We see a fundamental issue as lying in the nature of changing economic inequalities: how and why is the share of value added going to labour falling in many countries across the world? Why should the relationship between productivity and earnings have changed? How are these economic inequalities shaped by both social and political systems? Our aspiration, therefore, is to build up an integrated social and political economy of inequality through the pursuit of interlinked research projects.
The mechanisms involved in producing inequality have fundamental implications for social and political systems. There has been a profound reconfiguration of the ‘advanced’ societies over the last quarter century, radically changing the nature of and interrelations between economic, social and political systems. While this has taken different forms in different countries (in say Sweden or Denmark compared with the UK or the US), there have been similar basic changes. Rising economic and social inequality is affecting the configuration of classes; fragmenting the ‘old’ pattern of political involvement via stable parties with high trust in politicians, and participation through voting and party membership, as well as civic culture; and leading to low participation, low party membership, as well as populist (‘radical right’ and ‘radical left’) parties, and low trust in political systems. These developments have been prompted in large part by technological change which has caused the collapse of stable employment in key sectors and which has brought with it a generation of winners and losers, shaped by differential access to higher education and other avenues towards skill-acquisition as well as by broader vectors of power and social norms. The polarisation between winners and losers has in turn prompted a reconfiguration of class affiliations and a realignment of political preferences, leading to a reconfiguration in many countries of party politics and new forms of democratic organisation and participation.
Our work will advance the existing scholarship on advanced countries, while also asking what the advanced democracies can learn from scholarship on developing countries of the global South. Here, analogous changes have been felt in economies such as Brazil, South Africa and Taiwan, while global geo-political and technological forces underlying the growth in inequalities in the advanced democracies have been shaped by distinctive institutional and political dynamics, with consequences for inequalities both within and between countries. Our work will also examine the role that new inequalities in the resources, skills and connections related to fast-changing media and information infrastructures play in reproducing or potentially challenging deep-seated inequalities.