Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty Address Converging Crises on Inequality

The pandemic, the presidential election, globalization, climate change, and other issues are covered in a transatlantic forum.

Leesa Ko
September 15, 2020

On September 10, 2020, Joseph Stiglitz, a University Professor and 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, and Thomas Piketty, a French economist and author, engaged in a virtual trans-Atlantic dialogue on some of the world’s most pressing current issues: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising global inequalities, threats to democracy, and the upcoming U.S. presidential election. French journalist Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde moderated the simulcast event, which was live-streamed in English and French.

In her opening remarks, Kauffmann mentioned how the pandemic, major unrest in American cities, costly globalization, and climate change all intersect. She reminded us that “stakes are high not only for American voters, but for the rest of the world.”

U.S. and European Responses to the Economic Implications of COVID-19

Asked about his assessment of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, Stiglitz said the U.S. was not prepared because of its lack of strong social protections and a universal healthcare system. The coronavirus highlighted preexisting economic, health, and racial inequalities in this country, he said, calling it the “culmination of a forty-year attack on government by Republicans.”

As for Europe, Piketty said that the situation was markedly better compared to that of the U.S. However, he pointed out that the EU “didn’t use this opportunity to change the rules of the game as much as [it] should have,” referencing how the EU’s COVID-19 recovery deal amounted to less than three percent of the European GDP.

Effects of the Pandemic on Globalization

Stiglitz responded that there are two sides: “On one hand, we see that we are sharing one planet, just like with climate change, [as] we all benefit from global efforts to develop a vaccine. In that sense, there’s been support for globalization and multilateralism. On the other hand, we realize that we’ve constructed an economic system that’s not resilient.” To illustrate his latter observation, he pointed to weak global supply chains, which resulted in mask and ventilator shortages.

Piketty then discussed some obstacles that may hinder Europe from capitalizing on the current moment to move toward a greener agenda. “There’s a big risk that we will make the same mistakes with monetary policy as we did in the 2008 global financial crisis.” Policies that benefit the wealthy will only aggravate existing environmental and social inequalities.

The Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election

Asked about Joe Biden’s progressive economic program, Stiglitz noted that “the entire country has moved in a more progressive direction,” and the American dream is not accessible for most.

Piketty said that for Europe, a normal partnership with the U.S. in the face of global health and climate crises was at stake in the presidential election. “This is important for Europe and the rest of the world.”

The discussion was followed by a Q&A with viewers who posed questions via social media. To watch the full webinar, visit Maison Francaise. Related resources are available here and here.

This event was co-presented by Maison Française, Columbia Global Centers | Paris, and Le Monde Media Group as a preview of the inaugural Festival du Monde NYC with the Columbia Maison Francaise, which is scheduled for March 12 and 13, 2021.