Inequality and Democracy Today Conference Information

Keynote Address
Professor Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
Thursday, October 8, 7:30 pm
Kellogg Center Auditorium

Conference Location

Friday, October 9, 2015
Kellogg Center, Big Ten C, 8:45 - 12:45 p.m. sessions
MSU Union, Lake Huron Room, 2:15 - 4:15 p.m. sessions

Saturday, October 10, 2015
Kellogg Center, Lincoln Room, 8:45 - 4:00 p.m. all sessions

At the heart of much contemporary debate, both academic and political, is the fear that in advanced capitalist societies economic inequality is inexorably increasing--coupled with the fear that such inequality must pose a grave danger to the economic, moral, political or cultural well-being of society.  This debate has recently risen to a new level of precision and prominence. 

Of course, from its inception, many proponents of the modern liberal democratic state openly acknowledged the inevitability of economic inequality and indeed embraced it as a positive good, as the just consequence of our differences of talent and character operating in a world of freedom and social mobility.  The promise of unequal returns, moreover, was considered essential for incentivizing labor, investment, and innovation which are crucial in turn for economic growth.  Indeed, in every sphere of life, what becomes of the human longing for striving and excellence, if it is wrong to surpass others?  In the more extreme formulation of Nietzsche, is there not something resentful and "life-destroying" about the too-strict demand for equality?

Many today would argue, however, that our massive and growing inequality has reached a point where it has itself become the greatest obstacle to the meritocratic distribution of goods and opportunities, to social mobility, and to economic growth.  On the political level, it also poses dangers to freedom and self-government by allowing the growth of a superwealthy, oligarchic elite.  And more broadly is there not something morally and culturally dispiriting, even scarring, about living amidst such massive discrepancies in life-chances and outcomes?

Through our conference and lecture series, we would like to explore these interrelated questions, with special emphasis on the political issue of economic inequality and liberal democracy.  We seek to bring together thinkers from both within and outside the academy, from various relevant disciplines, and representing a range of perspectives.

Conference Participants

Charles Ballard, Department of Economics, Michigan State University

Cristina Bodea, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Jack Byham, Department of Social Sciences Political Science Program, Texas A&M International University

Tobin Craig, James Madison College, Michigan State University

Shikha Dalmia, Reason Foundation

Ross Emmett, James Madison College, Michigan State University

William Galston, Brookings Institution

Sherman Garnett, James Madison College, Michigan State University

Martin Gilens, Department of Politics, Princeton University

Matt Grossmann, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Ryan Hanley, Department of Political Science, Marquette University

Steven Kautz, College of Social Science, Michigan State University

Benjamin Kleinerman, James Madison College, Michigan State University

Harvey Mansfield, Government Department, Harvard University

Bhash Mazumder, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Leslie McCall, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

Peter McNamara, Department of Political Science, Utah State University

Arthur Melzer, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Marc Plattner, National Endowment for Democracy, U.S. Department of State

Jennifer Sykes, James Madison College, Michigan State University

Kelly Vosters, Department of Economics, Michigan State University

Jerry Weinberger, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

Sean Wilentz, History Department, Princeton University

Scott Winship, Manhatten Institute

M. Richard Zinman, James Madison College, Michigan State University