The Political Economy of Inequality

Course content

Within remarkably few years, the issue of economic inequality have moved from an peripheral issue within academia, to one of the most pressing issues of the day.

The course presents an introduction to the issue of economic inequality within economics, political science and related fields.

This involves a history of the patterns of global inequality since 1800, and the methodological debates around various empirical measures of inequality.  This historical survey includes the debate around ‘the great divergence’ between the west and the rest of the world, the rise of industrial capitalism and the egalitarian period in the mid-20th century, as well as the recent rise in inequality and the recent rise of formerly poor countries such as China and India.

The course will cover theoretical approaches to inequality within economic thought from the classical political economy of Smith and Marx, over 20th century economists as Simon Kuznets and Amartyato the recent wave of scholarship on economic inequality headed by scholars such Thomas Piketty and Branko Milanovic. These perspectives will be brought into dialogue with recent scholarship from international political economy to get a comprehensive understanding of the complex political and economic processes shaping economic inequalities across the world.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome


Upon completion of the course, the participants will be able to:

  • Understand and define key concepts and measures within the study of economic inequality
  • Understand and discuss key theories and claims about the implications of different forms of economic inequality



Upon completion of the course, the participants will be able to:

  • Analyze trends and developments in economic inequality
  • Compare and reflect on different policy solutions to inequality



Upon completion of the course, the participants will be able to:

  • Combine different theories and data in order to conduct independent analysis of issues surrounding economic inequality
  • Critically asses and debate different claims around economic inequality

Classes will consist of a mixture of lecture parts, group exercises and plenary debates and discussions.

Indicative literature:


Atkinson, Anthony B. 1970. "On the measurement of inequality."  Journal of economic theory 2 (3):244-263.

Atkinson, Anthony B. 2015. Inequality: Harvard University Press.

Bartels, Larry M. 2009. Unequal democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bourguignon, F., and C. Morrisson. 2002. "Inequality among world citizens: 1820-1992."  American Economic Review:727-744.

Glyn, A. 2007. Capitalism unleashed: Oxford University Press.

Hacker, J.S., and P. Pierson. 2010. "Winner-take-all politics: Public policy, political organization, and the precipitous rise of top incomes in the United States."  Politics & Society 38 (2):152-204.

Kenworthy, Lane, and Jonas Pontusson. 2005. "Rising Inequality and the Politics of Redistribution in Affluent Countries."  Perspectives on Politics 3 (3):449-471.

Kuznets, Simon. 1955. "Economic Growth and Income Inequality."  The American economic review 45 (1):1-28.

Milanovic, Branko. 2016. Global inequality: A new approach for the age of globalization: Harvard University Press.

OECD. 2011. Divided we Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising? edited by OECD Publishing.

Page, Benjamin I, Larry M Bartels, and Jason Seawright. 2013. "Democracy and the policy preferences of wealthy Americans."  Perspectives on Politics 11 (01):51-73.

Piketty, T., and E. Saez. 2006. The evolution of top incomes: a historical and international perspective. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2001. The great divergence: China, Europe, and the making of the modern world economy: Princeton Univ Pr.

Sen, Amartya. 1981. Poverty and famines : an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford :: Clarendon Press ;.

Søgaard, Jakob Egholt, and Tony B Atkinson. 2015. "The long run history of income inequality in Denmark."  Scandinavian Journal of Economics.

Therborn, Göran. 2014. The killing fields of inequality: John Wiley & Sons.

Wade, Robert. 2004. "On the causes of increasing world poverty and inequality, or why the Matthew effect prevails."  New Political Economy 9 (2):163-188.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28