ECON 2456 Economics of Poverty (Spring 2012)

InstructorRob Szarka
OfficeMontieth 440
Office HoursTues. 12:30-1:30 p.m.; Thurs. 9:15-10:00 a.m.; Friday: By Appointment
Emailrobert.szarka "at"
Twitter@szarka or #econ2456

Course Description

From the course catalog:

Analysis of poverty and income maintenance programs: theories of income distribution and comparison of public policies in the US and other countries.

Note that ECON 1201 & 1202, or the equivalent, are pre-requisites for this class.

Course Goals

Students who complete the assigned work and actively participate in class can expect to achieve the following:

Teaching Style

Woody Allen once said that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." For our purposes the CT Lottery slogan, "You can't win if you don't play," might be more accurate. I won't take attendance (and could not grade you on it if I did). But I do expect you to show up. This may mean setting two alarm clocks. (That's what I do.) Or you might need something more aggressive.

A corollary of the above is that emailing me to tell me why you missed class is a waste of your time and mine. (Unless, of course, the reason is especially interesting.) Life happens; move on. Instead, you should check with a friend in class to find out what you missed. (I am not that friend.) If you don't have a friend in the class, now is a good time to make one.

Since I expect you to show up to class (and to get there, if at all possible, on time), I won't waste your time. Class will not typically end early, but it will always end on time. I will also make my best effort to get to class on time and begin promptly, though the vicissitudes of weather may sometimes make that impossible. I won't use class time to reiterate material you (should) have already read.

There are at least three things that happen at a University: "getting a degree", learning, and personal growth. The first of these probably concerns you a great deal right now. In the long run, though, it's not terribly important. (If you don't believe me, ask Steve Jobs.) I have to assign you a grade at the end of the semester, but it's not why I'm here--I hope it's not why you're here, either. The second thing is important, but doesn't happen as much as it ought. I'll do my best to make learning possible, but whether you learn anything in this course is ultimately up to you. To learn, you need to engage with the material; my job, as I see it, is to give you material worth engaging with. The third thing may be the most important, but is mostly outside the scope of our class. Still, I'll do what I can to help.

Texts & Readings

Since a key theme of this course is learning to locate and synthesize information in collaboration with your fellow students, no single textbook is required. Nevertheless, most of you will probably find it efficient to use one or more texts.

The default text, which covers most of the important topics in an accessible way, is The Economics of Poverty and Discrimination (Tenth Edition) by Bradley R. Schiller (ISBN 978-0131889699). This text is available at the UConn Co-Op.

Poverty & Incomes Distribution (Second Edition) by Ed Wolff (ISBN 978-1405176606) is a more advanced undergraduate text. I will place this text on reserve at the library.

You might also consider Mwangi Kimenyi's Economics of Poverty, Discrimination, & Public Policy (ISBN 978-0538831918). Although this text has not been updated recently, its coverage of the early history of poverty policy is missing from the texts above. It's currently less than $5 used on Amazon.

See Readings for links to additional readings and recordings available online. (Where copyright restrictions require, some readings will be made available through HuskyCT.) See also this list of books for critical review.


Final grades will be calculated using the following weights: Midterm Exam: 15%; Final Exam: 30%; Book Review: 15%; Wiki Project: 40%.


The midterm will take place during our regularly-scheduled class on March 1st. There will be no "make-up" exam. If you miss the midterm (which I don't recommend), or if your final exam score is higher than your midterm score, the final will count for 45% of your grade.

The final exam will take place according to the university's final exam schedule; it will test your understanding of relevant economic theory and your ability to synthesize what you have learned to evaluate public policy. Nota Bene: In accordance with university policy, make-up final exams will only be given with written permission from the Dean of Students.

Book Review

Each of you will write a critical review of a book related to the topic of the course, to be due on April 5th. I will provide a list of suitable books, but you are welcome to propose a book not on the list. The review is a formal academic paper, which means that you should carefully document any sources you consult or quote. (Not doing so constitutes plagiarism.) The review should be your own work, not a collaboration.

Wiki Project

A major focus of the class, especially during the latter part of the semester, will be a collaborative research project using a wiki I will set up. I will ask you to contribute to this wiki under the same open source license used by Wikipedia. (If you have an objection to that, we should discuss the matter as soon as possible.) My hope is that this will be an effective way to learn the material, both as you're writing and when it's time to review for the final exam. I also hope that creating a resource that's useful for others will be more rewarding than completing toy homework problems. And, finally, I hope that, for at least a few of you, bragging about your mad social media skills will impress a potential employer.

To make grading more objective and less stressful for both of us, 20% of your final grade will be tied to meeting specific milestones I will provide. Meeting all the milestones by the dates set will constitute an A for this part of the grade.

The remaining 20% of your final grade will be based on my assessment of the quality and quantity of your contributions to the overall wiki project. I may ask for feedback from the class to help identify those who have made an outstanding contribution.

Class Participation

I reserve the right to adjust your final grade upward as much as 5% based on outstanding contributions "in class" and online. Usually, those who make outstanding contributions are already earning an A, but this typically makes a difference for one student each semester.

Extra Credit


Learning Disabilities

If you have a diagnosed learning disability and will need special arrangements for classes or exams, please bring me a letter from the Center for Students with Disabilities as soon as possible. No special consideration can be given without documentation.


You're all adults and I'm confident you'll show me and one another respect by turning off your cell phone, setting your IM status to Away, keeping side conversations to a minimum, and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

On some days, using your laptop to research material in class will be encouraged. On other days, the focus will be elsewhere. On all days, surfing Facebook does not fit the definition of "research". I reserve the right to ask you to leave class, or steal your Facebook password and post embarassing things to your wall, if you are wasting class time in this way.

Academic Integrity

From UCONN's Student Code:

A fundamental tenet of all educational institutions is academic honesty; academic work depends upon respect for and acknowledgement of the research and ideas of others. Misrepresenting someone else's work as one's own is a serious offense in any academic setting and it will not be condoned. Misconduct includes, but is not limited to, providing or receiving assistance in a manner not authorized by the instructor in the creation of work to be submitted for academic evaluation (e.g. papers, projects, and examinations); any attempt to influence improperly (e.g. bribery, threats) any member of the faculty, staff, or administration of the University in any matter pertaining to academics or research; presenting, as one's own, the ideas or words of another for academic evaluation; doing unauthorized academic work for which another person will receive credit or be evaluated; and presenting the same or substantially the same papers or projects in two or more courses without the explicit permission of the instructors involved. A student who knowingly assists another student in committing an act of academic misconduct shall be equally accountable for the violation, and shall be subject to the sanctions and other remedies described in The Student Code.

Enough said.

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