Stone Centre brings us together to meet today's challenge of inequality
Using a powerful illustration he spotted in Italy, Christian Dustmann conveys the difference between equality and equity, and what economic research can do to ameliorate inequality.
What is the most pressing problem economists today should be addressing? This is the question teachers around the world using CORE Econ in their classrooms ask their new students at the start of each year. Since the question was first asked in 2014, one word has come back more than any other: Inequality.
Their answer shouldn’t shock us; the issue of inequality has come to dominate our politics and economy, its effects are felt in our culture, health and education outcomes and our everyday lives. In the Department of Economics, the issue of inequality, its drivers, and its effects are being studied from many research domains. The Department is also home to the CORE project, which has established a new benchmark for the teaching of economics in which unequal endowments and relationships in the economy are central. It’s against this backdrop that we begin the work of the Stone Centre.
The Centre was made possible by a £5m donation from James Stone, a philanthropist who, in his own words, is helping the Centre ‘…study the causes and consequences of the accelerating wealth and income inequality that I have observed with discomfort’. This discomfort, shared by our students, is matched by our academic ambition to find understanding and solutions.
Imran Rasul, Wendy Carlin, and Antonio Guarino opening the workshop.
At a recent workshop organised by the Stone Centre and the UCL Department of Economics, we heard from colleagues and research groups across the department. We grappled with the interconnected nature of the challenge; as Wendy Carlin, the Stone Centre co-director noted, there are many stories to be told many questions to be answered, but how we convene these is key, and the Stone Centre is a significant step forward in that process of convening.
In a single afternoon, we discussed ongoing work from over three dozen of our colleagues on aspects of inequality. Colleagues in the macro and finance groups discussed how their work demonstrated the compounding impacts of unequal patterns of asset holdings on the persistence of inequality. Christian Dustmann described the study of social policies to ameliorate inequality. Aureo de Paula set out methodological advances by econometricians in the department on the measurement of inequalities and rankings. And we heard from Richard Blundell and colleagues at the IFS about the ongoing work of the Deaton Review in helping us to understand the connections between education, work and geography that lie behind the contours of inequality.
LHS: From left to right, Kate Smith, Xiaowei Xu, and Richard Blundell. RHS: Aureo de Paula.
As well as research, the session explored the tools and teaching methods that would help us deliver on the mission of the new centre, with its distinctive equal weighting on research and education. We heard from Parama Chaudhury, who explained how the Centre for Teaching and Learning Economics (CTaLE) is moving beyond research-led to research-based education, equipping students to do their own research. We also heard from some of the undergraduate students working on research projects related to educational inequalities. Describing projects on the BAME awarding gap, Parama helped us understand inequalities at play within UCL.
LHS: Parama Chaudhury. RHS: Giomaria Murgia, an undegraduate student in economics at UCL who presented his work on the effect of school vouchers on educational outcomes. Giomaria carried out this research project as part of the Economics of Inequality module he attended at UCL.
The session embodied a spirit of collaboration, as Imran Rasul, the Stone Centre co-director, set out: “The day was a great success in bringing together researchers from all research groups in the department, highlighting the need and possibility to study and educate on inequalities and wealth concentration from multiple angles.”
The Stone Centre’s success will be measured by its ability to bring together researchers from different specializations to work on complex problems in inequality and to build on CORE Econ's record of innovation in economics education. This will enable UCL to be a genuine world-leader in research and teaching on inequality. By coming together in the Stone Centre, we will respond to our students’ ambitions and equip policymakers and society with the tools to address the great economic questions of the day.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be developing the Centre’s research agenda, grant giving programme, details on funding for PhD scholarships and a visitors programme. The Centre’s inaugural public event will be in May 2022 with an in-person celebration and a call to action for a sustained effort to generate new knowledge about wealth concentration, drawing in PhD students, post-docs, and other researchers from all fields.
If you’d like to know more about the Centre and how to get involved, please email us at email@example.com.
The IEA promotes personal contacts and mutual understanding among economists in different parts of the world through the organization of scientific meetings, through common research programs, and by means of publications of an international character on problems of current importance.
Co-director Imran Rasul has been elected as Vice-President (President-Elect in 2025 and President in 2026) of the European Economic Association. On behalf of the Stone Centre at UCL, congratulations!
Lucas Conwell, Attila Lindner, and Stephen Hansen, academics in the Department of Economics at UCL, will receive a research support grant from the Stone Centre.