CAMBRIDGE, MA | July 1, 2019 — Rising inequality is one of our most pressing social concerns. And it is not simply that some are advantaged while others are not, but that structures of inequality are self-reinforcing and cumulative; they become durable. The societal arrangements that in the past have produced more equal economic outcomes and social opportunities—such as expanded mass education, access to social citizenship and its benefits, and wealth redistribution—have often been attenuated and supplanted by processes that are instead inequality-inducing.
Two claims develop out of these conversations: First, the need to explore linkages, both temporal and across levels of analysis, that may illuminate the sources of durable inequality. And second, building on the first, the need to focus on relatively underexplored aspects of contemporary social inequality: more specifically, the relationship between distribution and recognition as intertwined dynamics producing and reproducing inequality.
The Summer 2019 issue of Dædalus, “Inequality as a Multidimensional Process,” guest edited by Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley; Academy Member), draws on a wide range of expertise to better understand and examine how economic conditions are linked to other social, psychological, political, and cultural processes that can either counteract or reinforce durable inequalities. The essays in this collection also provide an agenda for future research and identify significant policy implications. To round off the issue, three leading social scientists from different disciplines address the volume’s substantive and applied implications.
The Summer 2019 issue of Dædalus on “Inequality as a Multidimensional Process” features the following essays:
Inequality Generation & Persistence as Multidimensional Processes: An Interdisciplinary Agenda
Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) & Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley; Academy Member)
The Rise of Opportunity Markets: How Did It Happen & What Can We Do?
David B. Grusky (Stanford University; Academy Member), Peter A. Hall (Harvard University; Academy Member) & Hazel Rose Markus (Stanford University; Academy Member)
This essay describes the rise of “opportunity markets” that allow well-off parents to buy opportunity for their children. A recommitment to equalizing opportunities could be pursued by dismantling opportunity markets, by providing low-income parents with the means to participate in them, or by allocating educational opportunities via separate competitions among parents of similar means. Grusky, Hall, and Markus advocate for the latter approach, which would not require mobilizing support for a massive redistributive project.
“Superstar Cities” & the Generation of Durable Inequality
Patrick Le Galès (Sciences Po; National Centre for Scientific Research) & Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley; Academy Member)
The striking economic agglomerations emerging in affluent democracies are generating, reproducing, and expanding inequalities. Access to urban areas—the site of educational, labor, and marriage market advantages—is contingent upon access to housing, which is both a repository for wealth and a magnifier of wealth. This essay examines the capacities of four cities (New York, San Francisco, London, and Paris) to limit or ameliorate these new sources of diverging opportunity.
Membership without Social Citizenship? Deservingness & Redistribution as Grounds for Equality
Irene Bloemraad (University of California, Berkeley), Will Kymlicka (Queen’s University, Canada), Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) & Leanne S. Son Hing (University of Guelph, Canada)
Western societies have experienced a broadening of inclusive membership—legal, interpersonal, and cultural—at the same time they have experienced increased tensions around social citizenship and who “deserves” public assistance. This essay builds a layered explanatory framework highlighting group identity and threat for one’s beliefs and actions; cultural repertoires and notions of national solidarity; and ways elites, power, and institutions affect notions of membership and deservingness.
Failure to Respond to Rising Income Inequality: Processes That Legitimize Growing Disparities
Leanne S. Son Hing (University of Guelph, Canada), Anne E. Wilson (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Peter Gourevitch (University of California, San Diego), Jaslyn English (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) & Parco Sin (University of Guelph, Canada)
Why is there not more public outcry in the face of rising income inequality? This essay responds to this question by considering social-psychological processes that dampen dissent, contending that rising inequality can activate the very psychological processes that stifle outcry. These, in turn, cause people to be blind to the true extent of inequality, to legitimize rising disparities, and to reject redistribution as an effective solution.
The Difficulties of Combating Inequality in Time
Jane Jenson (Université de Montréal), Francesca Polletta (University of California, Irvine) & Paige Raibmon (University of British Columbia)
Disadvantaged groups face an impossible choice in their efforts to win policies capable of diminishing inequality: whether to emphasize their sameness to or difference from the advantaged group. This essay analyzes three cases in which reformers sought to avoid that dilemma and assert groups’ sameness and difference in novel ways: in U.S. policy on biomedical research, in the European Union’s initiatives on gender equality, and in Canadian law on Indigenous rights. In each case, however, the reforms adopted ultimately reproduced the sameness/difference dilemma rather than transcended it, due to, as the authors conclude, the failure to historicize inequality.
Political Inequality, “Real” Public Preferences, Historical Comparisons & Axes of Disadvantage
Jennifer L. Hochschild (Harvard University; Academy Member)
This commentary considers the public’s commitment to reducing inequality, the importance of political power in explaining and reducing social and economic inequities, and the possible incommensurability of activists’ and policy-makers’ vantage points or job descriptions.
New Angles on Inequality
Katherine S. Newman (University of Massachusetts, Boston; Academy Member)
This commentary considers two critical questions that arise in this volume: What explains the eruption of nationalist, xenophobic, and far-right politics and the ability of extremists to gain a toe hold in the political arena greater now than at any time since World War II? And how did the social distance between haves and have-nots harden into geographic separation that makes it increasingly difficult for those attempting to secure jobs, housing, and mobility-insuring schools to break through?
Process-Policy & Outcome-Policy: Rethinking How to Address Poverty & Inequality
Vijayendra Rao (World Bank)
Process matters not just for diagnosing the causes of inequality, but also for how policy is shaped. The dominant paradigms for policy-making–neoliberalism, neo-Keynesianian, and neopaternalism–largely address inequality via “outcome-policies” that manipulate the levers of government and draw on randomized trials and “nudges” to change behavior, in a manner that is easy to measure but also easy to reverse. This commentary makes the case for a fourth paradigm, reflectivism, that shifts structural inequalities in an incremental manner, resulting in more lasting change.