This Engagement course is designed to explore how economic inequalities shape human differences and social conflicts nationally and globally, and whether they are compatible with the common good and democratic rule. According to Oxfam “almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population” and the wealth of that one percent totals approximately $110 trillion, which in turn amounts to “65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.” Are these disparities so extreme, and the lives of the haves versus the have-nots so fundamentally different, that it becomes a stretch to speak of a common humanity? Do income and wealth inequalities exacerbate other types of inequalities based on gender and race, and how do they affect human health and dignity? Are they an invitation to new forms of authoritarianism and a world of violent conflicts? Or, are current levels of inequality the just and legitimate rewards for entrepreneurial, innovating, and risk-taking behavior? In short, are economic disparities the logical and inevitable consequence of the contradictory processes of wealth creation and poverty reduction, and are they justifiable and ultimately sustainable?
Students will explore these questions by investigating various controversies involving the nature, and potential costs or benefits of inequalities. We will draw our examples from the experiences of both the advanced industrialized nations and the “global south.” We will also examine what analytical approaches scholars have used to study the social, economic, and political consequences of inequalities.