“America has achieved the distinction of being the country with the highest level of income inequality among the advanced countries,” prefaced economist Joseph Stiglitz last month as he delivered the 2014 Moynihan Lecture. “Unfortunately the United States has been a trendsetter; as others have followed America’s lead they too have increasing inequality.”
And this this inequality, which undermines both the planet’s society and its economies, is not inevitable, he continued; it is the product of policies and politics that can be changed.
And so Stiglitz, whose Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science can sit alongside the Nobel he received in 2001, addressed a subject he considers “one of the most critical issues facing the world today” — income inequality. The Moynihan Prize honors individuals who use sound analysis and social science research to inform public policy, while also contributing to the public discourse on society’s most pressing issues, much like the prize’s namesake, the late Senator Moynihan, did.
Stiglitz’s illustrious academic career, he’s currently at Columbia University, is coupled with an impressive career in public service. He was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1993 to 1995 during the Clinton administration; and from 1997 to 2000, he was the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank. Based on citations, he’s the fourth-most influential economist living today.
While thanks to Thomas Piketty’s newish book on the subject, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, income inequality is suddenly on all the right lips, Stiglitz’s own book on the subject, The Price of Inequality, came out in 2012. (And Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape in 2013.)
Speaking at Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University on May 8, Stiglitz reviews first the deleterious effects of inequality, then offers some specific ideas for closing the divide. Unlike the somewhat grandiose suggestions in Piketty’s book, Stiglitz’s policy prescriptions — from his book and from the lecture — are achievable (if still ambitious), such as ending preferential tax rates for capital gains and dividends, more support for basic education, increasing the minimum wage, improved financial sector regulations.
His full speech appears above.