Monday, April 21, 2014
Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space

The Post-Crisis Crises

NEW YORK – In the shadow of the euro crisis and America’s fiscal cliff, it is easy to ignore the global economy’s long-term problems. But, while we focus on immediate concerns, they continue to fester, and we overlook them at our peril.

The most serious is global warming. While the global economy’s weak performance has led to a corresponding slowdown in the increase in carbon emissions, it amounts to only a short respite. And we are far behind the curve: Because we have been so slow to respond to climate change, achieving the targeted limit of a two-degree (centigrade) rise in global temperature, will require sharp reductions in emissions in the future.

Some suggest that, given the economic slowdown, we should put global warming on the backburner. On the contrary, retrofitting the global economy for climate change would help to restore aggregate demand and growth.

At the same time, the pace of technological progress and globalization necessitates rapid structural changes in both developed and developing countries alike. Such changes can be traumatic, and markets often do not handle them well.

Just as the Great Depression arose in part from the difficulties in moving from a rural, agrarian economy to an urban, manufacturing one, so today’s problems arise partly from the need to move from manufacturing to services. New firms must be created, and modern financial markets are better at speculation and exploitation than they are at providing funds for new enterprises, especially small and medium-size companies.

Moreover, making the transition requires investments in human capital that individuals often cannot afford. Among the services that people want are health and education, two sectors in which government naturally plays an important role (owing to inherent market imperfections in these sectors and concerns about equity).

Before the 2008 crisis, there was much talk of global imbalances, and the need for the trade-surplus countries, like Germany and China, to increase their consumption. That issue has not gone away; indeed, Germany’s failure to address its chronic external surplus is part and parcel of the euro crisis. China’s surplus, as a percentage of GDP, has fallen, but the long-term implications have yet to play out.

America’s overall trade deficit will not disappear without an increase in domestic savings and a more fundamental change in global monetary arrangements. The former would exacerbate the country’s slowdown, and neither change is in the cards. As China increases its consumption, it will not necessarily buy more goods from the United States. In fact, it is more likely to increase consumption of non-traded goods – like health care and education – resulting in profound disturbances to the global supply chain, especially in countries that had been supplying the inputs to China’s manufacturing exporters.

Finally, there is a worldwide crisis in inequality. The problem is not only that the top income groups are getting a larger share of the economic pie, but also that those in the middle are not sharing in economic growth, while in many countries poverty is increasing. In the US, equality of opportunity has been exposed as a myth.

While the Great Recession has exacerbated these trends, they were apparent long before its onset. Indeed, I (and others) have argued that growing inequality is one of the reasons for the economic slowdown, and is partly a consequence of the global economy’s deep, ongoing structural changes.

An economic and political system that does not deliver for most citizens is one that is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually, faith in democracy and the market economy will erode, and the legitimacy of existing institutions and arrangements will be called into question.

The good news is that the gap between the emerging and advanced countries has narrowed greatly in the last three decades. Nonetheless, hundreds of millions of people remain in poverty, and there has been only a little progress in reducing the gap between the least developed countries and the rest.

Here, unfair trade agreements – including the persistence of unjustifiable agricultural subsidies, which depress the prices upon which the income of many of the poorest depend – have played a role. The developed countries have not lived up to their promise in Doha in November 2001 to create a pro-development trade regime, or to their pledge at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to provide significantly more assistance to the poorest countries.

The market will not, on its own, solve any of these problems. Global warming is a quintessential “public goods” problem. To make the structural transitions that the world needs, we need governments to take a more active role – at a time when demands for cutbacks are increasing in Europe and the US.

As we struggle with today’s crises, we should be asking whether we are responding in ways that exacerbate our long-term problems. The path marked out by the deficit hawks and austerity advocates both weakens the economy today and undermines future prospects. The irony is that, with insufficient aggregate demand the major source of global weakness today, there is an alternative: invest in our future, in ways that help us to address simultaneously the problems of global warming, global inequality and poverty, and the necessity of structural change.

Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space
Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (34)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedNicolas Bollion

    Stiglitz is once again exagearating in this article. According to an OECD report I read, inequality has grown in almost every industrialized country but all levels of income have improved. That's the general picture. Globalization and economic policy are a few of many factors that have contributed to this increase in addition to a reduced redistribution within families (more singles and educated increasingly marrying educated) and immigration (mostly low educated people, increasing the number of people in the lowest income brackets). In some countries however the gap got smaller (Spain, Ireland, Greece, Turkey), as economic development moved landinward during these years. In France inequality stayed flat. In developing countires the picture is also mixed: inequality dropped in Brazil, with poorest and middle incomes rising faster than the highest incomes. In China it rose considerably but that is mainly because untill recently it were regions that were already more advanced that benefited most from globalization and foreign investment. The poorest provinces now grow faster than the richest. Income inequality in these emerging countries is matched by huge productivity differences. Yet, in all these countries, the poorest have advanced fast. And look at the poorest of the poorest: malnutrition rates are dropping and so do infant mortality and illiteracy rates. I agree inequality is a problem but the poorest in this world are doing better every year and these factors contributing to rising inequlity in the west will soon come to a halt or be reversed. Unit labor costs f.e. in low cost countries (China/Eastern and Central Europe) are rising fast. All this alarmism is not improving the economic climate Stiglitz is so worried about.

  2. CommentedOle C G Olesen

    For CLARITY i repeat the Links provided below as they did not work when i tested them

    You do Youself a favour taking a look !


  3. CommentedOle C G Olesen

    There is a very SIMPLE SOLUTION to the current World Economic Crisis :

    ( the ONLY solution ! )

    NATIONALIZE ALL BANKS !... and ALL their Holdings :

    The REASON for this necesary HUMANITARIAN step are FACTS :

    Research by the Technical Institute, University of Zurich, Switzerland :


    add to this the Vast Stock-holdings embedded in OFF SHORE Havens and we can safely estimate
    that these approx 150 Companies own between 50 - 75 % of THE WORLD

    We also KNOW who owns the lions share of CONTROLLING INTEREST in these 150 Companies


    Citation from : :

    Let's take a look at the Fed shareholders: according to researcher Eric Samuelson, as of November, 1997, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (which completely dominates the other eleven branches through stock ownership, control, influence, having the only permanent voting seat on the Federal Open Market Committee and by handling all open market bond transactions), which has 19,752,655 shares outstanding, was majority-owned by two banks - Chase Manhattan bank (now merged with Chemical Bank) with 6,389,445 shares or 32.35%, and Citibank, N.A., with 4,051,851 shares or 20.51%. Together those two banks own 10,441,295 shares or 52.86%: majority control.

    We do KNOW who controls Chase Manhattan ..and CITI Bank not to mention other involved secretive Banks Controlled by a few Individuals … I could name names.. but ABSTAIN … You can get a hint by reading Above well documented narrative : “ Money-masters “ .. a remarkable piece of research and knowledge ..

    So ... There are NO CONSPIRACY THEORIES ... there are only FACTS ..plain to see .. for everyone !

    We therefore KNOW who controls between 50 and 75 % of all Capital in the world
    As well as the US Dollar System and the Federal Reserve System

    These entities have now STOLEN somewhere between 25 and 35 TRILLION US Dollar from the Public coffers across the Western World and have been bying Equity shares but no Gouvernment Bonds for the free capitals

    Therefore the TIME has come the Interest of HUMANITY
    who with the HELP of subservant POLITICIANS
    during the last 5 Years have comitted the biggest FINANCIAL THEFT known in History

    To Paraphrase CATO : Secretae Argentarii delendae sunt !

    And to the latin scholars : please correct as appropriate

  4. CommentedLaurence Logan Lechumanan

    Can I say that the Laissez-faire economy / free market has failed to lead and create a better world. If G is to be present strongly 'Doha... & G8...' than what is democratic about liberalising an economy.

  5. CommentedAbdella Abdou Abdou

    Professor Stiglitz,

    I enjoyed your article. I like to see some more on your concluding statement. That is, how do we "address simultaneously the problems of global warming, global inequality and poverty, and the necessity of structural change." Hope one of your next articles elaborates on this.

  6. CommentedNirmalan Dhas

    We need to be clear on the type of changes required and the amount of resources required to make the change. We know the rate at which we consume these resources on a daily basis and so we can work out how long what we have left will last. If we subtract the amount of resources we require to make the change from the total amount of resources we have available we will know how much we can consume before we run out of the resources required to make this change and how long it will take to consume this amount. This will give us an idea of the time we have left within which to complete the transition. While miracles may happen, in general it is not possible to argue with global warming or ask it to wait for our political processes to get their act together. I think most of us have seen Australia burning…

  7. CommentedPhilani Lubanyana

    “The great financial crisis of 2007-09 called into question market fundamentalism. The trickle-down theory of market fundamentalism has not worked. While it has generated growth, some of which are financially fictitious and unsustainable, it exacerbated inequality, unemployment and poverty. However, rather than taking corner solutions of either market fundamentalism or total state control, we should engage in theory and in practice to find the right mix between the two, realizing that there is NO SINGLE MODEL for all societies. There is a role for both market and state forces; and they should be harnessed and regulated to achieve sustainable development from an ecological, social and economic viewpoint… There are three pillars to development – growth, Africa distribution and sustainability” Vicente Paolo Yu. We need to emphasize that Washington Consensus have failed to uplift the African economies, now most of African countries are looking toward East (Beijing Consensus). Although the world economy is sluggishing but Africa’s economy is booming thanks to China’s hunger for commodities. Although African economy is thriving but it is not diversifying! Although the African economy is blooming but the levels of inequalities are still enormous! The question that needs to be asked is: will this boom be sustained? Philani Lubanyana@Umlazi.South Africa

  8. CommentedTodd Clay

    Everyone's beating around the bush. It's not just global's global POLLUTION! That's what all this boils down to is pollution whether it's in the air or water or too much light or noise. It doesn't matter until we address every element of what unbridled capitalism has done to the planet. Every where you go no matter what corner of the the middle of the ocean we have the plastic bag island, at every oil rig there's ground level pollution that we don't even acknowledge that seeps into existing waterways and ends up killing people. People need to get real!

  9. CommentedJoseph Concordia

    Dr. Stiglitz thank you for including this crucial fact in your article. Economic disparity is at the root of so much social and political conflict throughout the world it is amazing that it does not receive more direct priority attention by governments, informed public, and academic institutions. The reason for this certainly is easy to discern. With the power structure populated by the "haves" it leaves the "have not" demographic incapable of making the fundamental changes in policies, laws, or practices needed to reverse the condition. What I fear is that the ultimate result of continuous degradation in the distribution of economic resource and franchise is a move to anarchy by those being deprived. While many say it will never happen in the USA, I believe it can happen here as it did many years ago in France, and in Russia, and elsewhere. The political philosophy that is most responsible for continuing this dangerous trend is that espoused by extremists of Libertarian thinking. Their utilitarian philosophy ignores the reality of the natural distribution of human capabilities. Some people are able to make it on their own, others cannot and will always need help. Ignoring the needs of the needy will eventually expand the demographic of the have-not and drive it to the level where they will demand the changes, under force of arms, that should be granted freely and fairly by a responsive aristocracy.

  10. Commentedsrinivasan gopalan

    Few would question the due concerns flagged off by Mr Stiglitz but the apathy with which most of the countries treat global warming issues reveals abysmal level of understanding the real calamitous implications such gross ignorance entails. In recent years, floods, famines, biting cold and flinty summer had been the bane of many a nation but nobody seems to dig deeper into these natural aberrations that cause incalculable pains to millions. Even as the reference to inequality within and across countries is a matter of worrisome concern, the plight of dispossessed and poor due to the weather-related aberrations continues to be irremediably acute. It is time that responsible countries of G 20 even as they coordinated to rescue the failed banking industry across the world in general and the developed countries in particular should show some modicum of real concern for the damaging repercussions of environment-related problems. Nature abhors vacuum and if the global leadership is lamentably jejune with any fresh idea to stem the global warming before long, the future for mankind is fraught with grave forebodings of no less ravaging dimension than the financial meltdown inflicted in the aftermath of 2008! G.Srinivasan, Journalist, New Delhi

  11. CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

    Hi Joseph,

    Kudos on yet another seminal article, one which should be required reading for (federal) government leaders around the world.

    But further (and complementary to your excellent piece) on this topic, I must say that the massive agricultural subsidies we have seen in some Western nations over the past decades, (especially the U.S. and France) effectively prevent entire continents from feeding themselves.

    How? In Africa for example, it is often cheaper for consumers to purchase imported foods and other items from the West, than it is to build up the infrastructure and industry necessary to allow Africans to grow their own crops, raise their own livestock, or build their own tractors.

    Therefore, this is one of the reasons the formation of a middle class ratio comparable to developed nations has grown markedly slower in Africa over the decades than it would have been without Western (domestic) ag subsidies.

    Quite without bad intent, but nevertheless still extant in the worldwide economy, Western nations have been holding back African agricultural investment and growth for decades, but only on account of our massively subsidized agricultural sector.

    But dropping our subsidies quickly now would cause great harm to vulnerable families in Africa, Asia and South America -- as prices would steeply and immediately rise to their non-subsidized benchmark.

    If free trade agreements are successfully concluded between Canada, the U.S. and Europe, those subsidies will at some point disappear, but this must be done very carefully -- as thousands, perhaps millions of lives will hang in the balance.

    For example; Can anybody tell me what would happen if 300-million+ consumers in Africa, Asia and possibly South America suddenly couldn't afford to buy groceries if a clumsy free trade deal created by the West were to go into effect?

    It IS logical to streamline trade arrangements between nations with the hope that barriers to trade will increase investment and opportunity.

    The benefits could be more competition, lower prices for consumers (without having to use multi-billions of taxpayer dollars to achieve those lower prices!) better quality goods and more choices for consumers. With lower or nonexistent tariffs, taxes, and a universal regulatory environment between Western nations, domestic businesses could then afford to go on a hiring spree, in order to meet higher demand. Resulting in real GDP growth.

    All of these things and more, are certainly possible with the right agreement and could easily benefit millions of citizens in all signatory nations.

    These particular free trade agreements are about more than just the normal bi-lateral trade and regulations between two continents (North America and Europe) -- as the implications for other continents are almost too large to contemplate.

    Still, these agreements are long-overdue and I look forward to successful and outstanding agreements, ones which take into careful account the impacts they will have on developing nation economies.

    Best regards, JBS

  12. CommentedShane Beck

    The most serious global problem is population. The AGW is merely the result of the population X consumption X environmental impact. As Indian and Chinese middle class grows so will their environmental impact. Also under globalization, carbon emissions are basically just exported to the least restrictive environment. The only way to restrict such carbon emission transfers is through carbon tariffs (gasp, protectionism!!)
    On the jobs front, America's economic transition from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy is not going to be very successful. The first reason is that services are less jobs intensive than the manufacturing sector. The second reason is that ultimately service jobs can be offshored to the lowest common denominator.
    The third problem is that previous booms depended upon the availability of cheap energy in the form of cheap oil. It is no coincidence that the GFC hit when the price of oil went sky high. In a sense the price of oil is in itself a regulating feedback system, if Europe, the United States and China were to recover and experience a boom, the demand and price of oil would send them back into a slow growth mode. Maybe the extraction of large quantities of shale oil will provide a cheap energy source for economic recovery, but I doubt it. The costs of transitioning an economy to alternative energy sources must be taken into account not only in monetary terms but in time costs. It took over 50 years for the western world to become "motorized" and that was in an environment of cheap oil and cheap money. It is going to be a lot harder to transition a economy in an environment of slow growth, national deficits and high welfare expenditures.

  13. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Dr. Stiglitz raises a number of issues, almost a complete range of issues that plague the world economy, but I would like to single out one that has been constantly raised as a means for salvation, education. In the developing world, this is almost as important as basic needs, but are we sure that this is that simple a case for the developed world? U.S. for example where student loans touch $1 Trillion, makes no connection between where the jobs are and where education is headed and in absence of a market clearing mechanism, the price of education has been peaking; this is further aggravated by surplus graduates pushing salaries down further while jobs have to wait for students who are still to enroll in the right programs to be able to avail the opportunity.

    Procyon Mukherjee