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Poverty, Inequality and Social Policies: An International Comparison


Units: 12


Course Description and Objectives

In her book Social Forces and States Judith Teichman argues that “significant and long term improvement in distributional outcomes is a daunting political task [that requires] a strong societal consensus on the importance of the reduction in inequality, one that compels political leaders to make difficult policy changes.” Teichman’s words indicate that poverty and inequality are not just socioeconomic problems, but critical political and policy problems both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world and that, these problems do not have easy solutions.

This class attempts to tackle some of those complex problems by looking at poverty, inequality and the social and economic policies designed to ameliorate these problems in the U.S. and selected African, Asian, European and Latin American countries


This course is divided in four sections:

  1. The first section discusses the concept of inequality and poverty and poverty and inequality measurements.
  2. The second section will focus on anti-poverty policies pursued in Western Europe and the U.S. This section includes a discussion of Welfare State policies in Europe and health, housing, social security and welfare policies in the U.S.
  3. The third section focuses on three middle-income countries: Chile, Mexico and South Korea. In this section, the focus is on the role that social forces and the state play in the generation of state responses to poverty and inequality. The most important of those policies/responses is job creation and these countries experiences illustrate different approaches to the issue. China’s approach to economic development and job creation is included here as well. Conditional Cash Transfers will be examined in this section because they originated in Mexico and are widely applied in Middle- Income countries such as Brazil.
  4. The fourth section analyses poverty and the behavior of the poor in very poor countries, or regions of the world. It also discusses specific policies such as Micro-Financing and Unconditional Cash Transfers, also known as Universal Basic Income, the newest form of social policy.


Learning Outcomes

2.-SkillsThe course emphasizes the development of analytical skills.

Students will develop these analytical skills in different forms:

  1. Class discussions which will allow the students to develop the ability to analyze, discuss, and defend different policy positions in an academic environment
  2. Writing two policy memos: It is critical for all of us to be able to summarize a problem, present possible solutions, and recommend policies/solutions to others. The policy memos allow the students to develop these very important skills. Students are expected to assume the role of a policy maker and provide specific policies to the President or another relevant policy maker. The policy memos emphasize the use of data, the analysis of the problem, and the policy design.
  3. Group presentation and paper: Group presentations are geared to allow the student to develop the ability to work in a project with other students, learn about a specific topic in depth, and prepare a class presentation using either power point or class handouts. In order to ensure the effectiveness of the presentation the instructor meets with the student about a week before the presentation to set the specific topics and parameters of the presentation. The handout or slides need to be submitted to the instructor at least 24 hours before the presentation. The instructor will review the slides or handouts in order to verify the effectiveness of the presentation. The members of the group will also have to provide the instructor with a 10-12 pp. case study paper. The paper will be due five days after the presentation.