Costs of Inequality

Support from the Columbia Global Policy Initiative
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Support from the Columbia Global Policy Initiative

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 associated his project, Costs of Inequality, with the Columbia Global Policy Initiative in 2013. 

Stiglitz has analyzed how inequality leads to economic instability and economic inefficiency by, for example, preventing many youths from fulfilling their potential. With his research colleagues, 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.

He has authored or co-authored several books on the subject, including Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy (2015), The Great Divide (2015), and The Price of Inequality (2012). Stiglitz collaborated with the Roosevelt Institute, a think-tank based in New York for which he serves as the Chief Economist, to write Rewriting the Rules. The European version of this book will be released in 2017, collaborating with Foundation for European Progressive Studies. Globalization and Its Discontents (originally published in 2002) will be re-released in 2017 with new content addressing current economic challenges.

In 2015, Stiglitz published a major set of papers, “New Theoretical Perspectives on the Distribution of Income and Wealth Among Individuals: Parts I-IV,” as working papers of the National Bureau of Economic Research, of which he is a Research Associate. These provide a new framework for the analysis of the determinants of the distribution of income and wealth.

Efforts to influence the UN to establish a goal of reducing inequality among the Sustainable Development Goals were largely successful. Several conferences on inequality were conducted through the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, in conjunction with the Roosevelt Institute, foundations, the International Labour Organization, and various European institutions. 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. 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 Ababa 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 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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Director, Costs of Inequality; University Professor, Columbia University