Dimensions of Inequality and Options for Change

Winter 2017 and Spring 2017 quarters

Taught by

Allen Olson
physics, education
  • UG

Concern over the rise of economic inequality has grown over the last several decades as the gap between upper-income Americans and everyone else has grown wider. Much of the writing on inequality by economists has focused on the quantitative aspects: which deciles or centiles of the population get what percentage of income or wealth? This work tends to look at society as an undifferentiated mass of individuals but there are other dimensions of inequality such as race, gender, immigration status, geography, culture and family that interact with the economic dimensions and with each other. How to address all of these factors together is more complex (and maddening) than addressing each of them on their own: affirmative action and/or redistributive economic policies and/or improved public education and/or investments in public infrastructure in general.
In the first quarter of the program we will review the recent work on economic inequality by leading economists and then look at other research that further breaks down the distribution of wealth and income by the other societal dimensions. Spring quarter will focus on policy options to reduce inequality such as affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws. We will also look at taxation and budgets in order to understand how the way governments raise and disburse money affects inequality. In addition to readings in economics, politics and public policy we will also consider philosophical questions about how to prioritize the needs of all of the disadvantaged.
Students will learn to go beyond slogans by learning to think quantitatively about emotionally charged issues. The program will serve as context for students to increase their quantitative thinking skills through a study of statistics. Students who successfully complete the full two-quarter program will complete studies and earn credit equivalent to a standard first-quarter statistics course. With these skills in hand, students can then begin to evaluate policy proposals that attempt to mitigate inequality from both an analytic and a political perspective.


Winter Open Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

Mondays and Wednesdays, 6-10 p. First meeting is Monday, January 9, 6p, in Seminar 2 D1107.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


2016-10-31Description updated