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Stiglitz Honored for Nobel Peace Prize in Economics

Joseph Stiglitz, formerly chief economist at the World Bank, criticized the liberalization trade policies and the increasing poverty of the Third World. At the behest of Lawrence Summers, he was dismissed and now teaches economics in Manhattan. The article by Brigitte Young "The World is Ten Years Old" focuses on the IMF's misguided policy and the post-Washington consensus.
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October 10, 2001

Tried to Stem the Economic Damage of Orthodox Policies
WASHINGTON - The Center for Economic and Policy Research congratulates Joe Stiglitz on being awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his research on the effect of asymmetric information on market outcomes. Professor Stiglitz's path-breaking research on this topic showed how markets may not operate efficiently when the standard assumption—that all actors have full information—is violated.

One implication of Professor Stiglitz's work is that the institutional structure of capital markets may have a significant impact on the course of development and economic growth. For example, the long-term relationships between banks and firms that have historically existed in nations such as Germany, Japan, France and South Korea may allocate capital more efficiently than the market-oriented system in the United States. Since asymmetric information may distort capital markets, Stiglitz has argued that interventions in capital markets, such as taxes on currency or stock trades, could actually increase their efficiency.

Stiglitz's work also provides an explanation for unemployment that is missing in standard economic models. Since employers don't know exactly how productive an individual worker will be, they have to devise strategies that will encourage workers to maximize their effort. Such strategies can include paying workers at above the market-clearing wage—thereby generating unemployment. This leads to an explanation for involuntary unemployment that is absent from the traditional economic concept of a market, which assumes that both workers and employers have full information.

Stiglitz' more realistic view of how markets function brought him into conflict with economists at the International Monetary Fund, whose "market fundamentalist" views he opposed. As Chief Economist of the World Bank, he broke with protocol by publicly criticizing the IMF for imposing what he called a "beggar thyself" policy on countries such as Indonesia during the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98. "Beggar thyself" referred to the IMF's policy of reducing a country's trade deficit by putting it through a recession (thereby reducing total demand, including imports), often brought about by extremely high interest rates. Professor Stiglitz criticized these policies as they were implemented in Asia, Russia, and Brazil.

Stiglitz also criticized the IMF and U.S. Treasury for reckless pursuit of the liberalization of international financial flows, which led to the Asian financial crisis. He noted that the Fund embarked on this project without having even a single economic study showing that financial liberalization would lead to higher growth. He also pointed out that the Asian countries most impacted (Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines) had very high rates of savings and therefore did not need the foreign borrowing, arguing that their opening up was done more for the sake of American mutual funds seeking investment outlets.

He also pointed out the "fundamental misunderstanding" of Western economists in Russia and the transition economies, and their role in bringing about the worst economic decline in world history, in the absence of war or natural disaster—nearly half of national income was lost in about 5 years.

According the Financial Times (Nov. 25, 1999 p. 13) and other reports, these criticisms led to Professor Stiglitz being forced out of the World Bank, at the insistence of then US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.


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