4902 Sustainable Economics and Business II: Debating Inequality
Daniel Grabner, MSc (WU), Linda Li, BA, MSc (WU)
Weekly hours
Language of instruction
02/15/24 to 03/04/24
Registration via LPIS
Notes to the course
Day Date Time Room
Thursday 03/07/24 11:00 AM - 02:30 PM TC.3.09
Thursday 03/14/24 11:00 AM - 02:00 PM LC.2.064 PC Raum
Thursday 03/21/24 11:00 AM - 02:00 PM LC.2.064 PC Raum
Thursday 04/11/24 11:00 AM - 02:00 PM D2.-1.019 Workstation-Raum
Thursday 04/18/24 11:00 AM - 02:00 PM LC.2.064 PC Raum
Thursday 04/25/24 11:00 AM - 02:00 PM LC.2.064 PC Raum
Thursday 05/02/24 10:30 AM - 02:30 PM TC.3.12

Levels of inequality have skyrocketed 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, citizenship, or age. Political scientists 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? 

Learning outcomes

After completing this course, you will  - have a better understanding of the causes of inequality,  - be able to critically evaluate academic research,  - have acquired an understanding of inequality as one of our biggest challenges of our time - 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 - know how to measure inequality and interpret them appropriately,  - be able to evaluate policy proposals targeting various income groups and write policy briefs - improve your logical reasoning and debating skills - 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.

Attendance requirements

This course is classified as 'Examination-immanent' (in German, 'Prüfungsimmanent,' often abbreviated as 'PI'). As a general rule, PI courses have compulsory attendance. However, one class can be missed without negatively affecting the grade. If known in advance, absences must be announced by email to the lecturer ahead of time (e.g., in cases of conflicting class schedules). Missing class for medical reasons (e.g., accident or illness) will not count against the participation requirements as long as a doctor's note can be provided. No makeup assignments will be provided in case of missed assessments. More details on absenteeism rules will be explained in the first class.

Teaching/learning method(s)
  • lectures
  • weekly readings
  • discussions
  • quizzes
  • group projects
  • student presentations

Successful completion of the course requires completion of the weekly readings.

The final grade is a weighted sum of four components, each of which must be positive for a positive final grade.

  • 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.


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Last edited: 2024-01-11