About the Center

"...A vital example of the University's commitment to strengthen teaching, research and policy analysis that
directly engages large-scale problems of the 21st century. . ." [more]

Sharon Long, Stanford University Dean, School of Humanities & Sciences

Why was the Center founded?

In 2006, Stanford University committed to a new program of research, training, and policy analysis on poverty and inequality, a commitment that reflects Stanford University's recognition that universities have a special obligation to provide leadership on one of the most pressing problems of our time. The backdrop to this new initiative is a recognition that poverty and inequality have become an unprecedented threat and that the great universities of the world must address this threat with all the resources and initiative that we have applied in the past to other major social problems.

Poverty and inequality as threats

If poverty and inequality were treated in the past as simple moral problems, now they are appreciated as problems with more profound consequences and threats for the world than those of moral discomfit. It is increasingly problematic in this context to regard poverty and inequality as soft social issues that can safely be subordinated to more important interests in maximizing total economic output. Rather, social policy must simultaneously be oriented to increasing economic output and restraining the rise of debilitating and counterproductive forms of inequality, a rather more complicated maximization problem that requires the concerted efforts of top scholars and policy-makers around the world. The Stanford University initiative reflects this emerging view that poverty and inequality constitute one of the gravest threats of our time.

Our funding

The seed funding for this initiative comes from Stanford University through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Elfenworks Foundation, which worked with us to design and implement this website, is also a strong supporter. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provides additional funding for the John E. Sawyer faculty seminar, dissertation fellows, and postdoctoral fellows. The research and scholarship of our affiliates is supported by dozens of private and public foundations.

Why this newfound concern with poverty and inequality?

Changes in the brute facts

The takeoff: A spectacular increase in economic inequality in many late-industrial countries

Persistence and intransigence: Intransigence of many noneconomic forms of inequality despite decades of sometimes aggressive egalitarian reform

Changes in our awareness of these facts

Global village: The rise of a "global village" in which regional disparities in the standard of living have become more widely visible and hence increasingly difficult to ignore

The march of egalitarianism: The ongoing tendency to expose new types of inequalities (based on sexual orientation, disability, citizenship, and so forth) that, not so long ago, were taken for granted

Growing appreciation of the negative consequences of these facts

Systemic costs: An emerging concern that poverty and inequality may have negative effects on total economic production, ethnic unrest, and possibly even terrorism

Individual costs: A growing awareness of the negative effects of poverty on health, political participation, and a host of other life conditions

Changes in our evaluation of the facts

A growing commitment to a conception of human rights that includes, at minimum, an entitlement to seek or secure employment and thereby be spared extreme deprivation