Spring 2018

Inequality: Law, Economics, and Social Policy

Listed in: Economics, as ECON-402


Jessica Wolpaw Reyes (Section 01)
Rene Reyes (Section 01)


This is an accessible upper-level course that applies the analytic tools of law and economics to explore how legal and societal structures enable, constrain, and address inequality.  We will start with establishing frameworks for understanding equality, inequality, justice, and injustice.  These will be drawn from constitutional law and classical microeconomics, with an emphasis on the interconnectedness of these modes of understanding.  We will then apply these modes of analysis to a series of important loci of inequality and social policy: racial segregation in public education, affirmative action in higher education, residential segregation in U.S. cities, gerrymandering in recent years, age discrimination in the labor market, and individual rights to health care.  For each topic, we will engage with the canonical legal cases and structures (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education), the central economic models (e.g. negative impacts of segregated education), and the marquee social policies (e.g. desegregation policy and its social impacts.)  Throughout, we will consider the potential of public policy to improve societal well-being by targeting inequities, and the ways in which that potential is shaped, constrained, and enabled by the legal landscape and the economic incentives.  The canonical tradeoffs among liberty, equality, and efficiency – central to economics in general, and to law and economics in particular – will always be front and center.

Requisite: ECON 300/301 or ECON 360/361 or permission of the instructor. Limited to 35 students. Spring Semester. Professor J. Reyes and Visiting Assistant Professor R. Reyes.

If Overenrolled: Students may be asked to describe their academic background and interest in the course. Some preference will be given to economics majors.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Writing, Quantitative Reasoning


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018