WASHINGTON (AP) — Many of the economic policies being pitched by Democratic presidential candidates are rooted in the ideas pioneered by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who teaches at Columbia University.
In his new book “People, Power and Profits ,” Stiglitz outlines his case for “progressive capitalism” in which government programs for health care, retirement and housing can compete against private sector options. He believes that greater competition made possible through the government will improve Americans’ quality of life.
Q: We have this debate politically about capitalism versus socialism. But you use the term progressive capitalism. What does that mean?
A: It really is a response to a lot of the confusion around the word socialism, which was traditionally defined as the government ownership of the means of production. No one is really advocating that anymore, not even in Europe.
Progressive capitalism is not anti-market. It reflects the a broad consensus that any successful economy needs a mix of markets, government, civil society and a variety of other institutional arrangements such as non-profit universities.
Q: You propose some big ideas such as government-backed health care and retirement. Why should the government have these responsibilities?
A: What I emphasize is having a public option. The government wouldn’t be the only choice, but it would enrich private choices.
On health care, it’s clear that the private sector is failing to provide for the needs of large numbers who are uninsured or have costly medical expenses. With retirement, the idea is you can save more money through Social Security and get a commensurate increase in benefits.
These are three examples where a public option would enhance the ability of ordinary Americans to have a middle class life. A public option would provide competition to the private sector, encouraging them to provide better products at lower prices.
AP: You’re critical of Republicans. In your opinion, is there anything that Republicans got right on economic policy?
Stiglitz: At one point in 1986, President Ronald Reagan got right the idea that we ought to broaden the tax base and take out a lot of the loopholes that had been put in by corporate interests. But over time, new loopholes were added to the tax code. Still, the original vision was right.
Q: Have you been talking to any Democratic presidential campaigns about any of the policies?
A: We put the ideas out there. You see them picked up by a number of candidates and people in Congress, who are pushing the importance of creating a more competitive economy and adopting new rules for antitrust. If you listen to some of the candidates, these ideas have clearly resonated with Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. Bernie Sanders and most of the other progressive candidates have policies that are consistent with these ideas.
Q: Ultimately, in this book, are you arguing more for a better quality of life or for faster growth?
A: My emphasis is really on having a better quality of life. The objective of the economy is to serve society.
People care about their sense of security, their retirement, the education of their children and access to health care, all those things that may or may not be well captured in economic growth numbers.