Joseph E. Stiglitz

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Joseph Eugene Stiglitz (born February 9, 1943) is an American economist and author. He is the winner of the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979 and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2001.


  • Most poor people earn more than minimum wage when they are working; their problem is not low wages. The problem comes when they are not working.
    • Economics (1993)
  • They [free market policies] were never based on solid empirical and theoretical foundations, and even as many of these policies were being pushed, academic economists were explaining the limitations of markets — for instance, whenever information is imperfect, which is to say always.
  • It's actually a tribute to the quality of economics teaching that they have persuaded so many generations of students to believe in so much that seems so counter to what the world is like. Many of the things that I'm going to describe make so much more common sense than these notions that seem counter to what ones eyes see every day.
  • The theories that I (and others) helped develop explained why unfettered markets often not only do not lead to social justice, but do not even produce efficient outcomes. Interestingly, there has been no intellectual challenge to the refutation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand: individuals and firms, in the pursuit of their self-interest, are not necessarily, or in general, led as if by an invisible hand, to economic efficiency. The only question that has been raised concerns the ability of government to remedy the deficiencies of the market. Within academia, a significant fraction of economists are involved with developing and expanding on the ideas of imperfect information (and imperfect markets) that I explored. For instance, Edmund Phelps, this year’s Nobel Prize winner, belongs to this "school" of thought. But in political discourse, simplistic “market fundamentalism” continues to exert enormous influence.
  • The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Autobiographical Essay for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (2001)Edit

Full text here

  • There must have been something in the air of Gary that led one into economics: the first Nobel Prize winner, Paul Samuelson, was also from Gary, as were several other distinguished economists... Certainly, the poverty, the discrimination, the episodic unemployment could not but strike an inquiring youngster: why did these exist, and what could we do about them.
  • My teachers helped guide and motivate me; but the responsibility of learning was left with me.
  • In debate, one randomly was assigned to one side or the other. This had at least one virtue — it made one see that there was more than one side to these complex issues.
  • The notion that every well educated person would have a mastery of at least the basic elements of the humanities, sciences, and social sciences is a far cry from the specialized education that most students today receive, particularly in the research universities.
  • The best teachers still taught in a Socratic style, asking questions, responding to the answers with still another question. And in all of our courses, we were taught that what mattered most was asking the right question — having posed the question well, answering the question was often a relatively easy matter.
  • I, like many members of my generation, was concerned with segregation and the repeated violation of civil rights. We were impatient with those (like President Kennedy) who took a cautious approach. How could we continue to countenance these injustices that had gone on so long? (The fact that so many people in the establishment seemed to do so — as they had accepted colonialism, slavery, and other forms of oppression — left a life-long mark. It reinforced a distrust of authority which I had had from childhood.)
  • There was an incongruity between many of the models that we were taught and the policy positions that our teachers (and we) believed in. The models seemed more consonant with free market prescriptions, though they were presented more as benchmarks rather than full characterizations.
  • Once I undertook the analysis of a problem, I often looked at it from a variety of perspectives. I approached the problem as a series of thought experiments — unlike many other sciences, we typically cannot do actual experiments.
  • If stability and efficiency required that there existed markets that extended infinitely far into the future — and these markets clearly did not exist — what assurance do we have of the stability and efficiency of the capitalist system?
  • Economists often like startling theorems, results which seem to run counter to conventional wisdom.
  • An early insight in my work on the economics of information concerned the problem of appropriability — the difficulty that those who pay for information have in getting returns.
  • I recognized that information was, in many respects, like a public good, and it was this insight that made it clear to me that it was unlikely that the private market would provide efficient resource allocations whenever information was endogenous.
  • Seeing an economy that is, in many ways, quite different from the one grows up in, helps crystallize issues: in one's own environment, one takes too much for granted, without asking why things are the way they are.
  • Growing up in Gary Indiana gave me, I think, a distinct advantage over many of my classmates who had grown up in affluent suburbs. They could read articles that argued that in competitive equilibrium, there could not be discrimination, so long as there are some non-discriminatory individuals or firms, since it would pay any such firm to hire the lower wage discriminated-against individuals, and take them seriously. I knew that discrimination existed, even though there were many individuals who were not prejudiced. To me, the theorem simply proved that one or more of the assumptions that went into the theory was wrong.

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Last modified on 14 February 2014, at 18:53