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Costs of Inequality

University Professor of Economics, Business and International Affairs Joseph E. Stiglitz pursues research on the determinants and costs of inequality, and policies that would reduce it. He has authored or co-authored several books and papers on the subject, including Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy (2015), The Great Divide (2015), and The Price of Inequality (2015). He has analyzed how inequality leads to economic instability and to economic inefficiency by, for example, preventing many youth from fulfilling their potential. With his research colleagues, Professor Stiglitz has been developing a broad “equality-growth-efficiency” agenda that reduces the scope for rent-seeking and other market distortions that contribute to inequality, and increases equality of opportunity by pursuing a comprehensive rewriting of the rules of the American economy. Ongoing work with colleagues in Europe is extending this framework there.

A major set of papers providing a new framework for the analysis of the determinants of the distribution of income and wealth was issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research, of which Professor Stiglitz is a Research Associate.

Efforts to influence the UN to establish a goal of reducing inequality among the Sustainable Development Goals were largely successful.

Professor Stiglitz also serves as the Chief Economist to the Roosevelt Institute, a think-tank based in New York. He collaborated with the Institute to write the book, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy. Also, Professor Stiglitz’s report “Fed Policy, Inequality, and Equality of Opportunity,” presented at a meeting at the Federal Reserve, examines monetary policy’s role in income and wealth distribution. Professor Stiglitz and his research team have been working on a project with students looking at the relationship between inequality, economic growth, and stability by evaluating how different aspects of inequality affect different outcomes in terms of economic performance and stability.

Several conferences on inequality were conducted through the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, in conjunction with the Roosevelt Institute, several foundations, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and various European institutions. These events include “The Welfare State and the Fight against Inequality” held in November 2015; “The Consequences of Economic Inequality for Economic Performance” in December 2014; and a major conference in Washington D.C. with large scale media coverage, active participation by major political actors, and meetings with the Democratic Caucus in the Senate and a number of members of the House of Representatives. 

The OECD High Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the successor of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission of the same name, co-chaired by Stiglitz, has centered much of its recent efforts on the measurement of inequality and inequality of opportunity. During the year, it has had workshops and meetings focusing on inequality in Berlin (supported by the Bertelsman Foundation), Paris (supported by the Gulbenkian Foundation), Durban (supported by the South African government, the ILO, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA)), Rome, and Guadalajara (supported in part by Mexico’s statistical agency). 

Stiglitz served as a Commissioner of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, which issued its report in Trento in June 2015 and at the UN Finance for Development Conference at Addis Abba in July 2015. 

Columbia Business School, SIPA, and the Provost’s Office of Columbia University supported a conference on The Just Society, in celebration of 50 years of Professor Stiglitz’s teaching, with a focus on inequality. This conference included participants from academia and senior officials, past and present, from the US government and international organizations.

Policy Goals

  • Further develop the broad equality-growth-efficiency” agenda described above
  • Extend that agenda to Europe 
  • Ensure that that agenda is incorporated in the political platforms of those presidential candidates that are concerned about inequality




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