Yang: Let's begin with Professor Stiglitz. Your book has been recently translated into Chinese under the title meiguo zhenxiang, the truth about America. So I wonder what
do you consider to be the most significant pice of truth that was previously hidden or misunderstood and now you expose with this book? Professor Stiglitz.
Stiglitz: I think the surprising thing covered in the book is the extent to which the United States market economy is marked by exploitation by market power, with corporate power exploiting consumers, a lack of bargaining power of workers, so corporations are exploiting workers. The ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of individuals.So the theme of the book is what is needed is a new social contract, a new balance between market, the state, and civil society, where government needs to play an important role in regulation and investment. Democracy is extraordinarily important, but it is being undermined in recent decades. And we see the attempts of voter suppression. And I actually tried to describe what is going on, how is it that you could have a country professedly supporting democracy, having the minority rule over the majority without attention to their rights. So a vast majority of Americans want gun control, want higher minimum wages, want access to health care, a whole set of reforms. And we can't get it. And when I say majority, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, and the problem is that a minority of exploiters, corporate and others who are engaged in exploitation know their agenda is not supported by the majority. So they have been engaged in a process of disenfranchisement which includes voter suppression, disempowerment which includes gerrymandering, and putting democracy in chains which includes using the Supreme Court to restrict what can be done, and to give more power to money in the poltical process.
Zhang Weiwei：From my study of international political systems and institutions, I've come to a conclusion that for an ideal, well-functioning society, it's necessary to have a balance of three powers: political power, social power, and capital power, in the interest of the vast majority of people, rather than the minority of people..
The problem is, or my concern is, perhaps the power of capital is way too strong. It has somehow dominated or captured the social power and political power, so when you advocate rightly in your book for stronger democracy, for more checks and balances, yet if this check and balance between administrative, judiciary and legislative branches, if all three political branches are captured by the power of capital, what will happen?
Stiglitz: One of the central tenets of the book is a system of checks and balances can't work if there are too large an inequality in the society. So I'm basically agreeing with you. When there are too many inequalities in income and wealth in society, in one way or another, those who have disproportionate wealth will get control of all the levers in society and dominate. So, that is the limitation. You can have the organizational structure in the political system of checks and balances, but they'll be overridden by the influence of wealth. And that's one of the reasons why I call for eliminating the inequalities of wealth as a central issue.
Now the hardest question is, given the levels of inequality present in the United States, how are you going to eliminate the perpetuation of those inequalities? And here's where democracy may make a difference. We'll see. Zhang Weiwei: So what we have is what we call consultative democracy, from the people to the people, one round, and to the people from the people, another round, and from the people to the people, another round. At this stage when you are producing the next five-year plan. It takes literally thousands of rounds of consultations at all levels of Chinese institution and society. It's like a supply that produces demand. So I wonder despite the fact that as you suggested in your book that there's so much support whether for Biden or for his democratic ideas for more equality, for gun control, yet it's difficult to reach consensus and then build on consensus and move the nation forward. This is a challenge.
Stiglitz: There are very vocal forces or voices on the other side, but there's a broad consensus. I think the hardest issue though is the openess to criticism of government policies. I think one of the strengths of the United States is that I can very openly criticize President Trump, and other Americans have joined in that criticism. Were it not for the fact that we have a very free press, he would have suppressed information about how bad he's doing, suppressed information about the pandemic. So one of the strengths that we have is so far our free media, our ability to criticize everybody including the president, to call him a liar, because he is a liar, but I mean in many other countries around the world if you were to say, as publicly as many people have said, to the president that you are a liar, that you distorted the truth, you'd wind up in prison. One of the strengths of the United States is that we've so far been able to maintain that kind of openess, that critical element, because if you don't have that critical element, you can get consensus but it can be behind the wrong policies.
Zhang Weiwei: But may I raise another point, a question, to discuss with Professor Stiglitz. You mentioned the rule of law in the United States which is a tremendous asset of US political system. Now the point is whether there is a kind of, what I call, excessive legalism or rigidification of the legal system. For instance, if we want to do well with this gun control, maybe you have to somehow amend this Second Amendment, revise this amendment. So it's a constitutional revision. But again, how difficult it will be to revise the constitution? It calls for a 2/3 majority of the congressmen. And then, I don't know, 3/4 of the all the states. So it seems almost impossible given the divided nature of American politics. So if the legal framework cannot be touched, then how can you push for these reforms on the current existing rule of law?
Stiglitz: The constitution does not specify the number of justices in the supreme court. There's a growing sense that there will have to be an increase in the number. The Second Amendment on the right to bear arms did not have the current interpretation until maybe a hundred years ago, I don't know when the dividing critical decision was. But you could read that particular amendment in a very different way, which I think nobody in the right mind, believes that it gives you the right to carry an AK47 around. That was not, you can say, what was the original intent? There wouldn't be an original intent because nobody carried those guns, they hadn't been invented. So the idea that you could ask what was the original intent of a group of people-many of whom were slave owners before the industrial revolution- what their intent was should guide us in the 21st century is an absurd notion, and it is a fiction. I think most Americans today believe those words should have been read in a very different way. Again, I think Trump has made us understand the limitations of our constitution, the importance of norms as well as laws, and the fragility of our system. Having seen how much damage one person can do with a compliant Senate. I think there is a strong sentiment to make democratic reforms that will make this less likely to happen again.