The Great Gadfly

His canny conversational style adds to the mystery. He gracefully ducks an opportunity to criticize the World Bank. When asked if he is scorned at the IMF, he talks about those on the inside who agree with him; when asked whether he's uncomfortable being embraced by demonstrators, he lauds them for putting the issues in the public eye. He was, after all, a tenured professor at the age of 27 on a path toward prominence. The solution may lie in a naive optimism that those who profess to do good indeed do good. In a sense, Stiglitz is the ultimate idealist, a believer in waging a realwar on poverty, who now sees that (as he puts it) "the emperor has no clothes" and is doing something about it. It is also possible that had he discovered this imbalance earlier and spoken out, he might have been sidelined and not achieved his current credibility (as it was, the World Bank tried to muzzle him); perhaps he treads gently on the World Bank because its advisers take part in the IPD—or because, as he says, he believes it can still be reformed, unlike the IMF.


In pushing to understand how one man came to see economics in human terms while others saw only export quotas and rising stock prices, it is useful to know where he came from. Stiglitz grew up in a middle-class family in Gary, Indiana. His father was a small businessman dealing in insurance, his mother a public school teacher; his lawyer uncle supported the New Deal and organized labor. Politics was discussed at the table. Stiglitz says his Gary roots made him aware of three things as a young economist: "Unemployment is a problem, and economic theory missed this whole point; Gary was marked by a high degree of inequality among people who migrated from the South and had no education; poverty is often associated with race, and economic theory said there was no such thing as discrimination." He explains that "in Gary you couldn't help but feel something was wrong. I entered the field of economics because I wanted to do something to affect the way people live." The civil rights movement was strong at the time, and "you went from thinking of yourself as just one part of the country to thinking about it as a whole. Globalization is analogous. We're thinking about ourselves in a global context now."

A Buddha-ful mind: Joseph Stiglitz, economic visionary and scold
photo: Sylvia Plachy
A Buddha-ful mind: Joseph Stiglitz, economic visionary and scold

But didn't many of his peers at the IMF live through a similar public history? Ideology blinds the most ardent believer, he insists.

His concluding chapter, "The Way Ahead," should be required reading for the leaders of the G8 (industrialized Western countries and Russia) and other casual pooh-poohers of the massive demonstrations from Seattle to Genoa. In that chapter, they'll find proposals similar to those of the more moderate protesters: reform of global financial institutions; a stronger role for government in mitigating market failures and ensuring social justice; and a recognition that opposition to globalization is opposition to market fundamentalism, not to globalization per se.

In a just world, copies of Globalization and Its Discontents would appear in the goodie bags of the G8 trade representatives, who will meet June 26 through 28 in Kananaskis, Canada—a place whose remoteness, organizers hope, will dissuade demonstrators and avert the bloodshed that marked the G8 meeting in Genoa last July. But if they want to silence the anti-globalization movement, they'll have to silence Joseph Stiglitz as well.

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