Inequality and poverty - analysis and policy

Syllabus | News

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

Institute of Social Policy
Duty hours: Mondays 15:00-16:00, ul. Nowy Świat 67, first floor, room 108.


The course will start on Monday 16th April from 13:15 to 14:45 in room 4, Nowy Świat 67. Last class with the test will be on the 4th June.


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 one class it has no consequences. If you miss more than one class you should meet the lecturer on his duty hours and pass missed topics. If you miss more than 3 classes you fail the course.

Exam: there will be a short test on the last class.

Essay: it is not obligatory. For students willing to increase probability to obtain the highest grade. First you should make a proposal for topic and send it to lecturer by e-mail before second class. The essay should be sent to lecturer be e-mail until 31 May. Any kind of plagiarism is forbidden and will be punished.

Grading: your final grade depends on the exam result with attendance rule. In the case of essay it will be graded and final grade depends on average of grades for exam and essay with equal weights.


Topics, readings and lecture presentations

  1. Why inequality and poverty are important?
    Reading 1: Tim Scanlon's  The 4 biggest reasons why inequality is bad for society
    Reading 2: Didier Jacobs' Why extreme wealth is not merited
    Ted talk: How economic inequality harms societies Ted talk by Richard Wilkinson
    Reading 3: 9 issues from Social Inequality: Forms, Causes and Consequences by Charles E. Hurst and 9 issues from The Economics of Inequality, Discrimination, Poverty and Mobility by Robert S. Rycroft
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.0, 16 April 2018
  2. How to define inequality and poverty and how to measure it?
    Reading 1: Key Definitions from Income Inequality by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina
    Reading 2: Setting national poverty lines around the world from A Measured Approach to Ending Poverty and Boosting Shared Prosperity: Concepts, Data, and the Twin Goals
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.0, 23 April 2018
  3. Inequality and poverty data visualizations
    Reading 1: Empirical View from 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: Extreme poverty around the world today from Global Extreme Poverty by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.1, 07 May 2018
  4. How to explain inequality and poverty trends?
    Reading 1: Kuznets Waves: A Definition excerpt from the book Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization by Branco Milanovic
    Reading 2: What Drove the Downswing of the First Kuznets Wave? and What Is Driving the Second Kuznets Wave Up, and What Might Drive It Down? from Milanovic's book
    Reading 3: Sources of income inequality in the economic literature from Theoretical Approaches to Inequality in Economics and Sociology. A Preliminary Assessment by Giovanni Guidetti, Boike Rehbein
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.0 14 May 2018
  5. Redistribution or predistribution or both to mitigate inequality and poverty?
    Reading 1: What’s wrong with predistribution by Lane Kenworthy
    Reading 2: Tim Smeeding on how to reduce income inequality
    Reading 3: 10 Solutions to Fight Economic Inequality
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.0 21 May 2018
  6. Why redistribution fails in emerging democracies?
    Reading 1: Theory from Political Determinants of Income Inequality in Emerging Democracies by Takeshi Kawanaka, Yasushi Hazama
    Reading 2: Alex Tabarrok, A Rational Theory of the Size of Government
    Lecture presentation. Version 2.0 27 May 2018
  7. Summary and exam
    Final grades

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

Inequality databases

The World Database on Equality of Opportunity and Social Mobility

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

Other sources

The Equality of Opportunity Project

World poverty clock

Animated mobility charts based on US data

Cool tools

What's your share of the pie?

Gini coefficient calculator