This is the latest version of my “Financialization and Inequality” undergraduate course, as taught this Fall 2017 in Sociology at UC Merced:
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 economic sociology and organizational perspectives to cover the latest sociological research on financialization – a term for the increasing dependence of diverse social groups and organizations on financial markets. The first half of the course will look at how financialization has contributed to huge increases in wealth and power to financial elites. At the same time, 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. The second half of the course will turn to scholarship on public policies and how they can either reduce or reinforce inequalities related to financialization. Several readings will develop the insight that public 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 public policy to reverse or mitigate inequality related to financialization.