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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Stiglitz: The UN Takes Charge (Update: and The Economic Lessons of the Iraq War)

Joseph Stiglitz says the UN has a key role to play in "reforming the global financial and economic system":

The UN Takes Charge, by Joseph Stiglitz, Commentary, Project Syndicate: ...On June 23, a United Nations conference ... reached a consensus both about the causes of the downturn and why it was affecting developing countries so badly. It outlined some of the measures that should be considered and established a working group to explore the way forward...

The agreement was ... in many ways ... a clearer articulation of the crisis and what needs to be done than that offered by the G-20, the UN showed that decision-making needn’t be restricted to a self-selected club, lacking political legitimacy, and largely dominated by those who had considerable responsibility for the crisis in the first place. Indeed, the agreement showed the value of a more inclusive approach – for example, by asking key questions that might be too politically sensitive for some of the larger countries to raise, or by pointing out concerns that resonate with the poorest, even if they are less important for the richest.

One might have thought that the United States would have taken a leadership role, since the crisis was made there. Indeed, the US Treasury (including ... members of President Barack Obama’s economic team) pushed capital- and financial-market liberalization, which resulted in the rapid contagion of America’s problems around the world. ...[M]any participants were simply relieved that America did not put up obstacles..., as would have been the case if George W. Bush were still president. ...

The most sensitive issue touched upon by the UN conference – too sensitive to be discussed at the G-20 – was reform of the global reserve system. ... On the last day of the conference, as America was expressing its reservations about even discussing ... this issue..., China was once again reiterating that the time had come to begin working on a global reserve currency. Since a country’s currency can be a reserve currency only if others are willing to accept it as such, time may be running out for the dollar.

Emblematic of the difference between the UN and the G-20 conferences was the discussion of bank secrecy: whereas the G-20 focused on tax evasion, the UN Conference addressed corruption, too, which some experts contend gives rise to outflows from some of the poorest countries that are greater than the foreign assistance they receive.

The US and other advanced industrial countries pushed globalization. But this crisis has shown that they have not managed globalization as well as they should have. If globalization is to work for everyone, decisions about how to manage it must be made in a democratic and inclusive manner... The UN, notwithstanding all of its flaws, is the one inclusive international institution. This UN conference ... demonstrated the key role that the UN must play in any global discussion about reforming the global financial and economic system.

Update: Just noticed something else from Stiglitz, along with Linda J. Bilmes, on the economic lessons of the Iraq war:

The U.S. in Iraq: An economics lesson, by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, Commentary, LA Times: Tuesday, the U.S. "stood down" in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns -- the first step on the long path home. ...

But not so fast. The conflict that began in 2003 is far from over..., and the next chapter -- confronting a Taliban that reasserted itself in Afghanistan while the U.S. was sidetracked in Iraq -- will be expensive and bloody. ...

Meanwhile, in Iraq,... U.S. officials have said we are likely to station 50,000 troops at military bases in the country for the foreseeable future. This is because the ... country ranks high on lists of the most dangerous places on Earth, with a continual stream of suicide bombings and murders...

Moreover, the U.S. has barely begun to face the enormous financial bill for the war.

By our accounting, the U.S. has already spent $1 trillion..., and it will cost perhaps $2 trillion more to repay the war debt, replenish military equipment and provide care and treatment for U.S. veterans back home. ...

This wartime spending has undoubtedly been a major contributor to our present economic collapse. The U.S. has waged an expensive war as if it required little or no economic sacrifice, funding the conflict by massive borrowing. As we've observed in the past, you can't spend $3 trillion on a reckless foreign war and not feel the pain at home.

Burned by the difficulties in Iraq, our political leaders have no illusions about the length and difficulty of the challenge facing us in Afghanistan. But in other respects we seem set to repeat the same mistakes that we made in Iraq. The president has just signed yet another "emergency" supplemental appropriations measure ($80 billion)... This means that for the 30th time since 2001, war spending has been rushed through the budget process without serious scrutiny.

The U.S. has 240,000 contractors working in the two war theaters -- but the Pentagon's oversight ... remains lax. The Army Criminal Investigation Command ... is woefully understaffed, with fewer than 100 people to investigate billions of dollars in alleged war profiteering.

Obstacles continue to beset returning veterans too..., the backlog of disability claims has reached its highest level ever, and the budget for helping returning veterans reintegrate into civilian life is less than we spend in a single day of combat operations.

Early this year, President Obama committed 20,000 troops to a "surge" in Afghanistan. That, combined with a large, ongoing presence in Iraq and continued reliance on private contractors for virtually every aspect of military support, remains a recipe for staggering out-of-control expenditures... Surely we can draw some lessons from the Iraq debacle and set aside money to care for our veterans, crack down on fraud and profiteering, and account for the true costs of the war in the budget so the American taxpayer can see what we are paying for.

    Posted by on Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 12:09 AM in Development, Economics, Financial System, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (30)

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