Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Causes and Consequences of the Rise in Inequality
In this seminar we will discuss the economic and institutional causes of the rise in inequality in the U.S. and other countries (such as the UK, Nordic European countries, and China) over the last 40 years. Popular interest in this topic is soaring. For example, both the New York Times ("The Great Divide") and the Economist run regular reports and series on inequality. An academic book on inequality, Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has become one of the most unlikely best-sellers in the history of Harvard University Press—a publisher not known for being in the same sales league as Stephen King. We will try to understand and explain the popular interest in these issues. We will also discuss the consequences of inequality in terms of social justice (i.e., fairness in the way the "economic pie" is divided), economic welfare (i.e., are people better off or worse off from increased inequality?), aggregate economic performance (i.e., do more unequal countries grow faster than those that are more egalitarian?), intergenerational mobility (i.e., is the increased inequality making the "American dream" an "American nightmare"?), and the possible implications of inequality for the recent global financial crisis. Our class will be a combination of various elements, including students' presentations of academic and popular articles, small-group projects on special topics, and class debates.