Reading Groups

The Welfare State, Economic Equity, and Economic Growth


Run by Chalem Bolton of the University of Michigan, this group explores the relationship between economic equity and growth and how it is influenced by redistributive policies. Growth and equity are often thought of as opponents to one another: some level of inequality is necessary to promote economic growth that makes everyone better off. Many progressive thinkers reject this characterization, but I don't think they often explore ways growth and equality may actually benefit each other. Approaching these ideas from a problem-solving perspective has the potential to generate new sociological research questions and contribute to solutions to problems of inequality and economic stagnation.


The group will focus on wealth inequality over its four scheduled meetings of Fall 2021. We will read recent research on the topic and discuss what the problem with wealth inequality is over the first two meetings. We'll read analyses of policy proposals intended to reduce wealth inequality in the US during the final two. The primary focus of readings specific to the US is the enduring problem of racial wealth inequality and what progress on solving it contemporary proposals have the potential to make.


Please contact Chalem Bolton (chbolt@umich.edu) if you would like to be added to the group's listserv and calendar invites or if you need the Zoom link for a meeting.


Fall 2021 Details and Schedule


Day and time: Select Thursdays 2-3pm EST (1-2PM CT)


Zoom link: contact Chalem or see calendar invite


Schedule:

September 30th (9/30)

Pfeffer, Fabian T., and Nora Waitkus. 2021. “The Wealth Inequality of Nations.” American Sociological Review 86(4):567–602. (preprint link)


October 21st, (10/21)

Thompson, Jeffrey P., and Gustavo A. Suarez .2015. “Updating the Racial Wealth Gap,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-076. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (link)


November 18th, (11/18)

Zewde, Naomi. 2020. “Universal Baby Bonds Reduce Black-White Wealth Inequality, Progressively Raise Net Worth of All Young Adults.” Review of Black Political Economy 47(1):3–19. (open-access link, commentary)


Mitchell, Lia, and Aron Szapiro. 2020. Income-Based Program Designs Show Promise for Closing the Racial Wealth Gap. (link)


December 9th, (12/9)

Eaton, Charlie, Adam Goldstein, Laura Hamilton, and Frederick Wherry. 2021. Student Debt Cancellation IS Progressive: Correcting Empirical and Conceptual Errors. (link)


Looney, Adam, David Wessel, and Kadija Yilla. 2020. Who Owes All That Student Debt? And Who’d Benefit If It Were All Forgiven? (link)

Labor Movement



How can we revitalize the labor movement to reverse inequality, beat financialization, and win worker protections from the state?


Unions once served as the “core equalizing institution" of American capitalism, as sociologist Jake Rosenfeld demonstrated in What Unions No Longer Do. In the 1950s, union membership in the U.S. was on par with Germany, Finland and Canada. Now the share of workers who engage in collective bargaining here is nowhere close to levels in those countries. The role of unions as a “countervailing power” against big business has nearly disappeared. Since the 1970s, the fall of union density has been the reverse image of the rise in income inequality and financialization. Workers’ power, wages, and dignity have suffered.


How can we change that?


We invite you to answer this call in a reading group. A new labor movement is rising. Teachers are launching illegal strikes in "red" states, “essential” workers are walking out of warehouses, hospitals, and restaurants, pension funds with worker representation are weaponizing “labor’s capital,” graduate students are unionizing, and service sector employees are winning a $15 minimum wage. Chiefly, we seek to understand “how labor can win” in America’s gigged, financialized, and plutocratic economy. We will therefore survey a variety of initiatives and strategies put forth in today’s labor movement. We aim to examine these issues through a sociological lens.


Perhaps the most important task of this book club will be to brainstorm new methods and lines of research that can illuminate the many ways, new and old, in which people can use collective action in the workplace to expand economic and political democracy. We hope this reading group can serve as a wellspring for innovative sociological research that can deliver practical value to aspiring employee activists, organizers, and policymakers.


Will you join us? If so, please write to Teke Wiggin (theodorewiggin2026@u.northwestern.edu) and Devin Wiggs (devinwiggs2023@u.northwestern.edu) with a brief description of your interests and propose any books/articles/issues you would like the group to eventually discuss. We plan on meeting for an hour once a month to discuss articles or a book that the group decides to read. We hope our first meeting will take place during the third week of January.


For our first meeting, we will read a primer on the latest developments in the American labor movement: sociologist Jake Rosenfeld’s "US Labor Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Laborism Without Labor."