Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Income and Wealth Inequality from the Stone Age to the Present
Concerns about rising inequality in income and wealth are making headlines all over the world, from America and Europe to China. Yet current debates and policy proposals neglect the very long sweep of history and the lessons it may hold. This seminar traces the evolution of resource inequality from the Stone Age to the present. Only this long-term perspective can reveal the forces that drive inequality and allow us to address key questions: how long has economic inequality existed? When, how, and why has the gap between haves and haven-nots widened or shrunk over the course of history? Which factors have been the most effective in reducing inequality? What does the history of inequality suggest for the future? We are going to confront challenging arguments: that inequality has been closely tied up with overall economic and human development, and that in the long run, violent shocks such as war, revolution, and pestilence were the most effective equalizers of income and wealth. This class will help you appreciate contexts and complexities that are often obscured by partisan controversies and short-term perspectives. It provides rich historical background for a better understanding of one of the big problems of our time.