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Stiglitz: Sanders is Right - Everybody Has the Right to Healthcare, Sick Days and Family Leave

StoryNovember 12, 2015
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Joseph Stiglitz

Nobel Prize-winning economist, Columbia University professor and chief economist for the Roosevelt Institute. His new book is called Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talks about three presidential contenders: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. "The question is whether the United States is rich enough to be able to make sure that everyone has a basic right to healthcare, family leave, parental, you know, sick leave—we are exceptional—whether we are a society that can tolerate—that should tolerate the levels of inequality that we have," Stiglitz said. "I think Bernie Sanders is right about that."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return to my conversation with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, author of Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Proseperity. I asked him about the 2016 presidential race and began by playing Stiglitz a clip of Republican contender Donald Trump calling Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a "communist" and a "maniac."

DONALD TRUMP: I watched Hillary last night with "We’re going to give this, we’re going to give that, we’re going to give that." She—the poor woman! She’s got to give everything away, because this maniac, that was standing on her right, is giving everything away, so she’s following. That’s what’s happening. This socialist-slash-communist, OK? Nobody wants to say it.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump on Bernie Sanders. Explain what Bernie Sanders represents.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: First, let me comment. You know, the great irony of that is he’s talking about Bernie Sanders and Hillary’s putting in programs that don’t add up, and he’s called for a tax cut, aimed at the rich, that is $1 trillion short. So you talk about somebody who is—

AMY GOODMAN: And he said he’d make the hedge fund guys pay.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: That’s right. No, that’s one good thing that he’s done. And the irony is that the hedge fund guys are taxed at a lower rate than people who are actually working for a living. It’s one of the real, you might say, anomalies of our tax system, one that is actually very costly to our economy not just in terms of lost revenue, but induces our best students—my best students—to go into finance, into speculation, and we’re wasting our most valuable resource, I think—our human resources.

AMY GOODMAN: When, instead, you would like to see them—

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Go into research, go into creating productive firms, you know, strengthening the productive capacity of our economy. You know, the fact that such a large fraction of our most talented young people go into finance is a worry. It should be a worry to—you know, we’ve really lost a balance.

Now, to come back to Bernie and Hillary, you know, what they’re both saying is, really, points that we raise in Rewriting the Rules. They’re saying it’s not—these are not giveaways. We’re saying something is wrong with the way our economy is working. The fact that at the bottom, minimum wage is as low as it was 45 years ago, a half-century ago, says something. An economy that—you know, we’re supposed to—we’ve had technological change, globalization, all these things which are supposed to make our economy better and stronger, and yet, at the bottom, they haven’t had a pay raise in a half-century. It’s not a living wage. So, that’s all he’s calling for. You know, he’s calling for a living wage for ordinary Americans. And they’re both going for—we’re a wealthy-enough economy that we should be able to provide the basic requisites of a middle-class lifestyle for all Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was asked if a socialist could ever win a general election in the United States. This was in the debate.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, we’re going to win, because, first, we’re going to explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent, almost—own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; that it is wrong today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent; that when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing healthcare to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that when you have a baby, we’re not going to separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have—we are going to have medical and family paid leave like every other country on Earth. Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton weighed in, in the same CNN debate.

HILLARY CLINTON: When I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started, because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families. And I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself. And I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have. But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America, and it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities that we’re seeing in our economic system.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Hillary Clinton. You advise Hillary Clinton?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: I talk to her, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, her response—"We’re not Denmark"—as a put-down to Bernie Sanders?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, it’s a fact we are not Denmark. But the question is whether the United States is rich enough to be able to make sure that everyone has a basic right to healthcare, family leave, parental, you know, sick leave—we are exceptional—whether we are a society that can tolerate—that should tolerate the levels of inequality that we have. I think Bernie Sanders is right about that. And I think that we—Hillary is right that one of the strengths of America should be that we can give opportunity for small businesses. Actually, Denmark and Norway do that, as well. So, what I would say is that Bernie is absolutely right that providing the basic necessities of a middle-class society should be the right of everybody in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, author of the new book, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity. To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to

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