Public Goods, Commodification and Rising Inequality

Stanford University, November 2‐3, 2017
Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) at 30 Alta Road, Stanford, CA 94305

In partnership with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and Dyson School at Cornell University.

Over the last twenty-five years, wealth and income have become less equally distributed, and more goods and services must be purchased on the market. This second trend, which economists discuss in terms of public goods and sociologists discuss in terms of “commodification,” 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 in higher education, heavily subsidized by the state. Today, these services must be purchased, with the highest quality going only to those who can afford it. This has created a double disadvantage for the poor, because just as the economic distance between the poor and the middle class is growing, the poor are losing access to resources that would allow them or their children to rise out of poverty.

This conference will bring together leading economists 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. In the process, it will catalyze greater conversation between economists and sociologists on these issues.

The conference organizers are David Grusky (Sociology and Director of Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University) and Ravi Kanbur (Economics and Faculty Affiliate of Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality). Kim Weeden (Chair of Sociology and Director of CSI) and Vida Maralani (Sociology; CSI Executive Committee) will be featured participants. Please see below for a complete list of speakers and logistical information; contact Clara Elpi ( for details.

75 min sessions; 3 papers per session; 15 mins per presentation, 30 mins floor discussion

2 November, 2017


Opening: Ravi Kanbur, Cornell, and David Grusky, Stanford

Session I Extractive Logics, Minimalist States, and the Social Contract
Chair: David Grusky, Stanford
Saskia Sassen, Columbia
“The Rise of Extractive Logics in our Economies”
Michelle Anderson, Stanford
“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”


Session II Cooperation and Egalitarianism
Chair: Ravi Kanbur, Cornell
Ran Abramitzky , Stanford
“The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World”
Theodore Lechterman, Stanford
“Is the Private Provision of Public Goods Illegitimate?”
Varun Gauri, World Bank
“Cooperation is a Source of Distributive Justice”


Session III Privatization
Chair: Wendy Espeland, Northwestern
Claire Dunning, Stanford
“Historicizing Privatization and Inequality in the Recent American Past”
Debra Satz, Stanford
“What’s Wrong with Privatization? The Case of Schools”
Cristobal Young, Stanford
“Patients as Consumers in the New Market for Medicine”


Session IV Charitable Giving and Philanthropy
Chair: Vida Maralani, Cornell
Abigail Payne, Melbourne
“Charitable Giving and Support of Privately Provided Public Goods”
Rob Reich, Stanford
“Dangerous Liaisons? Big Philanthropy and the Provision of Public Goods”
Jim Andreoni, UCSD
“Is American Philanthropy Making us Poorer? The Costs and Consequences of Donor Advised Funds”

Conference Dinner
Speakers: Mark Granovetter, Stanford and Kim Weeden, Cornell


3 November, 2017

Session V Property and Property Rights
Chair: Abigail Payne, Melbourne
Neil Fligstein, Berkeley
“Keeping up with the Jones’s”
Marion Fourcade, Berkeley
“Faust in the Digital Era”
Anthony Zhang, Stanford
“Depreciating Licenses”


Session VI Inequality, Identity and Local Public Goods
Chair: David Grusky, Stanford
Maitreesh Ghatak, LSE
“Inequality and Identity Salience”
Amrita Dhillon, King’s College London
“Caste Identity and Productivity”
Pranab Bardhan, Berkeley
“Inequality and Local Public Goods and Environmental Resources”


Session VII Education and Inequality
Chair: David Grusky, Stanford
Wendy Espeland, Northwestern
“University Rankings and the Commodification of Status”
Neil Lewis, Cornell
“Can People ‘Like Me’ Go to College? Inequality and Academic Motivation”
Hazel Markus, Stanford
“Rising Inequality and the Academic and Social Experience of College Students”


Session VIII Family Decisions, Mobility and Investment
Chair: Ravi Kanbur, Cornell
Vida Maralani, Cornell
“Demography, Family Income Dynamics, and Child Investment”
Petra Persson, Stanford
“Family Location Decisions and Intergenerational Insurance”
Florencia Torche, Stanford
“Educational reform and inequality in a privatized educational system”

Conference Closing
David Grusky, Stanford and Ravi Kanbur, Cornell

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Inequality, Cornell University, the Center on Poverty and Inequality, Stanford University, and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University