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Can We Build a Better Society? International Panel Publishes Report on Social Progress

Nov 29, 2018
B. Rose Kelly
Woodrow Wilson School

Considerable social progress has been made around the world, yet new global challenges threatening human advancement and survival need urgent responses, according to a new report published by an international panel comprised of social scientists. 

Bringing together nearly 300 researchers from around the world, the International Panel for Social Progress (IPSP) worked for three years to examine the prospects for social progress in light of today’s social sciences. They published their first report, “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century,” under the chairmanship of Amartya Sen of Harvard University.

According to the report, the main challenges include world development gaps, environmental degradation and climate change, concentration of wealth and power, corruption of democratic institutions, migrations and demographic imbalances and technological change. Meeting these challenges and pursuing social progress requires substantial reforms of market regulations, corporations, political institutions, media organizations and global governance. 

Marc Fleurbaey“At a time when one could cast doubt upon the virtues of democracy, this report interestingly argues for empowering people and expanding participatory mechanisms. Along this vein, multiple possibilities and many ideas can be tested and adapted to different economic, political and cultural contexts,” said Marc Fleurbaey, Robert E. Kuenne Professor in Economics and Humanistic Studies at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School. Fleurbaey is a co-founder of the IPSP and spearheaded the preparation of the report. 

“Our report aims to inspire and inform political decision-makers, citizens and all actors of civil society who are currently weighing the evolution of our institutions,” said Elke Weber, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School. Weber serves on the IPSP Steering Committee.

“It is crucial to understand how the most disadvantaged experience challenges and perceive possibilities in their difficult environments, and how the privileged understand and justify their role, in order to be able to provide the most effective supports and promote greater dignity,” said Eldar Shafir, Class of 1987 Professor in Behavioral Science and Public Policy and professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School. Shafir co-authored the chapters in the book focused on inequalities.

With support from Princeton University's Center for Human Values and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the IPSP convened a series of meetings since 2015 to explore economic, political and cultural issues. 

They explored such issues as democracy, poverty and inequality, globalization, labor, migration, economic and corporate governance, global and environmental risks, health, conflicts, religions, education, diversity and integration, among others.

Two additional faculty members from Princeton University served on the IPSP Scientific Council: Philip Pettit, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor in the University Center for Human Values; and Kim L. Scheppele, Laurance S. RockefellerProfessor of Sociology and International Affairs, who is jointly appointed with the Woodrow Wilson School.

The report is published by Cambridge University Press (CUP) in three volumes: “Socio-Economic Transformations”; “Political Regulation, Governance and Societal Transformations”; and “Transformations in Values, Norms, Cultures”. CUP simultaneously published “A Manifesto for Social Progress” by Fleurbaey and others, which distills the main narrative of the report for a wider audience. To obtain copies of the report or manifesto, contact Ellena Moriarty at  

The IPSP convened a panel discussion at Princeton University on Nov. 26. A video of the event will be posted here.  

The Princeton Public Library will host a film screening on Dec. 10 in their Community Room at 65 Witherspoon Street in Princeton, New Jersey. The film, “A New Society,” is a documentary by multimedia journalist Sofie Wolthers about keys ideas of the report and the authors’ deeply personal quest for a better society. There will also be a book discussion of the manifesto with Fleurbaey. 

For more information about IPSP, click here.