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 wellbeing of American families. The conference brought together a diverse group of leading scholars, policymakers, and practitioners and emphasized the importance of understanding the consequences of inequality. Chaired by Bruce Western (Harvard University, Sociology), the event generated over a dozen papers with new thinking and research on rising inequality and its potential implications for the United States. 

Following the conference, the Tobin Project held several small meetings to further develop ideas for new research on the consequences of inequality and to identify areas ripe for productive intervention. Events 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. Current projects in our Economic Inequality initiative are studying the effects of inequality on individual decision making with the aim of building our understanding of how inequality affects our economy, democracy, and society more broadly.