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Sociology and Economics of Public Goods, Commodification and Rising Inequality: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

Stanford University, November 2‐3, 2017

In partnership with the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

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. The complete list of speakers and logistical information will be posted soon; contact Clara Elpi ( for details.


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