Soc 212: Social Stratification

University of California, San Diego
Winter 2015-16
Th 9:30–12:20, SSB 414

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours: Tu 10–12, SSB 472
Tel: 858.860.6124

Income inequality between the top 1% and the bottom 99% in the United States is high and rising. Why? What can be done?


Jan 7. High and rising income inequality

  • Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press. Pp. 237-270. LINK
  • Kenworthy, Lane. 2015. “Income Inequality.” The Good Society. LINK
  • Kenworthy, Lane. 2015. “How Do We Know?” The Good Society. LINK
  • Optional: Autor, David H. 2014. “Skills, Education, and the Rise of Earnings Inequality among the ‘Other 99 Percent’.” Science 344: 843-851.
  • Optional: Förster, Michael, Ana Llena-Nozal, and Vahé Nafilyan. 2014. “Trends in Top Incomes and Their Taxation in OECD Countries.” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Paper 159. OECD.
  • Optional: Lakner, Christoph and Branko Milanovic. 2013. “Global Income Distribution.” Policy Research Working Paper 6719. Development Research Group, Policy and Inequality Team. The World Bank.
  • Optional: McCall, Leslie and Christine Percheski. 2010. “Income Inequality: New Trends and Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 36: 329-347.
  • Optional: Morelli, Salvatore, Timothy M. Smeeding, and Jeffrey Thompson. 2015. “Post-1970 Trends in Within-Country Inequality and Poverty: Rich and Middle Income Countries.” Discussion Paper 1419-14. Institute for Research on Poverty. University of Wisconsin.

Jan 14. Consequences

  • Kenworthy, Lane. 2015. “Is Income Inequality Harmful?” The Good Society. LINK
  • Kenworthy, Lane. 2015. “Shared Prosperity.” The Good Society. LINK

Jan 21. Causes: technology, globalization, competition, winner-take-all markets

  • Frank, Robert H. and Philip J. Cook. 1995. The Winner-Take-All Society. Penguin. Pp. 45-84. LINK
  • Reich, Robert. 2007. Supercapitalism. Knopf. Pp. 50-87. LINK
  • Kaplan, Steven N. and Joshua Rauh. 2013. “It’s the Market: The Broad-Based Rise in the Return to Top Talent.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 27(3): 35-56. LINK

Jan 28. Causes: political power and market power

  • Hacker, Jacob S. and Paul Pierson. 2010. “Winner-Take-All Politics: Public Policy, Political Organization, and the Precipitous Rise of Top Incomes in the United States.” Politics and Society 38: 152-204. LINK
  • Bivens, Josh and Lawrence Mishel. 2013. “The Pay of Corporate Executives and Financial Professionals as Evidence of Rents in Top 1 Percent Incomes.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 27(3): 57-78. LINK
  • Reich, Robert. 2015. Saving Capitalism. Knopf. Pp. xi-xvii, 29-47, 97-132, 153-157. LINK

Feb 4. No class

Feb 11. Causes: cross-country analyses

  • Volscho, Thomas W. and Nathan J. Kelley. 2012. “The Rise of the Super-Rich: Power Resources, Taxes, Financial Markets, and the Dynamics of the Top 1 Percent, 1949 to 2008.” American Sociological Review 77: 679-699. LINK
  • Jaumotte, Florence and Carolina Osorio Buitron. 2015. “Inequality and Labor Market Institutions.” Staff Discussion Note 15/14. International Monetary Fund. LINK
  • Huber, Evelyne, Jingling Huo, and John D. Stephens. 2015. “Power, Markets, and Top Income Shares.” Working Paper 404. Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame. LINK

Feb 18. Causes: executives

  • Murphy, Kevin J. 2013. “Executive Compensation: Where We Are, and How We Got There.” In Handbook of the Economics of Finance, volume 2, part A. Elsevier. Pp. 211-228, 248-323, 329-346. LINK
  • Lazonick, William. 2014. “Profits without Prosperity.” Harvard Business Review, September: 1-11. LINK
  • DiPrete, Thomas A., Gregory M. Eirich, and Matthew Pittinsky. 2010. “Compensation Benchmarking, Leapfrogs, and the Surge in Executive Pay.” American Journal of Sociology 115: 1671-1712. LINK

Feb 25. Causes: finance

  • Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald and Ken-Hou Lin. 2013. “Financialization: Causes, Inequality Consequences, and Policy Implications.” North Carolina Banking Institute Journal 18: 167-194. LINK
  • Flaherty, Eoin. 2015. “Top Incomes Under Finance-Driven Capitalism, 1990–2010: Power Resources and Regulatory Orders.” Socio-Economic Review 13: 417-447. LINK
  • Philippon, Thomas and Ariell Reshef. 2013. “An International Look at the Growth of Modern Finance.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 27(2): 73-96. LINK

March 3. Cures: the top

  • Stiglitz, Joseph E., with Nell Abernathy, Adam Hersh, Susan Holmberg, and Mike Konczal. 2015. Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy. Roosevelt Institute. Pp. 57-73. LINK
  • Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva. 2014. “Optimal Taxation of Top Incomes: A Tale of Three Elasticities.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 6: 230-271. LINK
  • Frydman, Carola and Raven S. Molloy. 2011. “Does Tax Policy Affect Executive Compensation? Evidence from Postwar Tax Reforms.” Journal of Public Economics 95: 1425-1437. LINK
  • Gale, William G., Melissa S. Kearney, and Peter R. Orszag. 2015. “Would a Significant Increase in the Top Income Tax Rate Substantially Alter Income Inequality?” Brookings Institution. LINK

March 10. Cures: the middle and bottom

  • Atkinson, Anthony B. 2015. Inequality: What Can Be Done? Harvard University Press. Pp. 115-178, 205-239. LINK
  • Kenworthy, Lane. 2013. “What’s Wrong with Predistribution?” Juncture 20: 111-117. LINK


Readings. All of the required readings are available using the links above. Most require a password, which I’ll provide.

Class participation. This is a seminar, not a lecture course. I expect you to participate actively during class each week. There are lots of ways to do this: ask questions, comment, critique, explain, think out loud.

Written comments on the readings. Each student will write comments on the readings for five weeks (not the week of your presentation). The comments should be 1,000-3,000 words, typed single-space with 2-inch side margins. Your objective is to identify the research question, evidence, and conclusion(s) in one or more of the readings for the week and to suggest other empirical analyses that might shed light on the question. Explain how your proposed empirical test(s) would help. Be specific and concise. Avoid lengthy introductions and meandering summaries of the readings. Post the comments on TritonEd by 6:00pm the day prior to class.

You can, if you prefer, write a traditional research paper instead of the five comments. See me for details.

Presentation. Each student will make one in-class presentation during the semester, on the readings for a given week. Use the standard conference presentation as your model: about 20 minutes, with slides.

Grading. Class participation, the written comments, and the presentation will each account for one-third of the course grade.