Please note: this conference is by invitation only and closed to the general public.
This conference is designed to make a decisive intervention into current discussions of inequality and American politics, setting the agenda both for expanded and broadened research in this area and for improved efforts to translate this research into actionable recommendations. At ISPS, this gathering is being held under the aegis of the new ISPS Center for the Study of Inequality (I-CSI) and in collaboration with the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
The concrete goals of the conference are threefold. First, we want to think about the links between the political effects of inequality and the overall well-being of citizens. In other words, rather than stopping at the point where we find that rising inequality has affected some aspect of our democracy, we want to continue the investigation to consider how these political effects shape important social outcomes, particularly concerning economic growth and its distribution.
The most developed area of work in the study of inequality and American politics looks at the consequences of inequality for the relative influence of citizens on their elected representatives. This path-breaking scholarship has suggested that less affluent (and even middle class) citizens have far less influence than more affluent citizens or than interest groups representing business and professional interests. Yet this work has been mostly silent on the mechanisms by which these disparities in influence arise. Moreover, unequal representation is only one of several possible pathways through which rising inequality could affect democratic politics and the capacity of the political system to resolve pressing social problems. Our second goal in this gathering, therefore, is to delve more deeply into these underlying mechanisms and elaborate and explore these alternative pathways, as well as to think more generally about how the performance of American democracy overall has been affected by rising inequality.
The third and final goal of the conference is to produce a synthetic report presenting our shared findings and collective advice regarding the best ways to move scholarship and public discussion forward. The report would be released and discussed at a high-profile public event in Washington, DC, in summer, 2015. We do not want to merely review what we know, as important as that is. We want to draw on the wisdom and the experience of the group to bring more researchers into this vital area and encourage these researchers to connect their work with current debates about policy and political reforms. We expect many disagreements and very much want to encourage a diversity of approaches and perspectives. We are confident, however, that greater communication across disciplinary lines, greater clarity about the links between various arguments, and greater attention to aspects of this broad area that have yet to receive much notice—will all make for a stronger, more integrated body of work on inequality and American democracy that is more attentive to the social consequences and policy implications of its findings.