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Technology and Inequality - Fall 2019

Professor Yochai Benkler

Since the 1970s, income for the median worker in the United States has stagnated. At the same time the share of income and wealth held by the top 1% and the top 0.1% has increased substantially.  There is a serious argument that rising economic insecurity and inequality is playing an important role in the crisis of democratic societies.

What causes economic inequality? To what extent is inequality the product of natural processes of technological development in globalized markets, and to what extent is it a function of political, legal, and other institutional choices?   

The course is intended to foster an understanding of institutional design sensitive to the multi-dimensional causes of complex social problems.

We consider how technology has interacted with law, politics, ideology, and culture to bring us to our present state, and project these dynamics forward. We will consider whether technologies like robotics, platforms, or 3D printing will further exacerbate inequality, or whether they can be harnessed toward producing arrangements conducive to broad-based economic security.  How do these interact with grand reform programs like a universal basic income or a universal jobs guarantee? How do they make us understand equally ambitious but more focused projects, like a revision of antitrust enforcement or significant changes in top marginal income or wealth taxes? Can technology itself offer a complete or partial solution? Can it be integrated with cooperative, commons-based, non-profit, municipal, or entrepreneurial models to offer systemic solutions?

The course requires two or three focused team short papers and presentations during the semester, and a final individual paper.

For more information about this course, visit the Harvard Law School Course Catalog