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Moral Political Economy Project Gets Boost

A gift from Reid Hoffman ensures the project will continue to thrive.

An ongoing CASBS project on Creating a New Moral Political Economy recently received a big vote of confidence from entrepreneur, investor, strategist, and Stanford alum Reid Hoffman.

Hoffman is widely known as the co-founder of LinkedIn, the career and professional online social networking site that Microsoft acquired in 2016. He has served as a partner with Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm, since 2009. He sits on several corporate boards, including Microsoft’s. Among recent activities are his popular podcast “Masters of Scale,” launched in 2017, and co-authored book Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies, published in 2018. He earned a bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems from Stanford University in 1990.

In addition, Hoffman is a civic figure who fully engages public issues and intellectual life. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Oxford University, and that experience formed his view of philosophy as the “springboard to a life of meaning and entrepreneurial impact,” as he wrote in a 2016 LinkedIn (of course) post about the newly-launched annual Berggruen Prize.

In fact, it’s through a Berggruen Institute-sponsored workshop held at CASBS in 2016, in which he participated, that Reid Hoffman met CASBS director Margaret Levi. The two got to know each other further through the Berggruen Institute once Hoffman joined Levi on the institute’s board of directors.[i]

During a visit by Levi to Hoffman’s Palo Alto office late in the summer, the conversation meandered toward the recognition, shared by an increasing number of observers and reinforced by mounting evidence, that the prevailing political economic system and its supporting institutions are fraying, benefit too few, and require a fundamental rethinking.

That’s in essence the motivation behind the Center’s project on Creating a New Moral Political Economy, as Hoffman knew from previous conversations. Levi updated him on the project’s steady progress. Hoffman, interested, proposed helping the project, and its progress, accelerate.

The Center is pleased to report Reid Hoffman's generous $300k gift to support the CASBS project on Creating a New Moral Political Economy.

With its Creating a New Moral Political Economy project, CASBS is convening a multi-disciplinary group of smart and provocative thinkers to help figure out how we are going to design a better, more equitable society. The project already is generating some very innovative ideas, and starting to untangle some very thorny problems and issues. I’m pleased to support this ambitious and important undertaking.

Reid Hoffman

Emerging from the intellectual and policy groundwork established by its influential predecessor project on The Future of Work and Workers, the Center’s new flagship project, launched in 2018, aims to create a new moral political economic framework that draws on the best social scientific knowledge about humans and their behavior to better serve the needs of individuals, society, and the environment. A framework for designing a better and more equitable society.

The project is led by Levi and CASBS program director Federica Carugati. Like all CASBS multi-year collaborative projects, this one assembles a dynamic cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral team of experts. They comprise a network of more than 80 academics, journalists, politicians, civil society activists, and technologists concerned with the future of capitalist democracies. The project leverages their diverse perspectives and approaches, thereby enhancing the prospects for producing collective knowledge and breakthroughs that none could produce independently.

Around the time of the project’s launch, Levi wrote and circulated a thought piece to help frame and situate the project.

Current CASBS fellows involved in the project include Sonja Amadae, Brian Arthur, Michael Brownstein, Marco Casari, David Ciepley, Michael Hiscox, and Leif Wenar. Former fellows involved include John Ahlquist, Marion Fourcade, Louis Hyman, Natasha Iskander, Jamie Jones, Dan Kelly, John Markoff, Margaret O’Mara, Debra Satz, Maya Tudor, and Jake Ward. (The Berggruen Institute, a CASBS program partner, supports the fellowships of Amadae, Ciepley, and Hiscox. In the past it supported Markoff, Ward, and many other fellows.)

Other project participants include Jenna Bednar, University of Michigan; Heather Boushey, Equitable Growth; John Seely Brown, Deloitte Center for the Edge and CASBS board member; Hans Peter Brondmo, Google X; Angus Burgin, Johns Hopkins University; Nicolas Colin, The Family; Paul Collier, Oxford University; Henry Farrell, George Washington University; Nils Gilman, Berggruen Institute; Antara Haldar, Cambridge University; Jennifer Harris, Hewlett Foundation; William Janeway, Warburg Pincus and Institute for New Economic Thinking; Pia Malaney, Institute for New Economic Thinking; novelist Kim Stanley Robinson; Paul Saffo, Stanford University; and Glen Weyl, Microsoft Research, among many others.

The Hewlett Foundation has provided principal funding for the project, with additional funding from the Berggruen Institute, the Ford Foundation, and Bloomberg Beta.

And now Reid Hoffman.

“With its Creating a New Moral Political Economy project, CASBS is convening a multi-disciplinary group of smart and provocative thinkers to help figure out how we are going to design a better, more equitable society,” said Hoffman, reached for comment. “The project already is generating some very innovative ideas, and starting to untangle some very thorny problems and issues. I’m pleased to support this ambitious and important undertaking.”

CASBS director Margaret Levi is beyond grateful – and eager to accelerate the project.

“I’m thrilled Reid is placing his confidence in the Center and the moral political economy project,” said Levi. “It’s a testament to how far the project has advanced in a little over one year. He’s enabling us to intensify our efforts and really push the project to the edge at a critical juncture in its development.”

Thus far, the Center has convened two large gatherings, in addition to the ongoing work of the project’s working groups both on and off the hill. Catalyzed by Hoffman, throughout the next year CASBS also will host seven or eight small-scale, focused workshops on topics where the project is gaining traction: rethinking the corporation, defining the nature and scope of moral markets, harnessing technology for social good, identifying the structural and institutional obstacles to control climate change and environmental degradation, examining labor protection and power, and exploring new strategies for teaching and learning political economy.

“Our goal with this series of meetings is to speed the pace of progress on the intellectual side, but with an eye on concrete proposals on the policy side,” said Carugati.

“And we hope to see Reid at a couple of them,” added Levi, “elbow to elbow with us and contributing his superb insights and business acumen.”

The first of these meetings took shape quickly. On October 31, a working group of the larger project held a workshop at CASBS devoted to “Rethinking the Corporation.” Colin Mayer and Henry Richards, both of the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation project, were among a group participating via videoconference. The Center is entering a more formal partnership with the British Academy to help advance thinking about the role of corporate institutions in a new moral political economy.

Notably, the project has led to or inspired complementary initiatives. For example, economists Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman, participants in the first project workshop in May 2018, now are co-directors of the Economists for Inclusive Prosperity network, launched in early 2019. Its inaugural research brief, republished in Boston Review, credits the CASBS gathering “for stimulating the conversation that instigated” their own project.

Project member Antara Haldar, a law and economics scholar at the University of Cambridge now on leave thanks to a prestigious European Union Marie Skłodowska-Curie global research fellowship, is spending this and next academic year at Stanford, in part to work with Levi and help drive the moral political economy project. Haldar is the force behind the Common Currency project. On November 7-9, that project hosted, in affiliation with CASBS, a major conference on The ‘Cambridge Circus’ and the Reinvention of Economics – a direct reference to the need for a new paradigm that embeds “value-based economic analysis” in the very place that birthed the Keynesian paradigm in 1930-31. Levi was a featured speaker at the conference.

Embedded in this larger landscape, the CASBS project and its members have created a network that overlaps, coordinates, and collaborates with a wider community of scholars, projects, and networks. This helps propel new ways of cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral thinking in the service of discovery and, ultimately, real-world impact.

For all the high-level workshops and conferences, the CASBS project also is beginning to disseminate practical and usable information and tools. During summer 2019, for example, the pedagogy working group conducted surveys to better understand how moral and political economy currently are taught in universities around the world. Soon a website will be up and running to share syllabi, metadata, and other materials to facilitate the teaching and discussion of topics related to moral political economy in classrooms. The Institute for New Economic Thinking, among others, has expressed interest in pedagogic and didactic materials emerging from such efforts. Another rapidly growing database, associated with the work of the values working group, documents instances of real-world social problem solving undertaken in ways that part from the prevailing neoliberal paradigm.

In the coming months, look for more nuts-and-bolts, yet critical, deliverables coming out of the project’s working groups.

“If this project is to succeed – articulating a theory of change, offering ideas for policy and institutional reform, and putting forth an alternative vision – that means we’ll need to deliver usable information and tools at the ground level as well,” said Levi.

And there will be a book. Levi and Carugati signed a contract to coauthor a short volume for Cambridge University Press, set for publication in late 2020, with the working title Creating the Framework for a New Moral Political Economy: A Manifesto. Though it won’t encompass everything the CASBS project does, it will provide empirical, analytic, and normative justifications for the process of building a new political economic framework, and it will offer a set of actionable recommendations.

“We are not the only ones to engage in diagnostics about the failures of the current political economic system,” said Carugati, who brings a PhD in classics and political science to her roles as program director and coauthor. “In fact, some may question the value of another book suggesting as much. Our aim, though, is to take a step further and think creatively about the kind of future we want and the institutions we need for bringing it about.”

The book also will build, in part, on decades of scholarship and thinking for Margaret Levi, winner most recently of the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science, the highest honor in that discipline.

Levi’s Skytte Prize speech, delivered in September 2019 in Uppsala, Sweden, traces an intellectual journey. The experiences of that journey are being brought to bear now, and in the speech’s call for a new political economic framework “that serves the interests of the society as a whole, that builds on and produces shared values, and that institutionalizes trustworthy and legitimate government.”

The framework is human centered, in alignment both with the overall CASBS mission and the experience of individuals at the ground level that Levi mentioned.

“A moral political economy is not just its abstract qualities or its economic reasoning and political justifications,” she said in the speech. “It must speak to the concerns that people have and outline a set of values that guide policy to meet those concerns.” Its values must “cut across divides, rather than deepen them: values such as protection of our common planet, significant reduction of political inequality, protection and facilitation of human dignity and flourishing.”

“We have choices over where we will go next, and my energy now is devoted to making those choices both apparent and possible.”


[i] Hoffman’s chief of staff, David Sanford, also is a friend of the Center who frequently attends CASBS workshops and public symposia.


  • Margaret Levi put out a call for a new moral political economy in a 2018 TEDx talk.
  • Levi’s intellectual framing essay, “Towards a New Moral Economy: A Thought Piece,” motivates the project. Read it here.
  • Levi sat down with journalist John Markoff to talk about the project in an episode of the CASBS podcast, Human Centered. Listen and subscribe to Human Centered wherever you get podcasts, including StitcherSpotifyApple PodcastsSimplecast, and others.

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