A rant from the President of the World Bank

Globalization and Its Discontents - Joseph E. Stiglitz

I guess I picked this up thinking that it would be interesting to see what a former president of the World Bank had to say about the globalisation debate. It was an interesting read but I sometimes wonder the extent of the appeal that this book would have since it is written by the former president of the World Bank. For instance if I were to hand this book to a left leaning person they would dismiss it out of hand because it was written by the former president of the world bank (let's see how many times I can say that), while when I showed it to a guy that was so far to the right, he made Ronald Reagan look like a left wing radical, he scoffed at it and said 'Stiglitz, he's a lefty'.



I did find this book interesting, though it seemed to be very much in the vein of 'well, the World Bank was set up to eliminate poverty, and it would have worked if not for the IMF'. Seriously, do you expect me to believe that? Why do you think I include the World Bank among the unholy trinity (of the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank). Well, it is suggested that the World Bank is generally headed up by Europeans, but then again Margaret Thatcher and Nicolas Sarkozy are also Europeans (though I get the feeling that Britain does not really like to consider itself as European, probably because they are special since they speak English).


The problem with rising to the top and attempting to implement change is that when you get up there you suddenly discover that there are all of these competing interests that you must consider when making such decisions. It would be all well and good to take all of the wealth off of the billionaires and give it to the poor, but if all the poor do is go and spend it, and live it up, you will discover that in the end they won't have been lifted out of poverty.


Anyway I have noticed that with some poor people, though not all of them. There are people on the pension that are quite frugal to the point that they are able to afford an overseas holiday. However, on the other, hand I have seen (and been one myself) where the first thing that you do when you get your pension cheque is to take it all out of the bank, and spend it all. It is one of the reasons I prefer to keep money in the bank because if I take it out I spend it.


In a way trying to solve all of the world's problems can be daunting in and of itself, but we must remember that this is a fallen world and that we will never live in a perfect world this side of the restoration of all things. However, it does not mean that we cannot go out and attempt to make it a better place. People have done that in the past. Remember that we now have universal health care (for what it is worth), free education (for what it is worth), safe streets, and welfare because people in the past have campaigned for it. William Wilberforce brought an end to slavery and Martin Luther broke the power of the Catholic Church. Change is possible, and moving away from the ideas that are binding and destroying our society is also possible.


The problem, as is outlined in this book, is that we are stuck with a mindset that simply does not work. In the same way that wars are fought by generals who have no idea of what it is like in the trenches, economic policy is developed in universities where people have no concept of what it is like to struggle in a capitalistic society. Our politicians live lives of luxury, and the corporate bosses are stuck in their walled enclosures not understanding what it is like to be an employee struggling with everything that seeks to squeeze money from you. You may be on a million dollars a year, but when somebody is earning only 1% of that, and having to pay for essentials that you simply don't even think about then there is a problem. You may be a nice guy, but if you don't understand the plight of the middle class, and you don't understand how somebody can support a family on $50000.00 then you have lost touch. You are no better than the aristocracy of old.


However we can't simply say that it is too hard and nothing can be done because Martin Luther broke the back of the Catholic Church, and William Wilberforce brought and end to slavery in England. These were two things that at the time seemed impossible. The factory workers of 19th century England could only dream of a day when they would receive fair wages and a safe workplace, and people in the Third World still dream of that possibility. We have that, but even then it is slowly being taken away. The introduction of the private health care rebate is creating a system where some can afford health care and others cannot. The same with fees for enducation, since everytime we raise fees we cut funding. We may still have subsidised education where as Bagladesh does not, but we are slowly moving in that direction.


I have probably said much about that before, however I want to talk about one of the assumptions that seems to be permeating about: the Efficient Market Theory. The idea is that because the market is made up of many small people then as a collective they act in an reasonable manner, while individually they may not. The idea is that the market is always at a point of perfection due to a belief in mass psychology. However that is rubbish on two counts. Simply because we are talking about mass psychology does not mean that the mass behaves in a reasonable manner. Take the French Revolution for instance. That was a mass rebellion against the established order, and they did not act in a reasonable manner. In fact all hell broke loose. Taking this idea over to the markets has the same effect. Bad news tends to create mass hysteria meaning that a company, or the broad based market, will loose a lot more than what it should. Usually, in relation to the market, this happens after a period of mass euphoria, where the mass believes that nothing can go wrong and the market will always go up.


However the idea that the market is made up of a mass of individuals is also a myth. While to an extent our savings are exposed to the market, this is generally through a series of proxies, namely the banks and the superfunds. As it turns out the collective of retail shareholders (shareholders who have a direct exposure to the market through individual shareholdings) is quite small. The bulk of the market is actually owned by a handful of individuals in the form of a company. While a company, such as AMP (a large Australian Superfund) may have a number of fund managers, it is not so much the individual manager that holds the shares but the company as a whole. Also, while we may have our super in a specific fund, we generally do not know the actual make up of that fund (is it shares, and if so, what shares does it hold?). As such, the idea of the Efficient Market is a myth, because there is no mass psychology, but rather a small group of individuals that invest money on behalf of the masses.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/442641953