As a founding director 20 years ago, Victor Nee never imagined that the Center for the Study of Economy and Society (CSES) was interested in the technological economy of New York. The city hardly had any to speak of – on par with Philadelphia, and a bit playful when it came to financial services, real estate, or tourism.
Today, New York boasts the country’s second-largest technological economy after Silicon Valley, and the development of regional knowledge-based economies is one of the main areas of research at the centre’s Economic Sociology Laboratory, supported by graduate researchers and scholars. undergraduate assistants.
The work is one of many transdisciplinary projects the center focuses on, bringing together disciplines ranging from sociology and economics to computer science to better understand economic markets and economic action.
“This research integrates economic sociology with big data, linking it to more traditional social science research methods,” said Nee, Professor Frank and Rosa Rhodes in the Department of Sociology at the College of Arts and Sciences. “So this is an exciting project, and we are making good progress on it.”
Nee took over the leadership of CSES this year, which he said highlighted Cornell’s strength in economic sociology, one of the top-ranked subfields at the university. The Center’s Economic Sociology Laboratory Mixed-Method Fellowship extends a sociological approach to the study of economic life, Nee said.
“In all the endeavors where you have interdisciplinary research, you have more possibilities for productive intellectual commerce, which moves the field forward,” he said. “We are continuing our tradition of graduate and undergraduate education in this hybrid field of economic sociology. “
Nee hopes to expand the reach and impact of the Center through virtual access to its series of seminars and symposia, a change spurred by the pandemic and further inspired by the late sociologist Robert Merton’s idea of a ‘university without walls. “.
Knowledge economies under study, including Los Angeles, have benefited from the shift in the focus of the technological economy from hardware to software and applications, making it easier for non-engineers to develop disruptive ideas. and leading tech startups, said Nee.
In New York City, for example, only 10% of the tech workforce has an engineering background, he said. The Centre’s research also looked at gender in technical management at the executive level, finding an increasing number of women, but more often responsible for marketing and communications functions than technology.
In another research project, a task force examines the sources of extreme and billionaire wealth. The key questions, Nee said, are what explains why so much extreme wealth is now being created in the global economy, and why is it increasing rapidly, even during the pandemic?
“Throughout human history, great wealth has belonged to rulers – the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Emperors of China, the Mongol Empire, the King of England – because they could make their own wealth, ”Nee said. “What is unusual about this period is that most of the great wealth is achieved by independent entrepreneurs, not by inheritance, and they are increasing so rapidly, both in number and in the size of their own. richness.”
Think of names like Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg or Jobs, Nee said, but many more – the Economic Sociology Lab’s 4,432 billionaire dataset shows significant numbers based in emerging economies like than China and India, China second behind the United States in number of billionaires. The two countries couldn’t be more politically different, Nee said, but are similar in terms of creating great wealth, with small percentages of those fortunes gained through political connections.
Nee, the author with Sonja Opper, professor at Bocconi University in Italy, of “Capitalism from Below: Markets and Institutional Change in China”, has spent more than a decade studying the emergence of modern legal-rational capitalism in China, another CSES Project. The Chinese Communist Party could expropriate wealth through taxes or nationalization, Nee said, but instead encouraged private enterprise and allowed great wealth to flourish.
“It’s a puzzle, and I don’t think any one discipline has an answer to that question,” said Nee. “It’s a different world we live in.