History shows that the standards by which societies judge economic activity change over time. As these moral frameworks evolve—or devolve—many of the changes make their way into law. For example, modern anti-trust law is grounded in the widely accepted belief that monopolies depress competition and growth and encourage unscrupulous behavior.
However, in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the state explicitly sought to protect large trade monopolies, which were commonly regarded as good for trade. The slow transformation of the moral status of monopoly over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries figured prominently in a larger cultural transformation, which might be thought of as the shift from a moral economy to a political economy, and ushered in the birth of classical economics. Appreciating how and why this shift occurred reveals interesting links between power, political representation, and economic theory. It may also allow us to recover some important moral ideas about exchange that were lost along the way.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequalities in unpaid care work, with increased childcare and housework burdens disproportionately borne by women. Across Europe and North America, women have been pushed out of the labor market, while mothers are increasingly suffering from stress and burnout.
Social policy might be able to reverse these trends – and the Carework Network has been urging the Biden-Harris administration to take decisive action now and reinvest in care infrastructure to “build back better”. Similar campaigns have been launched internationally, including in Canada and the UK.
But what can data tell us about the potential for welfare programs to address the gender gap in unpaid care work?
In our recent article in Gender & Society, we quantify the connections between social policy spending and inequality amongst unpaid care workers across 29 European countries.
American youth from rural backgrounds are making the most of the college-for-all era. Despite long-standing inequalities in access, rates of both college enrollment and completion have risen faster in recent years for rural youth than for youth from suburban and urban areas.
These successes both reflect and reinforce contemporary challenges facing rural America. Rising enrollments stem in part from structural shifts in the economy that have reduced the number of decent-paying jobs available to less-educated rural workers. And rural sociologists have documented the family and community costs of college-going, highlighting tensions between the desire to stay close to home and the hope of future economic security.
Yet it is also important to consider how rural youth are financing these college gains, especially given the high costs of college, rising student debt, and longstanding spatial inequalities in the resources students have to pay for college.
“We are awakening to a dollar-store economy,” the New York Times declared in 2011, a culture of fear-induced bargain hunting spurred by the 2008 market meltdown and jobless recovery. More than ever before, anxious consumers are looking to stretch a buck due to the shrinking middle class and a widening gap of economic inequality. Dollar stores thrive in climates of economic uncertainty. In fact, their success is built on the death of the American middle class.
Yet all Dollar General stores are not equal. That was my conclusion in a recent article, after conducing six months of ethnographic fieldwork investigating service relations between dollar store managers, low-wage workers, and their customers. Of the nineteen stores in the district I worked in as a low-wage sales associate, three standout stores emerged as the very worst. Conditions there were dirtier and more hazardous than the rest, with barren shelves, slower customer service, and a tense atmosphere for those who worked and shopped amidst the squalor. I identified these Dollar General locations as consumer redlined stores.