December 18, 2015

In October, SIPA hosted a celebration dinner to recognize 50 years of teaching by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a faculty member at SIPA and Columbia since 2001 and a Nobel Laureate in Economics.

The dinner was part of a weekend-long conference organized in Stiglitz’s honor, at which current and past colleagues presented papers that were then collected as part of a Festschrift (the term used to describe such a collection). The essays in the collection were related to Stiglitz's contributions to the field of economics, and made references to previous essays written for Stiglitz’s first Festschrift in 2003.

In introductory remarks at the dinner, Dean Merit E. Janow praised Stiglitz: “A leading scholar in the field of economics, a great innovator in education, and a champion for policies that advance the global public interest, Professor Stiglitz has created a remarkable legacy of achievement at Columbia and well beyond, touching the lives of many over the past five decades.”

Stiglitz is recognized around the world as a leading economics educator; Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2011. In addition to his University Professorship—Columbia’s highest faculty rank—Stiglitz is the co-founder and co-president of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue.

Stiglitz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 in recognition of his work (along with George Akerlof and A. Michael Spence) to analyze markets with asymmetric information. He was also a lead author of the 1995 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

More than 100 guests attended the dinner, at which Vice Dean Eric Verhoogen introduced Stiglitz as an indispensable member of the SIPA and University faculties.

“Through his teaching, scholarship, writing and deep foundational knowledge, Professor Stiglitz is a mentor to students and faculty alike,” said Verhoogen.

“It was an incredibly happy occasion,” said Anya Schiffrin, the director of SIPA’s International Media, Advocacy and Communications specialization who is also Stiglitz’s wife. “This was Joe’s second Festschrift and there were students he hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was an incredibly emotional reunion.”

The dinner was closed, but a number of colleagues praised Stiglitz in videos recorded for the Knight Bagehot Felowship award this month.

Jason Furman is now the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. In 1996, when Stiglitz held the same position, under President Clinton, he hired Furman as a staff economist. Furman later worked with Stiglitz at the World Bank. 

“The most important piece of advice Joe gave me was that every room you are in at the White House has an awful lot of political advisers in it and not an awful of economists,” Furman said. “So it’s really important to be in those rooms and to give economic advice.”

Robert Hormats, the vice chairman at Kissinger Associates Advisors, worked with Stiglitz to assess the overall costs of the Iraq War back in 2008.

“Two things drive Joe: one is economic excellence and the work he does, and the second is a deep sense of compassion,” he said. “He is always capable of underscoring the human dimension of economics.”

“Joe is one of those people who speaks truth to power, and he has changed the nature of economics,” said Barry Nalebuff, Yale University’s Milton Steinbach Professor of Management and the editor of Economics for an Imperfect World: Essays in Honor of Joseph E. Stiglitz.

Additional tributes at the dinner came from

  • Patrick Bolton, the Barbara and David Zalaznick Professor of Business at Columbia Business School of Columbia  Business School, who is a member of Columbia's Committee on Global Thought and Stiglitz’s co-editor on Sovereign Wealth Funds and Long-Term Investing.
  • Robert Solow, Institute Professor emeritus and Professor of Economics emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who co-authored several papers with Stiglitz.
  • Hal Varian, emeritus Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and fellow scholar of information and economics.

“There was so much happiness,” Schiffrin said. “All of the comments made about Joe were very personal.”

— Rebecca Krisel MIA ’16