Previewing Stiglitz’s Next Best-Seller

Last Tuesday night’s World Leaders Forum kickoff event was billed as “a discussion with distinguished panelists” on the subject of globalization. It ended up more like the first leg of a book tour for University Professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who monopolized the event, discussing his forthcoming manifesto, Making Globalization Work. No one seemed to mind.

Stiglitz began with an explanation of the title of his book, stating that he believes globalization has not served the world well enough, but that he feels optimistic about its future. Fifteen years ago, he explained, economists and world leaders hoped that globalization would lessen disparities between rich nations and poor. They hoped that global trade would direct the flow of money from rich countries to poorer ones, and that developing nations would be able to reduce their debts. None of this has happened. Unfortunately, he says, the economic policy that came out of Washington in the 1990s has actually slowed economic growth in many developing countries since the 1960s and 70s.

Stiglitz suggested that we dramatically revise our principles regarding international trade, finance, and intellectual property. Flawed economic theory, Stiglitz said, can be blamed not only for monetary losses but for millions of deaths in the developing world. Case in point: the most recent intellectual property-based policies limited the development of generic drugs in order to drive up costs and encourage innovation. What resulted, however, were higher profits for pharmaceutical giants and even more expensive medicines. In other words, the current system simply isn’t fair.

If we methodically think through the ways in which our policies aren’t working and incorporate some of the ideas laid out in his book, Stiglitz said, globalization can result in better living standards around the world, a better-protected environment, and improved health services where they are needed most.

Later on in the event, Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development and gazillionaire philanthropist George Soros chimed in on their favorite points of Stiglitz’s book.

New York Times editorialist Tina Rosenberg, last to speak, was the only speaker who appealed directly to the audience. She said the “usual suspects” have shaped faulty U.S. decisions: big businesses, Wall Street and others that are “extremely politicized, with all the politics are one side.” She argued that we, students of Columbia and American citizens, must create political influence to offset the dangerous forces of these special interest groups. Only if they are weakened, she argues, will national and international organizations change their economic policies and make globalization work for real and for good.

-By Jessica Cohen