Art Paper: Critical Summary — Joseph Stiglitz; Globalization and Its Discontents

We wrote a number of critical summaries of artists’ works (paintings, sculpture, writings, whatever) with a partner. This is the third, although it was in response to some of economist Joseph Stiglitz’s writings on globalization, rather than writing explicitly targeted at art.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel prize-winning economist and former economic head of the World Bank. His book  “Globalization and its Discontents” is written as an exposé on the failures of the global economic system regarding third-world countries with under-developed economies. The book does not discuss art, but the provided excerpt discusses globalization as a phenomenon, and globalization has had a large impact on society, and thus the art produced.

Stiglitz motivates his discussion by discussing the anti-globalization riots around the world, most notably at the World Trade Organization 1999 meeting in Seattle. His first task is to describe the good that globalization has done around the world: getting cheaper milk to poor children in Jamaica via trade deals, ending wars by giving former guerillas jobs financed by the World Bank, disease and AIDS control by countless organizations in Africa. But the ills – like poverty in Africa– that globalization has not cured are numerous, and globalization has even caused problems. In Russia, globalization – in the heavily West-engineered transition to capitalism – “brought unprecedented poverty: in many respects, for most of the people.” This compares poorly with China’s successful transition.

Similar situations and collapses around the globe have led critics to allege hypocrisy against the West and its global institutions. Stiglitz pulls no punches: “the critics are right.” Third-world countries in search of loans were forced to engage in lasseiz-faire free-market capitalism at a level that the United States abandoned in response to (and in many cases before) the Great Depression. Newly-enforced intellectual property rights meant that millions in third-world countries could no longer afford the medicine required to keep them alive. Loan-based aid deals have been structured so that even in miserable failure the country in need is forced to repay the debt. Stiglitz claims that “these problems are hardly new – but the increasingly vehement worldwide reactions against the policies that drive globalization is a significant change.”

Here at last, Stiglitz does what so few authors does: he dares to define globalization. It “is the closer integration of the countries and peoples of the world which has been brought about by the enormous reduction of costs of transportation and communication, and the breaking down of artificial barriers to the flows of goods, services, knowledge, and (to a lesser extent) people across borders.”

The remainder of the excerpt details the failures of the international systems and the historical reasons behind them, but it is an argument in economics and adds no impact on the evaluation of art compared to the situations described above and the definition of globalization he provides.