When Mediocrity Strikes

I think I too could be a Nobel Prize winner in economics—at least if an interview with Joseph Stiglitz in a recent edition of Le Figaro, the French newspaper, on the occasion of the publication of one of his books published in French, is anything to go by. It is not that Mr. Stiglitz said nothing that was true: Rather it was that what he said that was not actually untrue could have been said by anyone of moderate intelligence and average powers of reflection. Perhaps the Nobel Prize for Economics ought henceforth to be replaced by one for Common Sense. Unlike the one for economics, however, it could not be awarded annually, for there is nothing rarer than outstanding common sense.

The interview got off to a bad start. The interviewer asked Mr. Stiglitz whether he agreed with Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, that France ought to leave the Euro. As the title of his book was L’Euro: Comment la monnaie unique menace l’avenir de l’Europe (The Euro: How the Single Currency Threatens the Future of Europe), and as the interviewer prefaced the question by saying, “You recommend that several countries abandon the Euro,” the answer, prima facie, was “Yes.”

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Mr. Stiglitz replied, however:

No. One of the key points of my book is that the Euro ought to be the means to an end, in this case a more prosperous and integrated Europe. Now the Euro has become an end in itself. It has even become the very opposite of what it was intended to be. The problem is that, as it was constructed, the Euro has not generated prosperity but stagnation and has undermined solidarity among Europeans.

To this, the interviewer correctly pointed out that he had not answered the question. He responded:

My thesis is that it could be necessary to leave the Euro to save the European project.

In other words, he agreed with Marine Le Pen—on this point. But instead of answering like a scholar, he answered like a politician.

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