The other day we delved into a recent New York Times op-ed that sought to whitewash the massively corrupt Kirchner kleptocracy in Argentina, to demonize its creditors, and to defend its indefensible economic policies. The author of the op-ed was none other than the chief architect of those policies, and one of the Kirchners’ more prominent foreign courtiers and sycophants – economist Joseph E. Stiglitz.
This wasn’t Stiglitz’s first appearance here at Useful Stooges. In several articles last October, we pondered his perverse enthusiasm for command economies, his championing of a socialist U.N. superstate, and other perverse positions that make one wonder just how this character ever managed to score the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
We were still shaking our heads over Stiglitz’s Times op-ed when his name again made a prominent appearance in the press. On April 13, the Guardian mentioned Stiglitz in connection with the internationally notorious Panama Papers case.
You’ve heard of the Panama Papers, of course? They’re a trove of some 11.5 million documents that, leaked last year to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and first reported on earlier this month, have caused worldwide scandal. They describe in detail the use of various shell companies by powerful figures (including UAE president Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Saudi King Salman, and Icelandic premier Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson) for nefarious purposes ranging from fraud to tax evasion. The Guardian article outlined plans by the so-called JITSIC network – a task force of 31 major Western nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea, and South Africa – to take aggressive action against these activities.
How does Stiglitz figure in all this? Well, it turns out that while those responsible-minded JITSIC countries were criticizing Panama’s longtime willingness to host shady shell companies and cover up their crooked activities, Panama was handing Stiglitz a new gig. As the Guardian put it, “The Panama government announced that Joseph Stiglitz…would be one member of an international panel formed to review Panama’s legal and financial practices and recommend improvements.”
To us, this sounds like an exceedingly fishy development. First of all, Panama doesn’t need a Nobel Prize-winning economist to tell it to clean up its act; if it wants to be regarded as a transparent financial actor, what it has to do is pretty obvious. Second, given Stiglitz’s track record as an apologist for corrupt regimes, he’s highly unlikely to recommend that Panama institute any meaningful reforms.
What’s going on here, then? Most likely, Stiglitz is providing air cover – lending his name to Panama in its effort to whitewash its reputation as a cash hideout. Is he being paid for this? That’s one question the JITSIC countries might want an answer to – although even if he’s not collecting a fee this time around, his readiness to play ball with the creeps who run Panama deserves scrutiny. For this guy is looking more and more like an ambulance-chaser for unsavory governments.
Why does any of this matter? Well, one reason it matters is that places like the New York Times still take Stiglitz seriously as a wise, objective commentator on economic affairs. Another reason is that he’s on the faculty of Columbia University, which expects from its professors a high level of transparency – including full reporting to the college administration of any possible “financial conflicts of interest in research.” But although Stiglitz’s résumé repeatedly cries out “conflict of interest,” he hasn’t reported any such conflicts.
Just look at some of the folks he’s been in deep with over the years. In 2009, the generals who rule Myanmar took him on as a “consultant.” How much was he paid? What was the relationship between his work for the generals and his glowing public statements on Myanmar’s economy?
Stiglitz also “counseled” former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Again, what was his fee? Were his positive comments about Greece’s financial health compromised by these arrangements? In 2013 he invited Panandreou to speak at the Columbia World Leaders Forum – but, in violation of the university’s guidelines, he didn’t disclose their financial connection.
Was the invitation some kind of quid pro quo?
The same question arises in the case of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whom Stiglitz viewed as a close friend, whose economic policies he praised, and whom he invited to speak at the 2010 Columbia World Leaders Forum. That invitation brought fierce criticism on the website of the Columbia Spectator, where scores of Ethiopians charged the university with legitimizing a “tyrant” who was guilty of “genocide, ethnic cleansing…and other…atrocities.” Jagdish Baghwati, an Ethiopian economist at Columbia, condemned the invitation as the act of academic “entrepreneurs” who were using the college to “ingratiate” themselves with criminal regimes “to get PR and ‘goodies’ for themselves at African summits.” And in a letter to the university’s president, Ethiopian journalist Serkalem Fasil described how she was imprisoned for doing her job, gave birth prematurely as a result of abuse there, and, in the ultimate example of “incomprehensible vindictiveness,” was denied by Zenawi the incubator doctors said her baby needed.
And what about China? Stiglitz has some kind of relationship with the Renmin University of China Institute of Economic Research – which, of course, amounts to having a relationship with the Chinese state. Again, he hasn’t made public any information about income he’s earned from this gig. What he has made public is his supposed enthusiasm for an alternative to the single reserve currency – a position neatly in line with Beijing’s – and his claim that concerns about risks to the Chinese economy are overblown.
Then there’s Bolivia, where in a single day Stiglitz received two honorary doctorates. After meeting in 2006 with Evo Morales, that country’s socialist strongman (and longtime Castro chum), Stiglitz began speaking out in favor of Morales’s nationalization of private property. What happened at that meeting? Did money change hands? Or did Evo – who’s not exactly famous for his eloquence – dazzle Stiglitz with the brilliance of his argument for expropriation?
Are you beginning to discern a pattern here?
These aren’t the only leaders who’ve availed themselves of Stiglitz’s “services.” Others include Fernando Lugo, former president of Paraguay, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former prime minister of Spain. Stiglitz has been a “financial consultant” to the Icelandic government and has given “expert testimony” on Ireland’s sovereign wealth fund.
What did he pocket? Who knows? In none of these cases has Stiglitz disclosed how much he’s been paid for his work – or, for that matter, exactly what his “work” has consisted of. How much of his “consulting” for heads of state and government has involved actual consulting – and how much of it has amounted to nothing more than an agreement to publicly promote their horrible economic policies? In other words, is he simply raking in cash from leftist governments in exchange for positive PR – like a crooked film critic selling a movie producer a rave?
Stiglitz hasn’t only done deals with governments. He’s delivered speeches under the auspices of a long list of Funds and Centers, Institutes and Coalitions, Foundations and Iniatitives, Councils and Commissions. How much did they pay? Again, mum’s the word. (Even Hillary Clinton makes public her lecture fees.) But more to the point: what were they really paying for? Did Stiglitz give these institutions tough, smart advice that they perhaps didn’t want to hear – or, as with his governmental clients, did he affirm their own wisdom to their faces and then come away touting it to the world?
To be sure, if Stiglitz is monetizing his Nobel, he wouldn’t be the first to do so. But there can’t be too many other Nobelists who’ve been so aggressive about it. Put it this way: if they awarded a Nobel Prize for using your reputation as a serious economist to help prop up unscrupulous autocrats, he’d have no competition.