Levels of inequality have skyrocket since the neoliberal revolution of the early 1980s. Inequality is no longer considered an unfortunate by-product of economic growth but now recognized as key causal, contributing factor to explain the origin and severity of the Great Depression, high unemployment rates, health, crime and other social problems or the erosion of democratic decision making and the rise of populism.
Existing work is dominated by economists attributing rising inequality to Skill-Biased Technological Change, Trade Competition from low wage countries and, to a lesser extent, the decline in labor market institutions. Sociologists shift the focus from inequality among individuals to inequality between different groups based on class, gender, race or age. Political scientists, not surprisingly, are interested in the corroding influence on democratic decisions making and the rise of populism, while geographers highlight the spatial dimension of inequality.
This course will illustrate the rise of inequality at various spatial scales, offer you theories to try and understand the rise, and engage you in discussions about politically relevant questions: Do we need a wealth tax? Should we raise taxes on top incomes? Why people should (not) pay inheritance tax? Do women choose to work and earn less? Do manager salaries reflect their higher value added to their company and economy? Are high wages the result of individual ability and hard work? Is inequality socially beneficial because it makes people try harder? Is inequality causing or caused by migration? Why is inequality higher in some countries than in others? What effect does higher/lower inequality have on the wellbeing? Is inequality fair? Is redistribution fair? Does inequality lead to more or less social segregation? When does segregation matter for people? Why is it good/bad to live in diverse/segregated neighborhoods?
After completing this course, you will have a better understanding of the causes of inequality, be able to critically evaluate academic research, be aware of your position in the national income distribution, know how to measure inequality and interpret them appropriately, be able to evaluate policy proposals targeting various income groups and write policy briefs, practice your logical reasoning and debating skills. More importantly you should become aware of inequality arising from a number of complex and inter-dependent processes, that inequality is the result of changes in market and non-market institutions, that some forms of inequality are more relevant than others and that there are no simple solutions to address it.