In this interdisciplinary course, we will learn to think about wealth distribution in a quantitative fashion. We will learn the difference between wealth, money and income, and we will learn how these things are measured by central banks, governments and international institutions. We will survey historical thought on this subject from mathematical, economic and philosophical perspectives.
We will ask questions such as,
- Can inequality be quantified? What properties should a mathematical measure of inequality have to capture our intuitive notion of the concept?
- Can idealized mathematical models, such as agent-based models, describe the current distribution of wealth with any accuracy?
- Are market economies naturally stable, or is continuous government intervention needed to keep them stable?
- What ethical tools exist to determine the morality of decisions that societies make about wealth distribution and wealth inequality?
- Should societies attempt to manage their levels of inequality? If so, what public policy tools do they have at their disposal for doing so? If not, what, if anything, should be done about runaway concentration of wealth?
What we learn along the way will raise deep mathematical, economic, and ethical questions about the way that human society has chosen to allocate limited resources amongst people and populations. Our emphasis will be on how mathematical thinking contributes to this critically important conversation.
Some description will be given of available databases for the study of wealth distribution, including that maintained by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as international data available, for example from the World's Top Incomes Database.
Only high school mathematics is required as a prerequisite, and no prior background in economics is assumed.
- Bruce M. Boghosian