Joseph Stiglitz’s “Another World”

Pratyush Chandra

Joseph Stiglitz is counted as one of a few dissenting economists in mainstream academia, and for some time now his dissent has been attracting quite a number of activists. He is officially invited by the “Another World is Possible” people to their meetings. Naturally he will think himself authorised to tell people how another world is possible, and what will be that world. He precisely does this job in his March column, “The EU’s Global Mission” distributed through Project-Syndicate:

“Another world is possible. But it is up to Europe to take the lead in achieving it.”

So the revolutionary project already has a vanguard, the only job left for the foot soldiers is to convince him/her/it to lead. How insightful! Any pessimism in this regard is ill-founded as

“the European project has been an enormous success, not only for Europe, but also for the world.”

Of course, like our Indian monkey-god Hanuman, Europe lacks ready self-confidence and needs a bear bard for encouragement. Stiglitz’s article does that job. Questioning the economistic common sense, he tells Europeans not to feel unconfident before the warlords in the US, as their competitors’ supremacy is baseless and phoney –

“…while GDP per capita has been rising in the US, most Americans are worse off today than they were five years ago. An economy that, year after year, leaves most of its citizens worse off is not a success.”

Moreover, the European Union’s mission is distinct, which are not laws, regulation, or phoney prosperity, but “long-lasting peace”, “greater understanding, underpinned by the myriad interactions that inevitably flow from commerce”. And “The EU has realized that dream” – “neighbors live together more peacefully”, “people move more freely and with greater security”. Stringent immigrant laws for and policing of the people from the South (this identity is very broad since it includes Black and Arab French, Muslim Europeans…) etc are perhaps aberrations, or may be the Southerners are racially ‘uncountable’ “within a new European identity that is not bound to national citizenship”.

Furthermore, Europe has mastered the competitive art of giving, and has surpassed the US –

“Europe has led the way, providing more assistance to developing countries than anyone else (and at a markedly higher fraction of its GDP than the US).”

Do we need to tell our Nobel laureate the economics of Aid, even AIDS?

Stiglitz too feels (not unlike Bush) that the world has changed during the past six years. However, he finds “democratic multilateralism” being challenged, human rights abrogated. Obviously he ignores all the contributions in grounding Bushism that earlier US governments made, especially Clinton’s, of which Stiglitz himself was a part. What if NATO was not less active earlier, Iraq too was continuously bombarded…

Stiglitz feels the need for multipolarity, and that Europe

“must become one of the central pillars of such a world by projecting what has come to be called “soft power” – the power and influence of ideas and example. Indeed, Europe’s success is due in part to its promotion of a set of values that, while quintessentially European, are at the same time global.”

Does it really matter if this whole discourse of “a set of [quintessentially European, but universal] values” seems hardly any different from Bush’s? Moreover, what are these values? First is “Democracy” – not just elections, “but also active and meaningful participation in decision making, which requires an engaged civil society, strong freedom of information norms, and a vibrant and diversified media that are not controlled by the state or a few oligarchs.”

Which formally democratic country officially denies these, and how many countries, including the EU members, provide safeguards against corporate-state monopoly over information and media? Further, the whole logic of the European monetary integration was to insulate strategic financial and economic institutions from any “active and meaningful” democratic influence, as it was considered external and an economic nuisance.

“The second value is social justice”, which is just individualism, however realized “only if we live in harmony with each other”. Does Bush deny this? The issue is rather who will establish the rules for that “harmony”.

What else?

In Stiglitz’s dream, the White Man’s burden definitely changes shoulders, but it remains the white man’s burden all the same –

“For the sake of all of us, Europe must continue to speak out – even more forcibly than it has in the past.”

Back to the old world – while the “world” remains the same – a white man’s world.

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