The Price of Inequality: Politics, Economics, and Policy

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Winter 2018
Spring 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Howard Schwartz
political science, policy

The recent rise of inequality in the United States and most advanced economies didn’t just happen.  It was the result of changes in technology, macro-economic forces, and public policy.  Of the three, policy was the most important. To be sure, with no change in policy the digital revolution and globalization would have made great advances, but the policy choices made by governments determined how fast these changes happened and to whom the benefits flowed. 

This program will explore how changes in taxation, regulation and tariffs enabled the rapid growth of new technologies and the worldwide decline in the price of consumer goods while at the same time disrupting the lives of people all over the globe.  This disruption made employment in the United States less secure and left those with skills of the old industrial economy behind.  Wages at the top rose while falling for those at the bottom.  Although the gross domestic product continued to grow, poverty did not decline and the condition of the very poor got worse. 

“The Price of Inequality” will begin with a look at the essential numbers regarding inequality for America overall and how it varies among various demographic categories including gender, race, ethnicity and age. We will then turn to changes in government policy over the last half-century that have resulted in upward and downward trends in inequality.  We will also look at countries in western Europe that are more egalitarian to see what accounts for the differences with the United States. Finally, the program will focus on the political forces that have produced the changes in policy that affect inequality in order to understand how politics and economics interact with each other. 

 Winter quarter will focus on the economic and policy changes driving global inequality.  Using recent books and other writings by leading economists, students will learn essential macro-economic concepts such as economy-wide supply and demand, productivity, economic growth and changes in the labor market and how they are used in understanding changes in inequality and in the economy generally.  We will weigh the arguments for greater equality against those that claim that overall societal income and wealth, not distribution, is the real issue.

 In spring quarter we will turn to policy options for changes. Recent writings in political science will highlight how public opinion is—and is not—reflected in public policy and how other political forces have shaped the economy.  We will see that formulating public policies for reducing inequality is relatively easy but passing and implementing them is extremely difficult.  By the end of the program, students should have a basic understanding of who are the winners and who are the losers in the global economy and why we have the outcomes we have.



This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: Public Administration, teaching, business, social services, non-profits

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Scheduled for: Evening

Located in: Olympia

Final schedule and room assignment:


Advertised schedule:

Mon/Wed 6-10p