Nobel laureate Stiglitz backs UID

Nobel laureate Stiglitz backs UID

Nobel laureate economist and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz has backed India’s Unique Identification (UID) project and said it is very similar to the social security number in the United States.

In Bangalore for a lecture at the J N Tata auditorium in IISc on Thursday, Stglitz made known his views on UID at a media meeting just before the lecture.

Responding to a query from Deccan Herald on what he thought of India’s massive unique identification project, Stiglitz said: “UID is a great achievement and may offer sound protection to people in India. When you have to distribute public goods on a massive scale, like food, you need to identify who you are making the distribution to, so that the right people get it. In the US, we have social security numbers that perform the same function. Every citizen ought to have a number through which a person is entitled to many things. People have raised privacy concerns of such projects, but the privacy concerns are not about personal data being passed on to somebody, it is about what the US is doing to the world. Privacy concerns are about your calls being monitored,” he said.

On corruption

It would be very nice if everybody were honest, but that’s what we are - there’s not enough honesty. This is not only an Indian problem, inculcating honesty globally is difficult. The loss of honesty and trust are global concerns. People in the US don’t want to admit to themselves or to others that they are doing badly. The US has seen more than a generation of stagnation but there is no acknowledgement. 

Corruption in the US has its own style. The drug industry in the US is free to charge prices it wants, but it happens that government is the largest buyer of drugs there. Agreeing to let drug companies determine prices has meant the government is spending 500 billion dollars to sustain healthcare access to its citizens.

To get back this money, government imposes high taxes on its people. So if you think corruption is extraordinary in India, the US is certainly at the top of the league. And when we talk of corruption, we always talk of public and government institutions, we don’t talk about corruption in the private sector. Walmart is one of the biggest employers, but is exploitative. And the financial sector is rife with corruption.

On inflation

Navigating the problem of inflation in the context of a weakening economy is the biggest challenge we face today. Inflation is caused not by dipping demand, but due to specific supply problems in India. Energy prices going up sharply during the downturn of 2007-08 impacted food prices which went up. Inflation increased sharply. Energy and food are the greatest problems for tropical countries, but the crisis in India is not anywhere close to what Greece and Spain are going through. There have been higher imports which again have pushed up prices. 

Inflation in India is the result of local and global forces. One has to take a balanced view of inflation. There is a need for greater public investment and the government has to borrow extensively. When it doesn’t have money, it taxes people. So inflation goes up.

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