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Stiglitz Kicks Off Book Tour at Columbia World Leaders Forum

Joseph Stiglitz
Joseph Stiglitz outlined his prescriptions for reducing the gap between rich and poor countries.

Photo by Eileen Barroso

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The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remembers entering a bookstore in Taiwan some 20 years ago and wondering how he would feel if he saw a pirated copy of his latest book on the shelves. Although he knew all the arguments in favor of protecting intellectual property, he also knew the costs to the public good of restricting the transfer of ideas.

He decided that on balance he would prefer to see a pirated version of his book—and was pleased when he indeed found one.

The former World Bank chief economist, who is now a University Professor at Columbia, delivered this anecdote to a packed audience gathered in Roone Arledge Auditorium for the start of this year’s World Leaders Forum, on Sept. 18.

The event also kicked off Stiglitz’s tour for his new book, Making Globalization Work, the   follow-up to his 2003 bestseller, Globalization and Its Discontents, in which he savaged the International Monetary Fund for pursuing policies in Africa and Latin America that have created an even wider disparity between rich and poor countries.

The need to reduce that disparity is still Stiglitz’s obsession, but he has now moved on to practical solutions. Acknowledging the change in focus, Stiglitz told the Columbia audience that his book title says it all: “It says that globalization is not working very well, but it also conveys the sense of optimism that there are practical, concrete things we can do to make it work better.”

Reform of the intellectual property regime to achieve the right balance between profitability and the public good is one such measure. Others include abandoning the West’s unfair policy of agricultural subsidies, setting up international tribunals to rule on unfair tax competition or health standards, and ending the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency by introducing “global greenbacks.”

Responding to Stiglitz’s presentation were economist Nancy Birdsall, Open Society Institute founder George Soros and New York Times journalist Tina Rosenberg, all of whom applauded the prescriptions on offer.

“This book is likely to be called politically naive by naysayers,” Birdsall said, but it has broken new ground as “an eloquent defense of the possibility that globalization can be fair and just.”

Soros said that Stiglitz’s powerful combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience meant that the book delivered a comprehensive analysis of the issues.
For Rosenberg, the book represents no less than a revolutionary tract about globalization. “But so far, there is no revolution,” she told the students in the audience. “That part is up to you.”

The World Leaders Forum, which was launched three years ago as part of President Bollinger’s global university initiative, continues throughout the year. To access videos of the Stiglitz panel and other recent World Leaders Forum events -- including talks by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare, Republic of Croatia Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson -- go to: www.worldleaders.columbia.edu.

-- Mary-Lea Cox, Communications and Public Affairs

 

Published: Sep 28, 2006
Last modified: Nov 14, 2007