IN 2018, THE JAMES M. AND CATHLEEN D. STONE FOUNDATION provided Harvard Kennedy School with a $2.5 million gift for new and ongoing work to address wealth concentration and the broader problems of inequality. The gift supported the research and outreach efforts at the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy at the Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, which serves as a nexus for work across the University. The program brought together Harvard faculty members and PhD students from the social sciences who were exploring issues such as wealth concentration, poverty and justice, opportunity and intergenerational mobility, and inequalities of income, race, and place.

“The accelerating concentration of wealth at the pinnacle of the wealth distribution is not propitious for the well-being of our country,” Jim Stone said at the time. “The concentration and sequestration of wealth at the top can interfere with economic growth and diminish the benefits of mobility. Excesses of concentration and hereditary wealth tend to weaken the middle class and dampen prospects for the poor. Just as important, this trend threatens to undermine the democratic pluralism in politics that has helped create this country’s impressive record of success. Cathy and I are pleased to support the efforts at the Kennedy School to examine issues of equity in the distribution of our society’s wealth and income.”

Maya Sen

“The new Stone Program will position Harvard to be at the forefront of studying and researching inequality.”

Maya Sen

Four years later, that gift has funded more than 40 doctoral students, drawn from across Harvard University graduate schools, who are working on cutting-edge issues in the social sciences. In addition, it has been used to host a weekly seminar on inequality at which leading researchers from universities around the country have presented works-in-progress to the program’s highly engaged community of scholars. And it launched the annual James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Lecture in Economic Inequality, designed to bring greater awareness to this important challenge. The inaugural Stone Lecture was delivered in 2018 by the renowned economist Thomas Piketty at Harvard Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

Earlier this year, Jim and Cathy Stone again provided transformational funding through their foundation, whose mission is to promote a more knowledgeable and inclusive society, to help the Kennedy School add new elements to its program on wealth inequality.

“We are delighted to help Harvard Kennedy School expand its work on the causes and consequences of increasing wealth inequality,” Jim Stone said in announcing the new gift. “Taken to its extreme, the trend toward excessive wealth concentration can carry society away from meritocracy, productivity, empathy, mobility, and democratic ideals.”

The Stones presented HKS with a $5 million gift to establish the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Program in Wealth Distribution, Inequality, and Social Policy at the Wiener Center. The donation was announced in March, just hours before the economist and Nobel Memorial Prize recipient Joseph Stiglitz took the Forum stage for the most recent Stone Lecture. The new Stone Program, which builds on the success of the Stone PhD Scholars, will unite faculty members, students, and researchers from across Harvard University and beyond to better understand and address the causes and consequences of wealth inequalities in various populations around the world. “The Kennedy School, with its distinguished interdisciplinary faculty, has a special opportunity and role to play in addressing this issue,” said Cathy Stone.

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The Stone Program will include the work of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy and add new components, among them a consortium of doctoral students in the social sciences whose research focuses on income and wealth inequality; policy-relevant and public-facing research that speaks to real-world problems; and public events to communicate research results and engage members of the broader community.

“Income inequality and concentrated wealth can leave many people at economic and social disadvantage,” said Doug Elmendorf, dean and the Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy at HKS. “Appropriate public policy to create a fairer economic system can provide economic opportunity and mobility for people currently deprived of such prospects. The establishment of this program by Jim and Cathy will allow the Kennedy School to build a critical mass of scholars creating evidence-based approaches to this crucial challenge.”

Beyond its core components, the Stone Program will expand the reach and impact of its research with a rotating mix of high-profile visiting scholars and a nimble grant program to enable researchers to start projects quickly and efficiently.

“The new Stone Program will position Harvard to be at the forefront of studying and researching inequality,” said Maya Sen, the program’s faculty director. “We are thrilled to be able to build on our existing strengths while also helping push the boundaries of research and scholarship with the exciting new opportunities afforded by the Stone Program.”

Photographs by Martha Stewart