By THOMAS B. EDSALL
Joseph E. Stiglitz’s new book, "The Price of Inequality," is the single most comprehensive counterargument to both Democratic neoliberalism and Republican laissez-faire theories. While credible economists running the gamut from center right to center left describe our bleak present as the result of seemingly unstoppable developments - globalization and automation, a self-replicating establishment built on “meritocratic” competition, the debt-driven collapse of 2008 - Stiglitz stands apart in his defiant rejection of such notions of inevitability. He seeks to shift the terms of the debate.
It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. "While there may be underlying economic forces at play," he writes, "politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest." But politics, he insists, is subject to change.
Stiglitz may prove most prescient when he warns of a society governed by "rules of the game that weaken the bargaining strength of workers vis-a-vis capital." At present, he says,"the dearth of jobs and the asymmetries in globalization have created competition for jobs in which workers have lost and the owners of capital have won." We are becoming a country "in which the rich live in gated communities, send their children to expensive schools and have access to first-rate medical care. Meanwhile, the rest live in a world marked by insecurity, at best mediocre education and in effect rationed health care." Except for a brief period in 2008-9, when the stock market decline hit the wealthy the hardest, the trends would seem to be moving toward Stiglitz's pessimistic vision of the future, with little prospect of change no matter who wins office on Nov. 6.
Thomas B. Edsall, the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, writes a weekly online column for The Times.