SAM QUATTROCIOCCHI – APRIL 20TH, 2023
Econ 131: Public Economics, and Econ 133: Global Inequality and Growth are the two most complementary classes I’ve taken at Berkeley. Our economics department has no shortage of brilliant professors. But, it really is something special when you find two classes that genuinely add up to more than the sum of their parts. Taught by Professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman respectively, both classes cover related but distinct areas of economics which simultaneously enrich and strengthen your understanding of the other course’s content. If you were interested in the parts of introductory economics classes which covered public goods, market failures, and when the government should intervene, you will enjoy these courses. In effect, they take those topics and devote two courses to going in depth with those issues front and center. Taking both at the same time is an immensely fulfilling experience that I recommend to anyone interested in this kind of economics.
Econ 131 focuses specifically on government’s role in the economy. It fleshes out and elaborates on the different reasons for its interventions. Through the course, you develop a set of theoretical and empirical tools for evaluating whether government should intervene or not. Over the course of your time in this class, you will learn to calculate tax incidence, budget and debt analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and optimal taxation. These tools will all be used to evaluate examples where the government can use taxes, public goods, social insurance, and social security policy to improve on the market’s default provision. Econ 131 is, at its core about how we can use policy to improve on the world the market gives us.
On the other hand, Econ 133 is about that world. It is an in depth tour through how inequality has changed over time in and between countries around the world. Zucman explores how inequality varies over the traditional path of a nation’s economic development. The first part of the course is devoted to illustrating a thorough description of the world with inequality at its center. This involves defining income and capital, and then looking at how the inequality between them has evolved. Then, the course dives into inequality between individuals and how all these trends have been affected by COVID and other global dynamics. Finally, the course goes through the role of the market and institutions in creating the picture of inequality that we can see and how racial and gender disparities have manifested through them. The second part of the course pivots towards policy and how these problems can be ameliorated. It explores models of wealth redistribution, the history of tax progressivity, and how taxation can be used to fund a redistributive social state in an increasingly globalized international community.
Both courses share similar assessment models with one midterm and one final exam. Econ 131 is slightly more math intensive and also has 3 very manageable problem sets. Despite the increased amount of math in 131, both classes have very similar kinds of questions. You will find that studying for one class helps you study for the other. Both classes have similarly structured midterms and final exams where the test is divided into conceptual and math questions. The content is distinct enough where you learn different concepts from each class, but similar enough that studying for one will better equip you to answer questions for the other in an informed way.
Introductory economics often addresses market failures, inequality, and other instances where government has a role. But, it does so in a limited way which treats it as an afterthought in the context of market supremacy. Econ 131 and 133 are for students that want to see what an economics course which specifically focuses on these things looks like. The courses are taught by two world renowned professors who have worked with the famous Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, multiple times. They provide a wholistic view of economics which gives inequality, and the taxes/transfers system that can improve it the attention it deserves.
Disclaimer: The views published in this journal are those of the individual authors or speakers and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of Berkeley Economic Review staff, the Undergraduate Economics Association, the UC Berkeley Economics Department and faculty, or the University of California, Berkeley in general.