9 February 2010

Nobel Prize for Economics (& Atkinson Award for Imagery): Joseph Stiglitz

Today's Independent has an interesting interview with Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, in which he is described as having 'the veteran teacher's ability to put the intellectually inferior at their ease'.

Unlike the economics teachers of my undergraduate days (who only inspired me to drop the subject in favour of sociology), Stiglitz has quite a way with words that I've blogged about before.

How good an economist he is, I have no idea, but this isn't the first time that I've been impressed by the ease and frequency with which he uses imagery to make his points intelligible to wider audiences.

Here are some samples from the article in today's Independent, followed by video clips of him from televised interviews over the past year or so.

Garbage disposal service
The US government, Stiglitz says, was reduced to the role of garbage disposal service for the banks' toxic assets, bad loans and worthless securities they themselves had created.

Safety net
The safety net should focus on protecting individuals; but the safety net was extended to corporations, in the belief that the consequences of not doing so would be too horrific. Once extended, it will be difficult to withdraw.

The world-weary response of the media and the politicians, after the immediate horrors have passed – to give in to the financial sector's blackmail.

A gun to our heads
He reminds us that the banks have effectively tried to keep "a gun to our heads", that says that if we don't keep them going on their terms then they will "kill the economy".

The market is a crazy man
"You're dealing with a crazy man, you're asking what I can do to placate a crazy man: Having got what he wants he will still kill you."

The Great American Robbery
His sheer indignation at what he calls "the Great American Robbery" – that multi-trillion dollar bailout for the banks sanctioned by the Bush and Obama administrations – is as awesome as the sums involved, and as understandable.

Calm sea of financial stability
According to Stiglitz, far from free markets delivering a calm ocean of financial stability, they have delivered us a financial crisis, on average, every year or two.

Stiglitz on 'tail-spins', 'diseases' and 'party-poopers':

(If you're interested in how effectively imagery can be used in speeches and presentations, see Chapter 7 of Lend Me Your Ears: 'Painting Pictures with words: the use of imagery and anecdotes', pp. 215-240).