1255 Sustainable Economics and Business II: Debating Inequality
Univ.Prof. Dr. Jürgen Essletzbichler, Daniel Grabner, MSc (WU)
Weekly hours
Language of instruction
09/09/21 to 09/27/21
Registration via LPIS
Notes to the course
Day Date Time Room
Thursday 10/14/21 09:00 AM - 01:30 PM D5.1.002
Thursday 10/21/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM D5.1.002
Thursday 10/28/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM D5.1.002
Thursday 11/04/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM D5.1.002
Thursday 11/11/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM D5.1.002
Thursday 12/02/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM Online-Einheit
Thursday 12/09/21 08:30 AM - 11:30 AM Online-Einheit

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.

Learning outcomes

After completion of the course students will

  • obtain transferable skills such as self reflection, sensibility of diversity and understanding of complex relationships that are the economy
  • have acquired an understanding of inequality as one of our biggest challenges of our time
  • will be able to read critically and interpret academic literature to inform their discussions and evaluations of those challenges
  • appreciate the importance of empirical facts to substantiate an argument in a “postfactual world”
  • find out where to find scientifically acceptable information and how to interpret them
  • work as team to present solutions to reduce rising levels of inequality
Attendance requirements

Examination-immanent courses (PI) have compulsory attendance.
In case of absence the lecturers are to be informed in advance if possible.
More detailed regulations on absenteeism will be explained in the first unit.

Teaching/learning method(s)

The course is based on

  • Lectures
  • Weekly Readings
  • Discussions
  • Videos
  • Quizzes

A perquisite for successful completion of the class is to read the weekly readings.

The final grade is a weighted sum of four

Quizzes (25 %)

Short Final Presentation of a Policy Proposal (25 %)

Participation in discussions based on weekly readings (25 %)

In-class / at-home assignments (25 %)

Quizzes (25 %)

There will be a short quiz in each lecture, except in the last lecture. There will be about 5 questions in each quiz. The content is the key reading of the week. Overall, there will be six quizzes, however, only 5 quizzes count (25%). If you participate in more than 5 quizzes, you get extra points for the correct answers (50+).

Active Participation in class (25 %)

Discussions in class will be based on readings (Journal articles, book chapters, blogposts, and newspaper articles) that students have to read before class. There is a reading list provided on learn@wu. Students are required to read the weekly compulsory reading. All the readings are provided on learn@wu as pdf or hyperlink.

In-class / at-home group assignments (25 %)

Most classes will feature smaller excersises. Results have to be submitted to learn@wu.

Short Presentation of a Policy Proposal (25 %)

Groups of 2 students present a policy proposal from Atkinson (2015): Inequality – What Can be Done? The presentation should not take longer than 10 minutes. The relevant literature will be provided on learn@wu.

Prerequisites for participation and waiting lists

Course enrollment is on the basis of "first-come, first-served” principle. If you have registered but cannot participate in the course, please de-register via LPIS during the registration period so that your course is available to students on the waiting list.


If there is a waiting list for enrollment in the course, students at the waiting list will be notified after the end of the enrollment period, and will be allocated to available places. Students will be ranked by their study progress not by their rank on the waiting list.


This procedure, however, is not to be understood as a place guarantee!

Unit details
Unit Date Contents
1 04.03.2021

Inequality: The Issue

Course outline

The Game of Life.

(Why) Should we care about inequalities?

Reading and understanding journal articles


Compulsory readings I:

Breau, S.; Essletzbichler J. (2013): Contesting Inequality. Environment and Planning A.

VOLUNTARY: Atkinson, A. (2015): Inequality. What can be done? Oxford, Oxford University Press. pp. 9 – 45

Compulsory readings II:

Critically Reading Journal Articles. Downloaded from:

Keshav, S. How to read a paper? Standford University,

2 11.03.2021

Inequality and Media


Compulsory readings:

Herman, E. S. (2018). The propaganda model revisited. Monthly Review, 69(8), 42-54.
3 18.03.2021

Wage and Income Inequality. Who decides how much we get (paid)?

Explaining rising inequality: Education, Technology, Globalization, Institutions and CEO pay.


Compulsory readings:

Bivens, J and Mishel, L. (2013) The pay of corporate executives and financial professionals as evidence of rents in top 1 percent incomes. Journal of Economic Perspectives 27: 57-78.

4 25.03.2021

Social Mobility, Inheritances and Wealth Inequality

How the distribution of outcomes today shapes the distribution of opportunities for tomorrow.


Compulsory readings:

Corak, M. (2012): Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity and Intergenerational Mobility. In: Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 27 (3), 79-102.

Also of interest:

5 08.04.2021

Inequality between Groups: Gender Inequality

(Why) do women earn less than males?

Can we explain differences in outcomes between males and females, and if so, what does that imply?

What is the role of structural factors and norms versus other market-based explanations?

What policies do reduce inequalities between males and females?


Compulsory readings:

Kleven, H., Landais, C., Posch, J., Steinhauer, A., and Zweimüller, J. (2019) Child Penalities Across Countries. Forthcoming.

Voluntary readings:

OECD (2017): The Pursuit of Gender Equality. An Uphill Battle.

For those who are able to read German, there are some blogs and new paper articles on Covid-19 and gender inequality:





6 15.04.2021

Globalization and inequality

Who are the people and country winners and loosers of globalization?

How is income inequality distributed globally?

Is global inequality increasing or decreasing?

How much power do national governments have to counteract inequality?


Compulsory readings:

Rodrik, D. (2018): Populism and the economics of globalization. Journal of International Business Policy

7 22.04.2021

Presentation and Discussion of Policy Proposals

Last edited: 2021-04-28