Inequality and poverty - analysis and policy

ECTS credits: 6


Lecturer: Ryszard Szarfenberg Ph.D. Hab., prof. UW

Faculty of Political Science and International Studies


UPDATE for academic year 2023/2024

This is full semester course: Tuesdays 15:00-16:30, Nowy Świat 67, ground floor, room 4.

Lecturer's office hours: Tuesdays 13:15-14:45, Nowy Świat 67, first floor, room 108 or 109.


Course aims and description

Economic inequality or inequality in income and wealth is a very hot and controversial topic discussed in many countries and international organizations. There are more dimensions for discussing and researching inequality than economic one. If some have power and the rest are powerless it is another important dimension for concern. Think now how income and wealth relations influence distribution of power and vice versa. Another dimension is a prestige or social respect. We have in our societies those who are mostly respected and those who are not valued at al. If you have wealth and power you could have social respect also or you could be respected very little. Poverty is a very important part of the inequality issue. We can focus our discussion and research on those who are economically poor, politically powerless or socially disrespected. If there were full equality in economic resources, power and prestige it would be difficult to see the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless or the respected and those disrespected. If substantial inequality exists we can focus on those people closer to one or the other extreme of the scale or somewhere in the middle. Many thinkers and researchers focused their endeavors on poverty issues in the rich and in the poor countries. Poverty was rediscovered in rich countries in sixties and seventies of the 20th century. For some commentators poverty or extreme poverty is more important or at least more urgent issue than inequality. It is not only an economic and political issue but also moral problem. What are the obligations of the rich to the poor, what rights the poor have? Economic, political, social and moral issues are the subjects for economics, political science, sociology, psychology, philosophy and ethics. Inequality and poverty are at the intersection of social sciences and philosophical inquiry.  Economics has its positive and normative branch and the same is with many other social sciences. Positive side is more scientific and avoid engagement with practice. Normative side is looking for engagement and ready to answer the question: "what we should do about it". This is a second part of the course topic. Inequality and poverty were described and explained scientifically and simultaneously they were considered as social problems or policy issues searching for solutions.


Course grading policy

Attendance: There will be an attendance list you should sign every class. If you miss two classes it has no consequences. If you miss more than two classes you should meet the lecturer on his duty hours next week and pass missed topic. If you miss more than 6 classes you fail the course.

Exam: test during summer examination session.

Class participation: you are expected to read course readings and do the online assignments before the class, asking questions and making comments during the class.

Other requirements: there will be online questionnaires and low-stake online tests during the course (low-stake means obligatory, but not graded).

Optional (non-obligatory) academic paper on topic related to the course content: the intention to write a paper should be notified by 27 February by e-mail to

Grading: your final grade depends on the exam test result with class participation, other requirements and attendance results and on the grade for optional essay, if declared, delivered on time and in line with guidelines.


Topics, readings and lecture presentations (will be updated during the course)

  1. Introduction to the course
    Reading 1: Charles E. Hurst, Social Inequality: Forms, Causes and Consequences, 2013, pages 1-8
    Reading 2: Robert S. Rycroft, The Economics of Inequality, Discrimination, Poverty and Mobility, 2nd ed., 2018, pages 3-6
    Lecture presentation
  2. Why inequality and poverty are important? Philosophical reasons
    Reading 1: Tim Scanlon, The 4 biggest reasons why inequality is bad for society, 2014
    Reading 2: Introduction and Conclusion, in: Didier Jacobs, Why extreme wealth is not merited, OXFAM Discussion Papers, 2015
    Lecture presentation
  3. Why inequality and poverty are important? Empirical reasons
    Ted talk: How economic inequality harms societies Ted talk by Richard Wilkinson, 2011
    Reading: Francesco Grigoli, A New Twist in the Link Between Inequality and Economic Development, IMF blog, 2017
    Lecture presentation
  4. How to define and measure poverty?
    Reading: Conceptual Backgound, in: Guide on Poverty Measurement, UNECE 2017
    Lecture presentation
  5. How to define and measure inequality?
    Reading 1: Ilja Trapeznikova, Measuring income inequality, IZA, 2019
    Reading 2: Choosing an inequality index from Human Development Report 2019
    Lecture presentation
  6. Poverty in data and charts: global, regional, national and local
    Reading 1: Extreme Poverty: How far heve we come, and how far do we still have to go?, Our World in Data
    Lecture presentation
  7. Inequality in data and charts: Great Gatsby Curve, Elephant Chart
    Reading 1: Income Inequality by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina
    Reading 2: Economic growth in the US: A tale of two countries by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman
    Reading 3: Branko Milanovic, Global income inequality: time to revise the elephant, 2022
    Lecture presentation
  8. Theories of poverty and inequality: an overview
    Reading 1: David Brady, Theories of the Causes of Poverty, Annual Review of Sociology, 2019
    Reading 2: Section 2.2. Sources of income inequality in the economic literature in: Giovanni Guidetti, Boike Rehbein, Theoretical Approaches to Inequality in Economics and Sociology. A Preliminary Assessment, Transcience, 2014
    Lecture presentation
  9. Kuznets Waves
    Reading 1: Branko Milanovic Kuznets Waves: A Definition in: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, 2016
    Reading 2: Branko Milanovic, What Drove the Downswing of the First Kuznets Wave? and What Is Driving the Second Kuznets Wave Up, and What Might Drive It Down? in: Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, 2016
    Lecture presentation
  10. Redistribution or pre-distribution or both to mitigate inequality and poverty
    Reading 1. Dani Rodrik, Stefanie Stancheva, A Policy Matrix for Inclusive Society, 2021
    Reading 1: Thomas Piketty et al., Pre-distribution versus redistribution: Evidence from France and the US, 2020
    Reading 2: Matti Tuomala et al., Pre-distribution requires redistribution, 2022
    Lecture presentation
  11. Robin Hood and piggy bank together: social protection systems
    Reading 1: Markus Loewe, Esther Schüring, Introduction to the Handbook on Social Protection Systems, in: M. Loewe, E. Schüring eds. Handbook on Social Protection Systems, 2021
    Watching: Esther Duflo "Evaluating the Impact of Anti-Poverty Policies: The Value of Multiple Approaches"
    Lecture presentation
  12. Complexity of social protection delivery
    Reading: section 2.1. Concepts and core elements of the delivery systems framework, in: Kathy Lindert et al. eds. Sourcebook on the Foundations of Social Protection Delivery Systems, World Bank, 2020.
    Lecture presentation
  13. Inequalities in education with policy discussion
    Reading: Margarita Langthaler, Julia Malik, Inequalities in education from a global perspective. Theoretical approaches, dimensions and policy discussions, 2023.
    Lecture presentation
  14. Why redistribution fails in emerging democracies?
    Reading: Takeshi Kawanaka, Yasushi Hazama, Theory in: Political Determinants of Income Inequality in Emerging Democracies, 2016
    Lecture presentation
  15. Summary and evaluation

From past courses, guest lecture from UK: Abortion and inequality in Ireland
Lecture presentation

5 video lectures about inequality (with Branko Milanovic)

Lecture 1: Why Should I Care?

Lecture 2: How Do We Measure Inequality?

Lecture 3: What Is Happening?

Lecture 4: What Is Happening Now?

Lecture 5: The Bigger Picture

Poverty and inequality: lecture notes by Martin Ravallion

Thomas Piketty's syllabus with links to separate presentations: Capital and Ideology

Food for thought

The mathematical case against blaming people for their misfortune

The missing English middle class: Evidence from 60 million death and probate records

Poverty and deprivation

The rEUsilience compendium of families and households in Europe

Multidimensional inequality

The Multidimensional Inequality Framework: the OXFAM Toolkit

EU Multidimensional Inequality Monitoring Framework

Inequality databases - income and wealth

World Wealth and Income database

OECD Income Distribution Database (IDD)

WIID – World Income Inequality Database

The Standardized World Income Inequality Database

The Chartbook of Economic Inequality

Realtime Inequality (for US)

Inequality databases - education and health

World Inequality Database on Education

Health Inequality Data Repository

Health Inequality Monitor

Inequality of opportunity

The World Database on Equality of Opportunity and Social Mobility

Other sources

The IFS Deaton Review

Other sources (anti-inequality, pro-equality)

Commitment to Equity

Equality Trust (UK) (US)

Opportunity Insights (US)

Cool tools

What's your share of the pie? OECD tool. Short movie about preliminary results

What's your share of the pie? EU tool