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The Politics of Wealth Inequality and Mobility in the Twenty-First Century

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WEALTHPOL (The Politics of Wealth Inequality and Mobility in the Twenty-First Century)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

The core questions that the WEALTHPOL project is asking are: how and why does wealth inequality and mobility vary across countries; how do government policies affect wealth inequality and mobility; and how does variation in wealth affect citizen attitudes about their preferred government policies? This ground-breaking interdisciplinary project has been designed with three work packages to answer those questions, aiming to transform our knowledge about wealth inequality and wealth mobility across Europe and beyond.

WEALTHPOL 1 will develop the first comprehensive open-access collection of data about the distribution and inheritance of wealth in Europe and beyond. WEALTHPOL 2 provides the first political database of how governments shape the pattern of wealth through political pledges and policymaking, spanning seven decades and thirty-seven countries. Finally, WEALTHPOL 3 uses cutting-edge laboratory and survey experiments to expand our knowledge about what citizens think about wealth. Do they see wealth inheritance as undermining social mobility or do they see it as a natural desire to help out one’s progeny?

As wealth inequalities rise to levels unseen since the ‘Gilded Age’ of the early twentieth century, it is crucial for social scientists to understand not only the magnitude of this change but how it is connected to underlying political struggles and how it shapes the social and political debates of the future. By connecting data on wealth inequality and mobility to the political and policy space around wealth, and then to citizens’ attitudes to wealth, WEALTHPOL advances far beyond the important work of Piketty, bringing politics and individual behaviour into the study of wealth for the first time. It also generates a series of novel and comprehensive databases that will help scholars and policymakers alike develop responses to these pressing challenges. Thus, WEALTHPOL revolutionises our understanding of – and our capacity to respond to – the politics of capital in the twenty-first century.
We are working on all three Work Packages, with Work Packages 1 and 3 being the furthest advanced at this point.

Major achievements in our first two years include a day workshop which we ran in April 2018, to which we invited policymakers, politicians, and other key academics from the field. The keynote was given by Ed Miliband, MP, and there were talks by speakers such as Paul Johnson (Institute of Fiscal Studies) and Torsten Bell (Resolution Foundation) as well as roundtable discussions with, among others, Polly Toynbee (columnist and journalist for the Guardian), Sir Andrew Dilnot (Warden of Nuffield College), and Frank Soodean (Rowntree Foundation). This event helped build our stakeholder base, and laid the groundwork of relationships which will be useful in the later dissemination stage of the project.

Other achievements include a number of publications and working papers related to the WEALTHPOL project, as well as one major paper, co-authored by the Principle Investigator, Professor Ben Ansell, and David Adler, which has been published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal West European Politics. The team have also been collecting the necessary data to implement Work Package 1, and are confident that they will be able to produce the wealth distribution and mobility database outlined in the grant agreement. The team have also begun training for Work Package 2, honing their skills on text analysis and machine learning. We look forward to welcoming our new postdoctoral researcher in January 2020, who will focus on this Work Package alongside one of our existing PhD researchers. The laboratory experiments and survey experiments of Work Package 3 have now been designed and we look forward to running the first round of laboratory experiments at the Centre for Experimental Social Sciences (CESS) here in Oxford, in early 2020. Various members of the team are working on papers and other results which we expect to be able to disseminate soon; working papers and materials from presentations given are available on the project website.
We are currently collecting data at the national, sub-national, and individual level, and expect to analyse this over the coming period, as per the original grant agreement. This project is creating a novel database for future social science researchers and we look forward to sharing the data and project outputs as they are completed.

The project article ‘Housing and Populism’ co-authored by the Principal Investigator Ben Ansell with David Adler, has been published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal West European Politics. (The article has received wide coverage including in The Economist and The Times and has been featured on social media as ERC Research of the Week.) As well as this, the team have published a number of related articles and working papers using results from the WEALTHPOL project and related research. We expect to produce several more articles before the end of the project life, as well as disseminating research results at conferences and other proceedings.
WEALTHPOL team with Ed Miliband at our April 2018 workshop