More idiocy from Joe Stiglitz

How do you destroy a country’s economy? Well, here are a few ideas. Hike taxes. Overregulate. Ratchet up government spending. Increase welfare entitlements. Make it your goal not to achieve greater prosperity for everyone but to achieve greater income and wealth equality.

Joseph Stiglitz

This, after all, is how the chavistas ran Venezuela, once one of the world’s most prosperous nations, into the ground. And, believe it or not, these are the prescriptions offered by economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom we profiled here at some length in October 2015 and whom we’re revisiting now because of a characteristically wacky article by him that appeared in the Guardian on May 30.

But first, a reminder: this, as we noted four years ago, is a man who has taught at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; who served as chief economist at the World Bank; who was a top advisor to the United Nations; who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine; and who, yes, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Paul Krugman

How, you may ask, did a man with such cockeyed economic ideas win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics? Well, remember, Paul Krugman won one too. And Yasir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every decision they make in Stockholm or Oslo is a brilliant one.

If you think it’s unfair to compare the economic philosophy of a Nobel laureate with the cockeyed socialist ideas that ruined Venezuela, consider this: Stiglitz is a socialist – an actual member of the Socialist International who, in 2008, headed up a Socialist International commission charged with figuring out a solution to the global financial crisis. He’s an enemy of the nation-state and particularly of American-style democratic capitalism, and would replace the current world order with a socialist global government, complete with a new global currency and a global income tax.

Georg Papandreou

But while we still have nation-states, Stiglitz isn’t above profiting from some of the more poorly run ones in ways that call into question his professional integrity. For example, he weighed in repeatedly in places like Time magazine on the Greek financial crisis, which he blamed entirely on Germany, not on Greece; what he failed to mention was he was a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou. In 2014, when New York judge Thomas P. Griesa ordered Argentina to pay its creditors, Stiglitz badmouthed the judge, called the creditors “vultures,” pronounced that “America is throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” and passionately defended Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner; again, he omitted to inform his readers that he had long been on the Kirchner payroll, supposedly serving as an economic advisor, although to many observers it certainly looked as if he was selling his name and reputation to whitewash a kleptocracy.

Cristina Kirchner

Which brings us to Stiglitz’s recent piece for the Guardian. There’s not really anything new in it; what’s remarkable is the timing. Here’s the headline: “Neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried. Where next?” And here’s the subhead: “For decades the US and others have pursued a free-market agenda which has failed spectacularly.” An incredible thing to say at a time when the American economy is stronger than it has been in decades and is the world’s most competitive, with record employment and income levels for pretty much every population group and every category of job.

Donald J. Trump

Many people credit President Trump for this extraordinary boom. Not Stiglitz. He not only pretends that the boom isn’t happening; he smears Trump as an avatar of “far-right nationalism,” which to him is even worse than plain old neoliberalism or the “centre-left reformism” of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In Stiglitz’s view, all three of these approaches should be junked in favor of a “radically different economic agenda” that he calls “progressive capitalism,” under which free markets would be a thing of the past and state-run economies would be the order of the day.

Stiglitz’s picture of what “progressive capitalism” would look like and how it would work is heavy on abstractions and light on specifics. “Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets…. government [should take] a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes.” Yet by the end of the article it’s clear what he‘s calling for. To be sure, he’s careful not to use the word Communism or even socialism, but those are the generally accepted names for what he prefers to call “progressive capitalism.”

Again, how weird to encounter a brief for socialism at a time when the chavistas’ Venezuela is dying and Trump’s America is thriving! But that’s old Joe for you.

Meet Venezuela’s not-so-very-oppositional “opposition” leader

Over the last few days we’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s slimier chavistas. But let’s not leave the impression that all the unsavory public figures in that country are members of the ruling party. Not officially, anyway.

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Henry Ramos Allup

Take Henry Lisandro Ramos Allup, a lawyer who is Secretary General of Acción Democrática, Venezuela’s largest opposition party, and who represents Venezuela in the Latin American Parliament. Acción Democrática isn’t a conservative or classical liberal party; like Chávez‘s PSUV, it’s a left-wing party. Indeed, Ramos is currently Vice President of the Socialist International. And although he’s purportedly a leader of the opposition to Maduro’s government, he’s very – shall we say – diplomatic when discussing the ruling party. He believes, he says, not in confrontation but in respectful discussion and debate.

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Léopoldo López

The man he does criticize – and very fiercely, at that – is his fellow opposition leader, Léopoldo López. Founder of the pro-freedom party Voluntad Popular, López is Venezuela’s most admired politician. He’s been in prison since February of last year, having been locked up by Maduro because he loudly and eloquently assailed the regime’s systematic violation of basic freedoms and human rights. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other such groups have called for López‘s immediate release; Ramos, however, has persisted in slamming him even while he’s been in the slammer, condemning his spirited approach as counterproductive and divisive. The irony here, of course, is that Ramos’s cheap, cowardly swipes at López are nothing if not divisive for the Venezuelan opposition. This past February, when leaders from a range of opposition parties took part in a demonstration protesting López‘s continued imprisonment, Ramos stayed away, as did his cronies from Acción Democrática. How could that be interpreted, other than as a tacit endorsement of the chavista practice of putting its real opponents behind bars?

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William R. Brownfield, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela

Why is Ramos so hostile to López? One reason is doubtless sheer envy. A 2006 cable, written by U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William R. Brownfield and later made public by Wikileaks, described Ramos as a “crude” and “abrasive” figure whose “repellent” personality and lack of imagination made him a burden to his own party. López, by contrast, is unusually intelligent, articulate, and attractive – a stirring, courageous figure whose vigorous denunciations of the oppressive and fiscally disastrous Maduro regime have struck a chord among millions of increasingly fed-up Venezuelans.

But another reason for Ramos’s criticism of López, we suspect, is that Ramos, a socialist, isn’t really all that opposed to the ideology of the Maduro regime. On the contrary, there’s ample evidence that Ramos has intimate and profitable links to what one of his critics has called “the revolution’s most unsavory characters.” Welcome, then, to Venezuela, where even the head of the largest opposition party is uncomfortably close to being a chavista stooge himself.