Why does the United States, long idealized as the land of opportunity and the champion of democracy, harbor some of the world’s most unequal distributions of income and wealth? And what can we do about it? Juliet Carlisle, associate professor of political science, and Thomas Maloney, professor of economics, attempt to answer these questions in a new course, The United States of Inequality: Political and Economic Challenges and Remedies, offered in fall 2021.
In the course, which carries a general education credit in Intellectual Exploration, Carlisle, Maloney and their colleagues in political science and economics present the many facets of social inequality to develop students’ understanding.
“There is a lot of passionate rhetoric surrounding these topics,” says Maloney. “We would like to help students approach these questions in an informed and analytical manner. “
Carlisle and Maloney developed the course in response to an initiative by the Office of Undergraduate Studies to explore important social challenges with an interdisciplinary approach.
“We saw this as an opportunity to bring together a number of political science and economics professors who study social inequalities in various dimensions and draw on this great wealth of expertise,” says Maloney. “We thought it would be useful to help students understand how social scientists measure types of inequality and how they try to analyze their causes and consequences.
The course is intended for students of all majors, as inequalities are such a big issue.
“No one is immune to the effects of inequality,” says Carlisle. “It affects us all and in many cases there are people who face many overlapping and worsening dimensions of inequality. To be a functional and engaged citizen is to be able to understand the dimensions of inequality, its roots and its consequences and to reflect on the central question: how many inequalities are we ready to accept in our democracy?
“We plan to look at links to immigration, health care, environmental degradation, and student debt, for example,” said Maloney. “We will also examine the ethical dimensions of these issues. “
Students will complete a core project, which is an exercise in developing policy proposals to address one aspect of inequality. “However, the main goal of their main project is for them to understand and appreciate the complexity of political problems and political solutions,” says Carlisle.
The course is listed as ECON 2500 / POLS 2500, taught Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:25 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. (IVC). The course meets a requirement of the Intellectual Exploration (IE) course.
The topics covered in the course, featuring various professors from the departments of economics and political science, are as follows:
- Inequalities and the economy
- Inequality and political representation
- Inequality and the Law
- Ethics, justice and inequalities
- Long-term racial inequality
- Gender inequality
- Immigration and inequalities
- Inequalities and access to health care
- Disparities in environmental quality
- Education as a force for equality and inequality