Everyone would like (or says they would like) to be treated “fairly” and “equally”. Everyone gets upset by what they view as unfairness to themselves; most of us get disturbed by unfairness to others. Most everyone would like to make outcomes fairer, but probably mean different things by this. Most everyone has ideas about what actions and polices promote fairness, but these ideas are usually either biased or not grounded in careful analysis of what will actually work.
The purpose of the course is to enable students to formulate and explain concrete, well-reasoned ideas on how to make economic and political systems more fair and equitable.
To achieve this purpose, the course will begin by investigating in detail basic concepts of selfishness, fairness, and justice and consider the implications of individual behavior for aggregate outcomes from a rigorous economic and political perspective. We then consider what the “right amount” of fairness is and its implications for how a society runs. Next we move from abstract concepts to more practical economic and political applications. We first look at distribution under the market system – how it works and how it “fails”. We then consider the facts of inequality in the U.S and in other countries. Is rising economic inequality inevitable? Where do current trends come from and what do they imply? We then look at political inequality and how it is related to economic inequality. We study the basics of the democratic system in theory and in practice. On the basis of the investigation of economic and political fairness and equality in practice, we ask how a good level of fairness may be achieved. Students will be asked to design alternative political and economic systems to achieve what they think is the right level of fairness. Having considered the right amount of fairness and how it might be achieved, we investigate why societies do not (or perhaps do) achieve it.