human ecology core course

wealth and inequality, distribution and dynamics

david feldman

college of the atlantic

fall 2007

Instructor: Dave Feldman
Office: Second floor, Turrets Annex.
Phone: x249, 276-5284
Email: dave_At_h0rnacekD0TcoaD0Tedu
Class mailing list: hecc_At_h0rnacekD0TcoaD0Tedu

Course Goals

I have several goals for this course. I want you to:
  1. Experience and participate in an introductory example of a human ecological approach to a complex issue.
  2. Get to know College of the Atlantic and each other.
  3. Practice and improve analytic skills necessary for success at college-level work.
  4. Learn some stuff about inequality, economics, poverty, statistics, political philosophy, and so on.
  5. Have fun while working hard and challenging our ideas.

Catalog Description

This interdisciplinary seminar is designed to provide students with an introduction to human ecology. The focus of this year's class will be the topic of wealth. We will take an interdisciplinary approach to this topic, drawing upon the work of novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, artists, and others. In so doing, our aim is to provide a model for a human ecological approach to a complex social phenomenon, and to give students experience in defining and addressing a complex subject. An additional goal of this course is to introduce students to critical reading, writing, and discussion skills that are an essential ingredient for student success at College of the Atlantic.

This particular seminar will center on three broad questions. First, to what extent are resources and income distributed unevenly throughout the world and in various countries and societies? What would a fair distribution look like, and what different notions of fairness are there? Second, do these inequalities matter? Why or why not? And third, how do inequalities arise, why do they so often persist, and how, if ever, can inequalities be ameliorated? We will read selections from a number of current and classical political and economic thinkers as we consider these questions. Throughout the course we will encounter several different notions of "fairness" or "equity" put forth by philosophers, economists, and mathematicians, and will critically examine each. Additionally, one of the questions that will emerge is the extent to which one can, or cannot, predict large-scale phenomena such as income distribution or other patterns based on knowledge of simple interactions or "rules of the game." We shall see that the manner in which individual preferences lead to societal outcomes is not always straightforward and intuitive, and will discuss the implications of this observation.

Evaluation will be based on class discussion and participation, several short papers, several problem sets, and a final paper or presentation. Introductory. *HE* Lab fee $25.


You should procure copies of the following books: There will also be many handouts and photocopied articles that I'll distribute over the course of the term.


Your evaluation will be based on the following: This class is offered only on a credit/no-credit basis. Exceptions to this may only be granted by Ken Hill.

Policies and other Information

  1. The final version of this and related documents can be found on the course web page,
  2. We may need to schedule an extra class or two during weeks 9 or 10 so we have enough time for the presentations.
  3. As I plan on often sending out homework assignments and other information via email, it is important that you check your email semi-regularly.
  4. If you want, we could set up a discussion board, blog, and/or wiki for the class.
  5. There will be a final synthetic paper, project, and/or presentation. We'll discuss the details of this in a week or two.
  6. In addition to the final project, there will be a few short papers and a few problem sets.
  7. The particular topics and sets of readings we cover toward the end of the course is flexible and will depend on student interest and feedback.
  8. I expect you to attend class. If it is unavoidable for you to miss a class, it's not a big deal, but please let me know in advance if possible. Numerous absences may jeopardize your ability to receive credit for the course.
  9. Academic misconduct -- cheating, plagiarizing, etc. -- is bad. Most cases of academic misconduct will result in a judicial hearing. Possible consequences range from failure of the assignment to expulsion.