Stiglitz: Europe’s View on Inequality

June 17, 2014

by Marianne Brunet

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When you approach a crowd conversing over coffee at an economics conference, you don’t normally expect to hear them giddily saying: “He’s absolutely adorable! Adorable, and so sweet.” But at a recent economics conference in Toulouse, France, participants were raving about Joseph Stiglitz like he was a movie star.

Stiglitz, the Columbia professor and Nobel economist, spoke June 2 and 3 at the TIGER Forum in Toulouse, an event sponsored by the Toulouse School of Economics that brings together economic leaders from academia and business for a series of lectures and debates. This year’s forum focused on globalization and the inequalities it elicits.

Stiglitz released his new book, Creating a Learning Society, at the TIGER Forum. At the very beginning of his keynote address, Stiglitz said, “It’s particularly noteworthy that the book is coming out here, because many of the ideas in this book would find greater receptivity here in France than in the Anglo-American tradition. France has traditionally a great deal more receptivity to industrial policy of government supporting the notion of economic growth.”

And based on the enormous applause he consistently received throughout the conference, Stiglitz was right.

The discussions focusing on global inequality at the TIGER Forum were a testament to the recent popularity of this topic.

I asked Stiglitz why inequality has become such a central issue. He said that it is because it has gotten much worse, and “because we’ve become much more aware of the adverse effects that inequality has on our economy, our democracy and on society. It’s not a matter of envy, contrary to what most people at the top say. It is a matter of the functioning of society.”

Stiglitz said that there is a problem with the way that those in the top income bracket are acquiring their fortunes. The wealth of those at the top “comes not by creating more wealth but by taking wealth from other.” For example, CEOs take large salaries without any concomitant increase in productivity, he said. This has resulted in few people doing very well, and most Americans doing badly, according to Stiglitz.

Stiglitz spoke about the necessity of improving education and adding more safeguards to free-trade agreements at the conference.

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