even the most dogmatic Ron Paul fan out there listening (search YouTube for examples).

What Stiglitz advocates is a 'third way' of thinking about economics. One that recognizes the power of free markets, the powerlessness of governemnt oversight in many cases, but also the requirement for regulation to level the playing-field of capitalism or to at least ensure partially ethical results.

He also believes regulation to ensure sustainability of the financial system is sorely needed in today's convluted, systemically risky, interlinked and crony-filled (his words not quite so harsh but with similar intent) financial markets. I am not sure what his stance is on fractional-reserve banking, but it seems like he would be against it (or at least in favor of stricter regulation on excessive leverage for banks).

If you are still skeptical of the vast insight that this Moral Economist has to offer us in these dark hours, simply search his name on Youtube and decide for yourself.

In closing, I note Stiglitz's remarks about being forced to resign from his position as the World Bank Chief Economist (for harsh criticism of IMF lending policies):

“Remaining silent when people are pursuing wrong ideas would have been a form of complicity,” the New York Times quoted Stiglitz as saying of his departure.

“Rather than muzzle myself, or be muzzled, I decided to leave,” he said, according to the Times.




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Wed, 04/14/2010 - 05:47 | Link to Comment mwmolloy
mwmolloy's picture

children, children, when you fight you only hurt yourselves.  now go to your rooms.

Fri, 12/11/2009 - 21:46 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Thu, 08/06/2009 - 00:21 | Link to Comment ph012
ph012's picture


Wed, 08/05/2009 - 21:37 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 22:03 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

The Austrians can't be worse than the macroeconists that have populated the Fed and Treasury for the past 20 years.  They seem to cave to industry at every turn, and then try to justify their cowardice and corruption with sophistic arguments.

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 20:39 | Link to Comment rapier
rapier's picture

He's an economist.  That's a pretty big hole to climb out of. Economics is usually flawed because it has been denying it's roots for a century or more. Before there was economics there was the Political Economy.


Economic performance and outcomes are far more influenced by politics than by markets. libertarians have this childlike naivete that they can be seperated. Right. Just as soon as all men become saints.


It wasn't like he was doomed to poverty by getting kicked out of the IMF for speaking against it's policies but in doing so he did something almost unheard of in this age. He rejected the duties of a company man. That isn't a little thing, to judge a man by at any rate.  For the most part nobody speaks their mind anymore. Our leaders and all their underlings lie. They know we know they are lying.  We know they know that we know they  are lying.  Everyone plays their role.



Thu, 08/06/2009 - 10:14 | Link to Comment Bob
Bob's picture

Yeah, it's something truly honest people know perfectly well.  But you can't say it without being choked out with a flag or beat to death with a hardcover copy of Atlas Shrugged, because as much as everyone knows they're lying, the role requires you to pretend you don't know and say that, well, if there's corruption, it's those guys.  That means nobody ever has to admit it's they themselves. 

Ah, another day in America.  I love the smell of truth in the morning . . . it smells like . . . victory. 

Too bad you can only do it online. 

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 16:53 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 16:53 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 14:21 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 10:25 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 05:07 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 03:19 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 02:21 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 23:52 | Link to Comment agrotera
agrotera's picture

I am not going to reply to any of the comments here--looks like a few appreciate Dr. Steiglitz, and the others throw him out for his non support of the big bankheist.

Dr. Steiglitz was staunch supporter of Obama, but that all changed as it became apparent that instead of a thoughtful fresh opportunity would arise with the Obama administration, what we really have is a groupthinkthinktank that has morphed into a complete crony based administration that may morph again into a dictatorship.

We all were held hostage by paulson and bernake that it would be the end of democracy if we "nationaized" the banks--instead we gave away the future of our children in lieu of an honest nationization which could have been established long enough to break apart the monsters created by the revocation of Glass-Steagall and the enactment of Graham Leach Bliley.

Steiglitz is a man of honor, giving us all the right leadership about the credit crisis, but sadly, his voice has been muted by the constant drum being beaten on behalf of the bank interests that endeavor to loot our country permanently.

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 11:14 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 17:45 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:52 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 17:44 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 21:54 | Link to Comment KevinB
KevinB's picture

Hmm.. I seem to recall certain analysts during the tech boom publishing glowing reports on start-ups, and then bragging in their emails that the companies were complete dogs. Nothing asymmetric there, for sure.

Thu, 08/06/2009 - 07:45 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 20:27 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

When you think about why the MBS or CMBS markets will not clear (which I don't think they would clear even at 30% to par), it's because the banks have such an asymmetric information advantage over the purchasers of the securities. You cannot be sure that the asset will perform or is performing the way the seller says it does, so you never trade.


Sorry, Charlie.  That is completely wrong.  The markets aren't clearing because the banks are holding assets at inflated prices, and hoping to earn their way out of their insolvent holes with handouts from Geithner and Bernanke, by giving them near zero rate funding, purchasing their assets at inflated prices, etc, etc.

The vulture funds have reverse engineered the waterfalls in CDOs and are offering fair prices.  Geithner, Bernanke, and co offer the banks a better deal though, so they have zero incentive to sell.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 21:02 | Link to Comment PragmaticIdealist
PragmaticIdealist's picture

How do you think the assets got so inflated? One of the reasons is that no one knew how to properly value or grade them and bid them up after they were mindlessly given AAA.... Another reason is that an over-levered financial sector plush with cash created mortgage products (subprime 0% down, ARMS, etc) that the masses didn't really understand the extent of the risk involved. Also, a lot of the predatory firms like GS created sketchy products, sold them and shorted them. Lots of asymmetric information in the crisis.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 21:26 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

How do you think the assets got so inflated?


The usual reasons people do stuff that is wrong.  Some people were lazy and just used models without thinking about whether the models made sense.  Other people suspected the models were wrong, but didn't really want to know because they made money using the models.  Other people knew the models were wrong, but used them anyway because they wanted to make bonuses or because of pressure from peers or management to go with the flow.

It is like a lot of disasters, a story of varied human flaws and weaknesses.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 20:16 | Link to Comment erich
erich's picture

"When you think about why the MBS or CMBS markets will not clear (which I don't think they would clear even at 30% to par), it's because the banks have such an asymmetric information advantage over the purchasers of the securities. You cannot be sure that the asset will perform or is performing the way the seller says it does, so you never trade."

Did they have absolute information when they vastly overpaid or did that come after?

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 20:26 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 12:23 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:06 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 20:06 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:33 | Link to Comment PragmaticIdealist
PragmaticIdealist's picture

Haha this made me laugh :)

Yes, yes, I felt like writing a dramatic piece in under an hour at work today so sue me.

But to all the critics: yes I know he had some run-ins with monetary policy and too much government control in the past, but he's really far more moderate compared to Krugman and he has been pretty accurate in predicting this crisis and its causes and giving good solutions... Sure, he is somewhat monetarist, but his articles also suggest a disdain for overly lax monetary policy.

I know what he says often conflicts with Austrian economics, but there is also a lot that doesn't, and I would argue the more important aspects.

And whenever I see him speak or read one of his pieces I always have the feeling he is pragmatic and very anti-cronyism.

And nationalizing the banks temporarily would have been a much better strategy than giving them free money or letting the entire system collapse overnight. At least that way the government could just directly lend itself and those who absolutely need capital without the middle-man... and, if Stiglitz was in charge, it would serve the National Interest and reduce systemic risk by de-leveraging...

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 14:47 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:03 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:01 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:12 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

No doubt Rahm and Co view a benefit of hiring Setser that they are killing his blog, and thereby the MSM's main source of info on investments by the foreign central banks and sovereign wealth funds.  Hopefully someone else picks up the baton, and starts tracking their investments.

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 14:51 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 17:59 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:05 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 18:58 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 18:16 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:46 | Link to Comment NorthenSoul
NorthenSoul's picture

"In the name of "stability," I suppose."

Yeah stability! What particular problem do you have with stability, ie. avoiding massive econ destruction with all the social explosions that comes with it?

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 18:28 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

Nationalize criminal conspiracies? That shows you what a little suckup Stiglitz really is. In the name of "stability," I suppose. What ludicrously dark forces are Stiglitz' institutional backers. Sick, sick, sick.


Settle down beavis.  I'm no fan of Stiglitz on many issues.  However, Stiglitz has been referring to the FDIC's restructuring and wind-down proceedings as "temporary nationalizations".  Not some kind of banana republic third world seizures.  Or German type Landesbanks banking system, where the politicans appoint their buddies to run the damn banks.

I think Stiglitz and other left-wingers were referring to the FDIC resolution operations as "nationalizations" because they want to rehabilitate the word and get people to think it isn't so bad.  It was horrible salesmanship in fighting Paulson/Geithner/Bernanke.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 18:55 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 17:56 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Wed, 08/05/2009 - 21:36 | Link to Comment KevinB
KevinB's picture

The notion of "capture" was first promulgated by Richard Posner, then a professor at the University of Chicago and now an Appeals court judge, in a 1975 article in the now-defunct Bell System Journal of Economics.

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 09:31 | Link to Comment Sancho Ponzi
Sancho Ponzi's picture

Your reply is delusional: about grammar you know nothing.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 21:00 | Link to Comment jm
jm's picture

I'm assuming you want your ideas to come across, and not just see your words on a webpage.  So let me offer with courtesy and candor:

1)  take a deep breath

2)  provide more explanation (e.g. West Coast Hotel vs. Parrish) and background before you dive right in to whatever you're saying

3)  most importantly, explain what the hell you are talking about in a coherent way, and don't cite a 100 page legal brief

4)  either enjoy the profitable commerce of ideas between people, or simply smile on the Void.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:13 | Link to Comment Johnny Galt
Johnny Galt's picture hominem on the content contributor AND Stiglitz...with a nice straw man attack, to boot!


As someone who appears (or at least attempts to appear) to have studied law, you should be embarassed at the extremely poor quality of your reply. Though I may agree with you, I do not feel you have enlightened the community about why the author's line of thinking could be flawed.


Please show us that your previous reply was uncharacteristic by constructing a more reasonable commentary.

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 18:29 | Link to Comment . . .
. . .'s picture

If you can show "capture"--the substitution of private for government purpose--then you can challenge the policy as not meeting the requirement of government purpose.


Good luck with that.  The pointy headed politicians are usually crafty enough to dress up their schemes with a legitimate purpose in addition to an impermissible private one.  For example, as corrupt a boondoggle as cap and trade is for the wall street crowd, it still arguably fights greenhouse gases (if you think those are a problem).

Tue, 08/04/2009 - 19:00 | Link to Comment Anonymous
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 17:52 | Link to Comment Anonymous
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