On Tuesday, October 10, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz came to UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Stiglitz, also a renowned author, wrote the books, Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development, Globalization and Its Discontents, and Making Globalization Work, among others. In keeping with the themes of his literary works, most of his lecture was concerning globalization and how he believes it “affects every aspect of society.”
According to Stiglitz, while globalization was meant to reduce inequalities between countries, it has actually increased disparities between nations, and he said he thinks the only “winners” in the newfound era of globalization are India and China. During the lecture, Stiglitz cited the fact that it has been 10 years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the economic gap between the United States and Mexico has only grown larger in that time. According to Stiglitz, “water has been flowing from the poor countries to the rich,” as globalization allows wealthier countries to take advantage of their less-privileged neighbors.
Stiglitz – the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Bill Clinton – described how, at the beginning of the Clinton administration, health care in the United States was the main concern, and the government worked to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. He said the current White House administration is not working to lower health care prices, and that efforts to limit the availability of generic alternatives to pricey prescription drugs are actually hurting consumers. As an example, he cited the difference between the cost of generic AIDS medication – which could cost up to $300 a year – and the price for brand-name AIDS medication, which could cost thousands of dollars per year. Stiglitz said this problem affects not only the United States, but other countries that receive aid from America as well and can no longer receive generic medications thanks to these programs.
Another topic Stiglitz covered was the difficulty with regulating “intellectual property” – an interesting topic for a man who makes much of his living from book sales to broach. He relayed the story of how, when he was in Taiwan, he visited a bookstore in hopes that they had pirated his book – the only way this particular store would have been able to sell it. Luckily for him, his book was indeed on the shelves. He said he would rather have others read his ideas and spread his knowledge than make a profit and exclude those who would not normally have access to his texts.
Stiglitz also discussed one of the most popular issues of the moment – the danger of global warming and the need to improve our atmosphere. Stiglitz focused on the guilt of developed countries in this portion of his lecture, and said that developing countries are not as responsible for our decreasing atmosphere as wealthier nations.
Although Stiglitz’s lecture may have seemed a bit heavy-handed, he put his knowledge and ideas in terms that everyone could understand. In fact, the only time the lecture seemed confusing was when Stiglitz invited audience members to come up to the front and ask questions – questions which seemed to be asked as more of a means to show off individuals’ knowledge to other audience members than asked out of earnest desires for answers.
Stiglitz also added a kind of morbid humor to his lecture , saying the one benefit of the melting of the Artic Ocean is that the United States will be better able to drill its oil. He even ended on a note of optimism – we can help defeat the detriments of globalization, as globalization itself is such a fluid state. With his great wealth of knowledge and ideas, combined with sincerity not often seen, it is no wonder Stiglitz was such an honored guest – and we were honored to have him.