In 2007, during meetings of the Tobin Project initiative on Government & Markets, scholars and policymakers repeatedly identified rising economic inequality as potentially the greatest threat to the American democracy and economy over the long term. This expression of concern sparked interest at the Tobin Project to launch a multi-year research inquiry into the potential consequences of high and rising economic inequality in the United States.

In May 2010, the Tobin Project held a conference to explore what the dramatic rise in inequality might mean for economic performance, the health of the democracy, and the vitality of American families. The opening conference brought together a diverse group of leading scholars, policymakers, and practitioners, and instilled a new sense of urgency around understanding the consequences of inequality. Chaired by Bruce Western (Harvard University, Sociology), the meeting generated over a dozen papers with new thinking, research, and analysis on rising inequality and its potential implications for the United States.   

Following the conference, the Tobin Project held several small meetings and consultations to further develop the range of ideas and perspectives on the consequences of inequality and to identify points for productive intervention. Events have included a September 2010 policymaker roundtable in Washington, D.C., dedicated to fostering communication between scholars of inequality and policymakers; a September 2010 meeting on increased income concentration at the top-end of the income spectrum; and meetings in December 2010 and January 2011 on whether and how inequality might contribute to financial crises. At this time, research efforts within this initiative are focusing especially on the potential consequences of inequality on individual decision-making, the performance of private firms, and the democratic process.