A train arrives at a sleepy train station in the backwoods of the American Midwest. Accompanied by the telling sound of trembling guitar strings, a mysterious stranger in a long coat comes to town. The last just man among economists, Joseph Stiglitz comes back to his hometown to get even with a villain called “The Free Market”.
Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz / In the small town of Gary, Indiana, the glorious days are irretrievably lost. As captured in the documentary Around the World with Joseph Stiglitz, it rather recalls notorious “ghost towns” left after the gold fever has forever faded. Gary, too, used to have a fever of its own; however, it was steel rather than gold that would throb in its veins. However, the city on the Michigan lake gave the world more than tons of steel beams. The melting pot of its multiracial working-class population produced a number of remarkable personalities. Besides Gary’s most famous native, King of Pop Michael Jackson, the city also gave life to Josef Stiglitz. Holder of the Nobel Prize for economics, he has been famously dismissed from a high post at the World Bank for his criticism of the (all)mighty institution. It is Stiglitz and his long-term opinion on the (right) functioning of global economics that is in the focus of Swiss director Jacques Sarasin. Stiglitz’s comeback to Gary is symptomatic of the film’s theme, since, as the great economist says, it was the industrial environment of the working-class city that influenced him for life.
Joseph Stiglitz is a critic of neoliberalism; a philosophy based on the opinion that markets lead to effective solutions on their own. While he believes that the globalization of international economics represents a positive phenomenon, he points out that it is crucial to control the global market. To achieve the most effective yet fair functioning of international trade, Stiglitz rethinks and promotes the “Third Way” economic philosophy; an economical model with state institutions taking up the limited yet crucial role of both partner and competitor of the market. As shown in the film, this approach has not only become popular among the states of the Third World but also represents an interesting alternative to the current economical and moral crisis of western capitalism.
Jacques Sarasin seems to obscure the fact that rather than a distinctive work, his film is a recording of Stiglitz’s popularization lecture accompanied by object lessons. However, he does so in such a skilful way that he manages to hold the viewers’ attention till the closing credits. He also does a good job with the gentle hyperbole of the western stylization. The long, drawn-out tones of guitars; the empty streets of the ghost town; the stylized, terse utterances of the protagonist as well as the guessed presence of a treacherous enemy endow Stiglitz’s lecture with an ethos of a just struggle of a brave few outnumbered by Calvera bandits. The seasoned sheriff has several allied gunmen on his side, including Ecuador’s charismatic president Rafael Correa.
Though the film title might suggest the contrary, Joseph Stiglitz travels rather in his thoughts in front of the camera. However, his erudition transcends the limits of space and time with such ease that it is not hard to believe that his thoughtful look out of the library window in Gary can reach the heart of the forest in Ecuador, as suggested by the film editing.
Despite the sternness of its plot and imagery, the film represents a surprisingly precise metaphor of the possible development of our society. In the faded glory of the “steel city of the future”, en enlightened economist sits in silence. Among the ruined walls of once magnificent buildings, there is no one left to listen to his words of warning.
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