Joseph Stiglitz

American economist, professor, and recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics

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, which he shared with George Akerlof and Michael Spence. Stiglitz previously served as Chief Economist of the World Bank between 1997 and 2000.

Joseph E. Stiglitz in 2012


  • There is little doubt that the observation that quality may depend on price (productivity on wages; default probability on interest rates) has provided a rich mine for economic theorists: A simple modification of the basic assumptions results in a profound alteration of many of the basic conclusions of the standard paradigm. The Law of Supply and Demand has been repealed. The Law of the Single Price has been repealed. The Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics has been shown not to be valid.
    More than that, the theories that we describe here provide the basis of progress toward a unification of macroeconomics and microeconomics. They pro vide an explanation of unemployment and credit rationing, derived from basic microeconomic principles. It is a theory in which the extensive idleness that periodically confronts society's resources, human and capital, is seen as but the most obvious example of market failures that prevasively and persistently distort the allocation of resources.
    • "The Causes and Consequences of The Dependence of Quality on Price", Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar., 1987)
  • 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.
  • And it should be clear that, in spite of the increases in GDP, in spite of the 2008 crisis being well behind us, everything is not fine. We see this in the political discontent rippling through so many advanced countries; we see it in the widespread support of demagogues, whose successes depend on exploiting economic discontent; and we see it in the environment around us, where fires rage and floods and droughts occur at ever-increasing intervals.
  • The standard neoclassical model the formal articulation of Adam Smith's invisible hand, the contention that market economies will ensure economic efficiency provides little guidance for the choice of economic systems, since once information imperfections (and the fact that markets are incomplete) are brought into the analysis, as surely they must be, there is no presumption that markets are efficient.
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • The Lange-Lerner-Taylor theorem, asserting the equivalence of market and market socialist economies, is based on a misguided view of the market, of the central problems of resource allocation, and (not surprisingly, given the first two failures) of how the market addresses those basic problems.
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • The neoclassical paradigm, through its incorrect characterization of the market economies and the central problems of resource allocation, provides a false sense of belief in the ability of market socialism to solve those resource allocation problems. To put it another way, if the neoclassical paradigm had provided a good description of the resource allocation problem and the market mechanism, then market socialism might well have been a success. The very criticisms of market socialism are themselves, to a large extent, criticisms of the neoclassical paradigm.
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • The central economic issues go beyond the traditional three questions posed at the beginning of every introductory text: What is to be produced? How is it to be produced? And for whom is it to be produced? Among the broader set of questions are: How should these resource allocation decisions be made? Who should make these decisions? How can those who are responsible for making these decisions be induced to make the right decisions? How are they to know what and how much information to acquire before making the decisions? How can the separate decisions of the millions of actors decision makers in the economy be coordinated?
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • At the core of the success of market economies are competition, markets, and decentralization. It is possible to have these, and for the government to still play a large role in the economy; indeed it may be necessary for the government to play a large role if competition is to be preserved. There has recently been extensive confusion over to what to attribute the East Asian miracle, the amazingly rapid growth in countries of this region during the past decade or two. Countries like Korea did make use of markets; they were very export oriented. And because markets played such an important role, some observers concluded that their success was convincing evidence of the power of markets alone. Yet in almost every case, government played a major role in these economies. While Wade may have put it too strongly when he entitled his book on the Taiwan success Governing the Market, there is little doubt that government intervened in the economy through the market.
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • At the core of the failure of the socialist experiment is not just the lack of property rights. Equally important were the problems arising from lack of incentives and competition, not only in the sphere of economics but also in politics. Even more important perhaps were problems of information. Hayek was right, of course, in emphasizing that the information problems facing a central planner were overwhelming. I am not sure that Hayek fully appreciated the range of information problems. If they were limited to the kinds of information problems that are at the center of the Arrow-Debreu model consumers conveying their preferences to firms, and scarcity values being communicated both to firms and consumers then market socialism would have worked. Lange would have been correct that by using prices, the socialist economy could "solve" the information problem just as well as the market could. But problems of information are broader.
    • Chap. 1 : The Theory of Socialism and the Power of Economic Ideas
  • In short, whether for the obvious reason that in the absence of futures markets the price system cannot perform its essential coordinating role with respect to future-oriented activities, such as investments, or for the more subtle reasons just discussed, that in the absence of futures markets, extending infinitely far into the future, the market economy is likely to exhibit dynamic instabilities there is no reason to believe that even with rational expectations it will converge to the steady state; there is no presumption that markets, left to themselves, will be efficient. For advocates of market socialism, the implication of this analysis seems clear: There is a need for the kind of government control of the allocation of investment envisaged in market socialism.
    • Chap. 2 : The Debate over Market Socialism: A First Approach
  • Competition is limited by the scale of the market, and as the scale of the market has changed, so has the effectiveness of competition.
    • Chap. 2 : The Debate over Market Socialism: A First Approach
  • But while Keynes as well as the subsequent research in new Keynesian economics has provided an explanation for both unemployment and economic volatility while it has attempted to identify precisely what is wrong with the Arrow-Debreu model that can account for these observations there was another message of Keynes that was clearly heard: The macroeconomic ills of capitalism were curable. One didn't need to institute fundamental reforms in the economic system. One only needed selective government intervention. It is in this sense that Keynesian economics greatly weakened the case for market socialism.
    • Chap. 2 : The Debate over Market Socialism: A First Approach
  • Advocates of the Austrian tradition often defend the lack of formal modeling and the corresponding absence of formal efficiency theorems: The market economy is an organic process, too complicated to be reduced to the simplistic formal models. The job of the economists is to describe this organic process and to see the kinds of impediments that the absence of a legal structure, on the one hand, or excessive government intervention, on the other, might impose for it. But while they may not resort to, or even like, the standard welfare criterion of Pareto optimality, there are strong normative overtones in their discussions. Darwin may have thought that he was simply describing the evolutionary process when he asserted that it resulted in the survival of the fittest, but such statements require a definition of the "fittest" and an analysis of the general equilibrium, dynamic properties of the system. Today we recognize that evolutionary processes, under a wide variety of circumstances, may not possess "efficiency" properties.
    • Chap. 2 : The Debate over Market Socialism: A First Approach
  • It should be clear of course that for traders to have incentives to gather information required that information not be perfectly disseminated in the market. If, simply by looking at market prices, those who do not spend money to acquire information can glean all the information that the informed traders who have spent money to acquire information have, then the informed traders will not have any informational advantage; they will not be able to obtain any return to their expenditures on information acquisition. Accordingly, if there were a complete set of markets, information would be so well conveyed that investors would have no incentives to gather information. (Of course with all participants having the same [zero] information, incentives to trade would be greatly reduced.) To put the matter differently, the assumptions of "informed" markets and "a complete set of markets" may be mutually exclusive.
    • Chap. 3 : Critique of the First Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics
  • The theory of market socialism, for the most part, was not based on an analysis of these market failures, and of the reasons why government might be able to resolve them, but rather on the naive comparison of the actual performance of market economies and the hypothesized performance of a market socialist economy with an idealized view of government. This idealization not only failed to take into account the political realities, but more important from the perspective of this chapter, failed to take into account essential economic realities.
    • Chap. 3 : Critique of the First Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics
  • We need to distinguish between incentives at the organizational level and at the individual level, though some of the problems in designing incentive structures are common to both. We need to ask how, for the kinds of activities the public sector engages in, the organization is rewarded for "success" or punished for lack of it, and how individuals are similarly rewarded and punished.
    • Chap. 13 : Asking the Right Questions: Theory and Evidence
  • Informational constraints not only limit the ability of shareholders to control rent-seeking behavior on the part of top managers, they also limit the ability of top managers to control rent-seeking behavior on the part of their subordinates. How much of the time spent by a middle-level manager to prepare a report was absolutely necessary? To what extent was it devoted to acquiring information, of marginal value to the firm, but which would make that manager look relatively good compared to other managers? To what extent are the efforts and resources spent by a manager to cultivate a client really being directed to enhance that manager's job opportunities? Private and organizational objectives are intricately intertwined, and in many cases they are not conflicting. But at the margin they frequently are, and there seems little reason to doubt that private objectives frequently, perhaps usually, win out.
    • Chap. 13 : Asking the Right Questions: Theory and Evidence
  • At the same time I have noted that some of the differences between the public and private sector may have been exaggerated they are differences among the activities being pursued, not differences of the sector within which they are pursued. Private sector organizations face incentive (principal-agent) problems no less than do public organizations.
    Some of the differences are not innate but are more a consequence of common practice. The most important of these is the absence of competition and the high degree of centralization. Government organizations no less than private organizations dislike competition. The difference is the government has the power to forbid competition, which private organizations do not and indeed government sees one of its roles as curbing unfair practices aimed at reducing competition.
    • Chap. 13 : Asking the Right Questions: Theory and Evidence
  • Thus the first objective of state economic policy is to ensure competition. This needs to be taken into account in the process of privatization or reorganizing state enterprises, as well as in the laws allowing the formation of firms, cooperatives, and partnerships. The government must take actions to minimize the barriers to entry.
    • Chap. 15 : Some Tentative Recommendations
  • An essential commitment, which virtually all observers have emphasized, is not to subsidize enterprises that are making losses. While the standard remedy for this is "privatization," it should be recognized that this is neither necessary nor sufficient for imposing hard budget constraints. Governments in many countries have subsidized private producers (e.g., of steel), and governments in some countries have imposed hard budget constraints on government enterprises.
    • Chap. 15 : Some Tentative Recommendations
  • Privatization is, at best, only a partial solution. Privatizations in which vouchers are given, and there is not a recapitalization, do not address this problem at all. Privatizations in which the firm is sold are likely, in the presence of limited competition for the firm, to provide an underestimate of the true value of the firm's assets. Accordingly good performance, based on this undervaluation of the firm's assets, does not provide a true measure of the firm's efficiency.
    • Chap. 15 : Some Tentative Recommendations
  • As I argued earlier, I view competition as far more important than privatization.
    • Chap. 15 : Some Tentative Recommendations
  • Competition is important, not only because of its ability to promote economic efficiency but also because of the zest that it gives to life. Here we encounter one of the many ambivalences that characterizes our views about market economies: Competition is good, but we have our doubts about excessive competition. We encourage cooperation within teams but competition among them. We frown upon people who are excessively competitive. Yet the competitive market environment may encourage and bring out these aspects of individuals' personalities. If ruthlessly competitive people are successful, such behavior may be imitated. At the same time those who are (excessively) cooperative may be taken advantage of, derogated as pansies. Accordingly such behavior will be discouraged.
    • Chap. 16 : Philosophical Speculations
  • By changing the locus of caring and responsibility from the individual to the government not only for the needy, but for oneself, one's parents, one's children we change society and we change ourselves. Here again we see a certain irony: Attempts to improve society by having the government undertake a greater role in redistribution, may ultimately through their effects on individuals and the nature of the social contract have more ambiguous consequences.
    • Chap. 16 : Philosophical Speculations
  • The answer that socialism provided to the age-old question of the proper balance between the public and the private can now, from our current historical perspective, be seen to have been wrong. But if it was based on wrong, or at least incomplete, economic theories, theories that are quickly passing into history, it was also based on ideals and values many of which are eternal. It represented a quest for a more humane and a more egalitarian society.
    • Chap. 17 : Conclusions

Autobiographical Essay (2001)


Joseph Stiglitz. Autobiographical Essay for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, (2001)

  • 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.

Making globalization work (2006)

ISBN 9780141024967
  • New technologies (reinforced by new trade rules) are enhancing the market power of incumbent, dominant firms, such as Microsoft, which are all from the developed world; for the first time, in a key global industry, there is a near-global monopolist.
    • §2, p. 58
  • When I was at the World Bank, it would often be said in the face of obvious failure that our strategy was correct, it just wasn't implemented well.
    • §2, p. 52
  • In part, free trade has not worked because we have not tried it: trade agreements of the past have been neither free nor fair. They have been asymmetric, opening up markets in the developing countries to goods from the advanced industrial countries without full reciprocation.
    • §3, p. 62
  • The United States and Europe have perfected the art of arguing for free trade while simultaneously working for trade agreements that protect themselves against imports from developing countries. [...] Western negotiators almost take it for granted that they can control what gets discussed, and determine the outcomes.
    • §3, p. 78
  • The era of multilateral trade liberalization seems to be nearing an end (at least for a while), as well-founded disillusionment in the developing countries combines with growing protectionist sentiment in the developed world.
    • §3, p. 81
  • If there is to be support for trade globalization in the developed world, we must make sure that the benefits and costs are more evenly shared, which will entail more progressive income taxation.
    • §3, p. 100
  • Innovation is important; it has transformed the lives of everyone in the world. And intellectual property laws can and should play a role in stimulating innovation. However, the contention that stronger intellectual property rights always boost economic performance is not in general correct. It is an example of how special interests—those who benefit from stronger intellectual property rights—use simplistic ideology to advance their causes.
    • §4, p. 106
  • One of the reasons that basic research is advanced most by not resorting to intellectual property is that while doing so would have questionable benefits, the costs are apparent. [...] Interestingly, even in software, this system of open collaboration has worked. Today we have the Linux computer operating system, which is also based on the principle of open architecture.
    • §4, p. 112
  • Intellectual property does not really belong in a trade agreement.
    • §4.2 TRIPs, p. 116
  • TRIPs imposed on the entire world the dominant intellectual property regime in the United States and Europe, as it is today. I believe that the way that intellectual property regime has evolved is not good for the United States and the EU; but even more, I believe it is not in the interest of the developing countries.
    • §4.2 TRIPs, p. 117
  • The job of the Western trade negotiators is to get a better trade deal for their country's interests—for example, gaining more market access and stronger intellectual property rights—without giving up agriculture subsidies or nontariff trade barriers. Fairness is not in the lexicon of these trade negotiators.
    • §4, p. 131
  • The natural resource curse is not fate; it is choice. The exploitation of natural resources is an important part of globalization today, and in some ways the failures of the resource-rich developing countries are emblematic of globalization's failures.
    • §5, p. 149
  • I have argued that simply as a matter of fairness in trade, it is intolerable for one country to provide, in effect, emission subsidies to its firms. [...] Europe must use the foundations of the international trade law we have created to force any recalcitrant country, any rogue state—including the United States—to behave responsibly.
    • §6, p. 185
  • Perhaps the most successful global monopoly is Microsoft, which has succeeded in gaining global market power not only in PC operating systems but in key applications such as browsers. [...] Microsoft's monopoly power leads not only to higher prices but to less innovation. [...] The failure to develop a global approach to global cartels and monopolies is yet another instance of economic globalization outpacing political globalization.
    • §7.2.2 Limiting the power of corporations, p. 202
  • The problem is easy to state: developing countries borrow too much—or are lent too much—and in ways that force them to bear most or all of the risk of subsequent increases in interest rates, fluctuations in the exchange rate, or decreases in income. Given this, it is not surprising that they often cannot repay what is owed.
    • §8
  • The global financial system is not working well, and it is especially not working well for developing countries. Money is flowing uphill, from the poor to the rich. [...] With nearly two-thirds of reserves being held in dollars, the United States is, in this sense, the major recipient of these benefits. If the interest rate America has to pay is just one percentage point lower than it otherwise would be on these $3 trillion of loans from poor countries, what America received from the developing countries via the global reserve system is more than it gives to the developing countries in aid.
    • §9
  • The IMF has been encouraging, sometimes even forcing (as condition of assistance), countries to have their central banks focus only on inflation. Europe succumbed to these doctrines. Today, throughout Euroland, there is unhappiness as the European Central Bank pursues a monetary policy that, while it may do wonders for bond markets by keeping inflation low and bond prices high, has left Europe's growth and employment in shambles.
    • §10, p. 280
  • In the long run, the most important changes required to make globalization work are reforms to reduce the democratic deficit.
    • §10, p. 284
  • For much of the world, globalization as it has been managed seems like a pact with the devil. A few people in the country become wealthier; GDP statistics, for what they are worth, look better, but ways of life and basic values are threatened. For some parts of the world the gains are even more tenuous, the costs more palpable. Closer integration into the global economy has brought greater volatility and insecurity, and more inequality. It has even threatened fundamental values.
    This is not how it has to be. We can make globalization work, not just for the rich and powerful but for all people, including those in the poorest countries. The task will be long and arduous, We have already waited far too long. the time to begin is now.
    • Explicit

Quotes about Stiglitz

  • My final criticism is that Stiglitz's book is carelessly written. Stiglitz was—and perhaps still is—an outstanding economic theorist. But he has been producing big, loosely argued books. The laudable aim behind them is to inform a broader audience about economic policies that could make the world a better place, certainly with better lives for the poor, and such advocacy has its place in moving people to action. But he lacks the eloquence, urgency, and passion of the preacher, while he has too often abandoned the rigor of the scientist. In my view, he has not yet found a style suitable to the popular exposition of his economic ideas.
    • Robert Skidelsky, "Gloomy about Globalization", New York Review of Books (April 17, 2008).
  • I recently told Joe Stiglitz how much I admire him. I really think he’s so exemplary, not just because he’s smart but because of what he did in the Clinton administration and what he did at the World Bank. When he won the Nobel Prize, all he talked about to any reporter who asked him questions was that the real problem is world poverty. When I first met him, Dunlop insisted on the young radicals getting together with the real smart guys who were not the radicals, and Stiglitz was one of them. So we got together for lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club. It was a little strained at first, but we had a nice talk, and I finally said to Stiglitz, “Listen Joe, do you really believe that the interest rate is the intersection of the supply and demand for capital?” I said exactly that, and he said, “Yes, I believe that.” So twenty years later I said to him, “Listen Joe, you really threw me a curve ball when you told me you believed this.” I thought if this is what the smartest people in the profession believe, I’m not going to even talk to them; meanwhile he totally revolutionizes capital theory along the lines that supply and demand don’t determine interest rates! Either his views changed, or he was being “in your face” to me.
    • Herbert Gintis, interview in The Changing Face of Economics (2004) edited by David Colander, Richard P. F. Holt, and J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.
  • To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity's future is a special kind of madness. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it, "Should a group of foolish lawyers, who put together something before they understood these issues, interfere with saving the planet?" Clearly not.
    • Naomi Klein This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014)
  • Most economists now recognize climate change as a market failure, but only a few understand it as part of the larger pattern of environmental destruction that scientists have labelled the 'Great Acceleration'. Capitalism as currently practised has imperilled the existence of millions of planetary species, as well as the health and well-being of billions of humans. It also threatens the prosperity that it was intended to create. Challenging 250 years of dominant economic thinking, the climate crisis has shown that the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest does not serve the common good. It has shown, in the words of economist Joseph Stiglitz, that Adam Smith's invisible hand - the idea that free markets lead to efficiency as if consciously guided - is invisible because it is not there'.
  • From conversations, I became convinced that people who counterfactual upwards (i.e., compare themselves to those richer) want to actively dispossess the rich. As with all communist movements, it is often the bourgeois or clerical classes who are the early adopters of revolutionary theories. So class envy doesn’t originate from a truck driver in South Alabama, but from a New York or Washington, D.C., Ivy League–educated IYI [Intellectual Yet Idiot] (say Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz) with a sense of entitlement, upset some “less smart” persons are much richer.
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