Inequality & Social Policy in the New Era of Finance

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I’m teaching a course at UC Berkeley entitled “Inequality & Social Policy in the New Era of Finance” starting on Monday. The syllabus and course readings are all available here:

Please provide attribution if you borrow any of the course materials for your own teaching or writing. Feedback and ideas are welcome. Here’s the plan:

From Occupy Wall Street to the Bernie Sanders movement, we have seen persistent anger at big banks and the U.S. financial sector over economic inequality. But is finance really to blame? And if so, what can we do about rising inequality?

To tackle these questions, this course will use an organizational perspective to cover the latest sociological research on financialization – a term for the increasing participation of widespread social groups and organizations in financial markets. The first half of the course will look at how financialization has provided huge increases in wealth and power to financial elites. On the other hand, financialization has deprived disadvantaged groups of social power and economic security. This rising inequality involved a transformation of organizational identities and strategies in different areas of social life. We will read works about how financial ideologies and resource dependencies have transformed corporations and work along with homes and daily life. We will also discuss how financialization interacts with race and gender inequalities. This part of the course concludes by looking at how financialization contributes to financial crises and the individualization of economic risks for Americans during such crises.

The second half of the course will turn to scholarship on social policies and how they can either reduce or reinforce inequalities related to financialization. Several readings will develop the insight that social policies – from health insurance and pensions to education and tax policies – are central to the organization of economic markets, including financial markets. From this perspective, financialization is an intrinsically political process that has involved major policy fights. Organizations from hedge funds and investment banks to labor unions, universities, and political parties have played major roles in these struggles as social units for both the implementation of policy and for political combat. We will even see that financial ideologies and markets have been increasingly used in social policies themselves, including student loans, mortgages, and 401K retirement plans. The readings will offer varying accounts of the prospects for social policy to reverse or mitigate inequality related to financialization.

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Charlie Eaton

Charlie Eaton is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. His research looks at how organizations shape inequality through politics, the economy, and social policy. His dissertation is on the financialization of higher education. You can follow him on Twitter @eatoncharlie