Public Goods, Commodification and Rising Inequality

Over the last 25 years, income and wealth inequality have increased, while public goods of various kinds have become less available. The first of these two developments is well-known and frequently discussed, the second is less discussed, and the coexistence of the two—which is the topic of this conference—has been all but ignored. 

The decline of public goods affects all domains of life. In the past, childcare, domestic services, after-school education and co-curricular activities, elder care, financial advising, and many other services were provided within the family, neighborhood, or social group or, as with higher education, heavily subsidized by the state. Today, these services must often be purchased, with the highest quality of services going only to those who can afford them. This has created a double disadvantage for the poor, because just as they have ever less money relative to the well-off, they increasingly need money to buy opportunities for their children to rise out of poverty.

This conference will bring together leading economists, political scientists, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists to explore the relationship between economic inequality, public goods, and commodification, and to identify market-based or policy solutions that can break the downward cycle of rising inequality and growing commodification. The conference is organized by David Grusky (Stanford University) and Ravi Kanbur (Cornell University) and sponsored by Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

Stanford University
November 2–3, 2017


Extractive Logics, Minimalist States, and the Social Contract

Chair: David Grusky, Stanford University

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University
“The Rise of Extractive Logics in our Economies”
[Abstract] [Paper]

Michelle Anderson, Stanford University
“Testing the Nightwatchman State in America's Poorest Cities”

Maurizio Bussolo, World Bank
“Leveling the Playing Field: Distributional Tensions and Consequences for the Social Contract in Europe”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Cooperation and Egalitarianism

Chair: Ravi Kanbur, Cornell University

Ran Abramitzky, Stanford University
“The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World”

Theodore Lechterman, Stanford University
“Is the Private Provision of Public Goods Illegitimate?”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Varun Gauri, World Bank
“Cooperation is a Source of Distributive Justice”


Chair: Wendy Espeland, Northwestern University

Claire Dunning, Stanford University
“Historicizing Privatization and Inequality in the Recent American Past”

Debra Satz, Stanford University
“What’s Wrong with Privatization? The Case of Schools”

Cristobal Young, Stanford University               
“Patients as Consumers in the New Market for Medicine”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Charitable Giving and Philanthropy

Chair: Vida Maralani, Cornell University

Abigail Payne, University of Melbourne
“Charitable Giving and Support of Privately Provided Public Goods”

Rob Reich, Stanford University
“Dangerous Liaisons? Big Philanthropy and the Provision of Public Goods”
[Paper] [Paper]

Jim Andreoni, University of California, San Diego         
“Is American Philanthropy Making us Poorer? The Costs and Consequences of Donor Advised Funds”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Property and Property Rights

Chair: Abigail Payne, University of Melbourne

Neil Fligstein, University of California, Berkeley
“Keeping up with the Jones's”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Marion Fourcade, University of California, Berkeley
“Faust in the Digital Era”

Anthony Zhang, Stanford University
“Depreciating Licenses”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Inequality, Identity and Local Public Goods

Chair: Claire Dunning, Stanford University

Maitreesh Ghatak, London School of Economics
“Inequality and Identity Salience”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Amrita Dhillon, King’s College London
“Caste Identity, Social Connections and Financial Incentives in the Workplace"

Pranab Bardhan, University of California, Berkeley
“Inequality and Local Public Goods and Environmental Resources”
[Paper] [Paper]

Education and Inequality

Chair: David Grusky, Stanford University

Wendy Espeland, Northwestern University
“University Rankings and the Commodification of Status”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Neil Lewis, Cornell University
“Can People 'Like Me' Go to College? Inequality and Academic Motivation”
[Paper] [Presentation]

Hazel Markus, Stanford University
“Rising Inequality and the Academic and Social Experience of College Students”
[Paper] [Paper]

Family Decisions, Mobility and Investment

Chair: Ravi Kanbur, Cornell University

Vida Maralani, Cornell University
“Demography, Family Income Dynamics, and Child Investment”

Petra Persson, Stanford University
“Family Location Decisions and Intergenerational Insurance”

Florencia Torche, Stanford University
“Educational Reform and Inequality in a Privatized Educational System”
[Paper] [Paper] [Presentation]