The International Economic Association was formed in 1956 from a UNESCO mandate, with an initial idea being to increase East-West communication, and with a key person pushing its establishment being the late Austen E.G. Robinson of Cambridge University, the husband of Joan Robinson. Every several years the IEA has a world congress, and the 15th was held this past week in Istanbul, Turkey. About 1,000 participants attended representing 53 countries, with the president of Turkey speaking in the opening session. This is the fifth of these I have attended and make some observations here.
1) About half the participants were from the host country, a good deal higher than I have seen in the past. Also, quite a few people I have always seen at these things were not there.
2) Many sessions were on international debt crises and balance of payments issues, with the current president, Guillermo Calvo, giving an address on recent crises. He mostly focused on Mexico, Russia, Argentina, and Turkey, arguing that all these countries bounced back well after their crises and massive devaluations, although he said that we do not really understand why as many things that should have been happening to bring this about did not happen. He seemed not very able to link all this to the current crises.
3) Chinese attendance was low. Some speculated that this was due to Calvo having apparently criticized them for not revaluing their currency more. As in the past there was substantial Russian participation, with several of their top people there, such as Victor Polterovich.
4) There were several major sessions and addresses on India.
5) Joseph Stiglitz spoke twice, once in an invited session on international financial crises and in the final plenary on global warming and social justice. In the former he went further than Calvo and called for a clear lender of last resort at the global level and the establishment of a new global currency along the lines of the "bancor" proposed by Keynes at Bretton Woods. He said the dollar is doomed, but the euro is not up to the task, and a combo of the two would be an unstable disaster.
Regarding global warming he advocates an important push on deforestation, which I support. He also is hot for a "carbon added tax" and strongly criticizes cap and trade solutions. I find him analyzing a CAT based on its theoretical virtues while ignoring its practical problems while doing just the opposite with cap and trade. Given that at Kyoto the US shoved cap and trade down the rest of the world's throat, there is no way the rest of the world is now going to follow the US to get rid of cap and trade in favor of a carbon tax (which would have serious problems passing the US Congress anyway).
7) Dani Rodrik of Harvard, but of Turkish origin, gave a plenary on his "One Economics, Many Recipes" paper. For those who have not seen it, he defends orthodoxy in economic theory, but says that a single approach to theory is compatible with a variety of policy approaches, including very unorthodox ones. I have sympathy with him, but think he overdoes his defense of standard economic theory.