Columbia World Projects (CWP) today announces the launch of the Center for Political Economy. The center will draw faculty from across the university to reimagine an economy that is fairer and more inclusive.
“With the creation of this center, Columbia University will be joining a critically important national and global effort to address the nature of political economy and how it determines matters such as the distribution of wealth and the relationship of the public and private spheres of our lives,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. “I can’t think of a subject more urgent or consequential, and I’m deeply grateful to the Hewlett Foundation for its support.”
The center is supported by a $10 million gift from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which has committed more than $100 million to economic and policy research that aims to reimagine the future of capitalism through its Economy and Society Initiative.
“The Center for Political Economy at CWP offers an extraordinary opportunity to combine scholarly expertise across disciplines with the perspectives of practitioners to galvanize understanding and shape ideas that promise to advance human welfare,” said Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and deputy director at Columbia World Projects.
An interdisciplinary group of Columbia University faculty, including Katznelson, will serve as the center’s inaugural co-directors. Others include Suresh Naidu, Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs; Katharina Pistor, Edwin B. Parker Professor of Comparative Law and director of the Center on Global Legal Transformation; and Kate Andrias, Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for Constitutional Governance. Together, they will work with staff, an advisory board of senior faculty, and colleagues at CWP to guide the center’s engagements.
The center aims to generate ideas for a new “political economy,” a term that deliberately harkens back to historical thinkers such as Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and John Maynard Keynes, who developed theories on how politics and economics could work together to shape society. That holistic intellectual tradition was eventually overtaken by the emergence of the narrower and more mathematical field of economics. By the 1970s, the core of the discipline emphasized the primacy of free markets and claimed that it could and should operate freely without government intervention. CWP’s new center aims to once again broaden the scope of academic inquiry to consider the economy as embedded in social and political contexts, and to imagine economics as a more wide-ranging field connected to other disciplines and engaged with traditionally neglected areas of study.
It will develop "idea labs" where faculty and practitioners will gather to study key issues in political economy, including firm size and antitrust, work and labor, climate change economics, money, and finance. Labs will advance fresh thinking, shape research agendas, affect graduate training, and serve as intellectual and policy incubators.
The center will also convene meetings and conferences, issue seed grants for research on under-examined issues, sponsor postdoctoral scholars, issue publications, and hold public lectures and panel discussions. The center will attempt to broaden the study of the economy by bringing the field of economics into conversation with disciplines including history, law, political science, sociology, public health, engineering, and data science.
“It’s clear that the neoliberal order is breaking down, threatening democratic governance around the world and challenging societies to develop new approaches to our most pressing problems,” said Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer. “But the precise form and content of a new economic paradigm aren’t yet clear, and we’re pleased to be able to support the important work of the scholars at Columbia University tackling those difficult questions. They join a growing movement of ideas we believe can set us on a more sustainable and inclusive path to individual dignity and shared prosperity.”
The center will form one of an expanding cohort of new, multidisciplinary efforts to create and deepen a field of post-neoliberal political economy. These efforts include budding centers at Harvard Kennedy School, Howard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Johns Hopkins University; a project at the Santa Fe Institute (funded by the Omidyar Network); and several centers at universities in the Global South to be announced by the Ford Foundation later this year.