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Poverty, Inequality, and the Environment

Course number: U6250

Progress and Poverty (1879), by the American economist and philosopher Henry George, was a worldwide bestseller and major impetus to reform movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. George argued that owners of land and other natural resources--a small fraction of the population--gain most of the benefits of economic growth. They also withhold high quality resources from use, driving down wages and forcing economic activity to sprawl out onto marginal land. His remedy: "We must make land common property," not by nationalizing it, but by collecting the surplus (economic rent) by taxation, using the revenue for public benefit. Today, George's ideas powerfully influence both the field of ecological economics and the commons movement. In this course we will read Progress and Poverty, examining how well George's ideas have stood the test of time. We will read excerpts from predecessors and contemporaries of George, including Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen. We will also read modern authors, including economist Mason Gaffney and commons movement founder Peter Barnes. Topics we will cover include: Poverty, its definition and measurement. Inequality of wealth and income, and the relationship of inequality to poverty, wage levels, health, environmental destruction and "sustainability". Population size, age structure and geographic distribution. Economics of common resources. Economic rent and property rights. Economics of cooperation and competition. Inequality, trade and global sprawl. Growth and the boom and bust cycle. Economics of time--how do and should we make decisions about the future? Tax and other policy options.