Prices are rising at rates not seen for 40 years. It's not surprising that 'inflation' is back at the top of the political agenda but what should be done about it? This course intends to provide students not with answers - economists notoriously disagree about these - but with tools to think independently about the issues. The focus is not only on what is said in the media but on why pundits are saying it. (As a famous economist has remarked, 'the purpose of studying economics is … to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists'.) The course will explore competing economic theories, as well as what exactly we mean by inflation and how we measure it.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sent shockwaves throughout a world still ravaged by the pandemic. More than a year on, the horrors of war still dominate the front pages of news around the world. A climate of fear and uncertainty dominates world politics as we are constantly reminded of the fear of escalation between major world powers, rising death tolls, human rights concerns and what the outcome of this conflict might mean for global peace and stability. Despite this global attention, there remains a large gulf between opposing camps on how this war is viewed - leading to contrasting and competing national policies. This course aims to explore how the histories of these countries resulted in open conflict, its development since 2014, and a close examination of the motives and intentions of opposing blocs in this war. This course aims to explore and comprehend contrasting views and to what extent they are coloured by historical fact, national security, and political objectives.
China has changed in scarcely three decades from a poor and overwhelmingly agricultural country to what may already be the largest industrial economy in the world, with the geopolitical significance that that entails. To Western observers this is liable to seem like a sudden rise from backwardness and obscurity. But China's citizens have a different perspective: that their country is on the brink of recovering a status that it held for millenia - that of the world's most technically and culturally sophisticated society, only eclipsed for a few brief centuries following Europe's industrial revolution. But how should these events be explained? To do this we will look at the variety of ways in which economists have accounted for the transition from agriculture to industry, and thus for the fact that China has achieved what countries in Africa and South America have found so much more difficult.
For most of recorded history contemporary thinkers have regarded the idea of human equality as either nonsensical, undesirable or impossible. But by the middle of the 19th century Marx could assert that this notion had 'already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice'. Notwithstanding this claim, it is clear that inequality in the distribution of society's benefits not only persists but has recently been growing. Indeed, some would argue that without some measure of inequality society would have no drive towards innovation and economic growth. This course interrogates the meaning of this 'popular prejudice' and examines what considerations of principle or expediency might justify either equality or inequality.
Responding to the global financial crisis of 2007-8 and the austerity policies that followed, the Occupy movement focussed attention on social inequality with the slogan 'We are the 99%'. This implied a clash between the wealth and interests of a tiny elite and the experiences of the average member of society. But is this 99:1 split a useful or appropriate measure of inequality? And can we give a precise meaning to the notion of the 'average' person? This course explores a variety of ways in which social scientists have tried to answer these questions through numerical measures of the size and extent of inequality. As will be shown, these proposed answers are not solely neutral technicalities but have potential political and social implications.
Do free markets generate prosperity, and what could the alternatives be? What is money, and where does it come from? Why poverty, and how to fight it? Should we worry about government debt? How much inflation, if any, sustains economic growth? How are interest rates set? What causes wealth inequality, and how detrimental is it to society? What are the competing economic theories that inform governments around the world today? And we'll discuss more issues, as you come up with them. Oh, let's not ignore this one: How much can economies grow on a finite planet?