Part 4 of 5 in series "Recommended online courses"

In the previous post in this series I looked into foundational courses in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) that help you reflect on the morality of markets. In this post I will present four courses that deepen your knowledge on economic growth, (in)equality and well-being. The following courses are introduced:

  1. Economic Growth and Distributive Justice, Part I – The Role of the State
  2. Economic Growth and Distributive Justice, Part II – Maximize Social Well-being
  3. Social Well-being
  4. Challenging Wealth and Income Inequality

Probably no course on controversial topics is completely politically and morally neutral. Have I overlooked courses taught by universities that give a different perspective? Let me know.

1. Economic Growth and Distributive Justice, Part I – The Role of the State

This course on economic growth and distributive justice, so the description says, “is founded upon the elemental idea that the role of the state is to maximize the well-being – or simply the happiness – of its residents.” This idea is certainly not uncontroversial, but it makes for an interesting point of departure. The course – see also the video on top of this post – includes four parts:

  1. “What do we need a state for?
  2. The relationship between efficiency and distributive justice
  3. Demonstrating the implications of different ethical theories
  4. Distributive justice: measurement and implications”

The course “touches upon the essence of important concepts like efficiency and equity, inequality and poverty, gross domestic product, tax evasion and tax planning; it presents the work of Nobel Laureate James Mirrlees and his followers – promoting a coherent system that integrates tax and government expenditures to maximize social welfare; and illuminates a range of high-profile issues from their economic angle:

  • Climate change: the atmosphere and oceans as public goods, and how smart (Pigovian) taxation can be used to combat the rapidly increasing threats to our planet;
  • Technology as the engine of economic growth;
  • Taxing the rich: How can we mitigate the growing inequality problem? Should we impose a global tax on capital?

2. Economic Growth and Distributive Justice, Part II – Maximize Social Well-being

This follow-up course on economic growth and distributive justice is very much focused on taxation as a means to maximize social well-being – so correcting the outcomes of the market by redistribution. This course’s deep dive in the economic aspects of taxation gives you handles to reflect on its desirability and take both economic growth and distributive justice into account when making tax policy choices. Topics discussed in this course are:

  1. The excess burden of taxation
  2. Tax incidence: who bears the economic burden of tax?
  3. Progressivity: definition and ways to achieve
  4. Low Income, Low Ability and the Optimal Income Tax Model
  5. Designing the Tax and Transfer System that Maximizes Social Well-being

The focus on taxation is not surprising, as professor Yoram Y. Margalioth, who teaches this course, is apparently an expert on tax policy and public finance. He works at the Faculty of Law of Tel Aviv University (Israel). The goals of both courses are, according to the course description, the following:

  • better understand economic issues presented in the media
  • form an informed opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of presented social economic policies
  • define and measure inequality and poverty
  • define the connection between inequality (income, wealth) and economic growth
  • explain the foundations of economic growth
  • design a tax and transfer system to maximize the happiness of individuals

3. Social Well-being

Human flourishing or well-being is an important yardstick for assessing the morality of markets as a social institution and is for that reason worth understanding better. This course on social well-being seems to offer a broader perspective on well-being than the first two courses. “Since the financial crisis, there has been an increased interest in moving away from GDP and wealth as measures of national and individual performance“, says the course description. “Instead, more explicit attention is being paid to well-being around the world, and how we can promote it at individual, local, national and international levels.”

The course “will consider the factors that contribute to well-being at different levels:

  • Personal and interpersonal: what are the main ways of thinking about well-being as a whole? What are the key domains and components of personal well-being?
  • Organisational and community: how do communities and organizations facilitate well-being? What is community vitality? What is a healthy organizational climate?
  • National and international: What is national well-being and how can we measure and promote it?

As such, this third course has less of an economic angle and is less focused on the national level than the previous two courses. It may thus nicely complement them. Targets groups of this course:

  • “human resources (HR) professionals, who are keen to embrace well-being and purpose, to improve staff satisfaction and productivity;
  • social planners from the public and third sector, who want to address the social and economic factors that affect well-being at a community level;
  • and policy makers and civil servants, who wish to measure well-being or understand the life outcomes that matter most to people when developing policy.”

The course, hosted on the FutureLearn platform, is initiated by the University of Edinburgh (UK). However, a range of organizations has contributed, including including Oxfam, Carnegie UK Trust, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Volunteering Scotland. The course team has research experience with “topics such as happiness and subjective well-being, and the impact of the welfare state on them.”

4. Challenging Wealth and Income Inequality

This course on ‘challenging wealth and income inequality’ was created by The Open University (UK) and is hosted on the FutureLearn platform. Where the second course discussed in this post is very much focused on taxation as a mean to bring about equality, this course takes a more diverse approach. According to the course description, “you’ll explore many different alternatives to achieve a more equal world for generations to come.” To the degree that it covers the same ground as the first two courses, it may be more accessible to those without an economics background.

The course covers the following ground:

“This free online course will explore the growing concerns surrounding rising inequality in income and wealth in developed countries. You’ll scrutinize claims that the baby boomer generation has had it all, in terms of pension deals and affordable houses, while social and political changes have left younger generations struggling to find security for their accommodation and retirement income. You’ll examine the causes and implications of growing economic inequalities and what can be done about them, by individuals, communities and governments.”

In a blog post that the teachers of this course wrote, they promise that the course “teases out the controversies and scrutinizes a number of popular myths“, under which they include the following:

  1. “Income inequalities are good for economic growth”
  2. “A growing gap between rich and poor in each country is an inevitable effect of globalization”
  3. “Wealth will always trickle down”
  4. “Private pensions are the best way to provide financial security in old age”
  5. “The only way to tackle housing inequality is to provide financial support for buyers”
  6. “Income differences are justified as long as there is equality of opportunity”

Below the course promotion video. It mentions “the perverse impacts that both governments and markets may have” and promises to investigate “alternatives for market capitalism.”

Series "Recommended online courses":

The morality of markets is a complex topic. Do you feel like you have enough knowledge to make a sensible contribution to the debate? If not, this series of blog posts introduces some ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs) that you can take from anywhere in the world.

Posts in this series:
  1. Five Foundational Online Courses in PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS and ECONOMICS that Help You Reflect on the Morality of Markets
  2. Five Online Courses on (American) CAPITALISM, Chinese MARXISM and GLOBALIZATION to Deepen Your Knowledge
  3. Four Online Courses on ECONOMIC GROWTH, (IN)EQUALITY and WELL-BEING to Deepen Your Knowledge
  4. Four Online Courses in BUSINESS ETHICS to Work on Better Markets at the Personal / Organizational Level
  5. Five Online Courses on DOING BUSINESS DIFFERENTLY