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Course Description

In 2010, there were 388 billionaires in the world whose combined wealth exceeded that of half the earth's population. Today, that number is under 50, and all indications are that it continues to decrease. The enormous concentration of wealth and the unchecked growth of inequality have emerged as crucial social issues of our time. To what extent can mathematics help shed light on this problem?

In this interdisciplinary course, which requires only high school mathematics as a prerequisite, we will learn to think about wealth distribution in a quantitative fashion. We will learn the difference between wealth, money and income, and we will learn how these things are measured by banks, governments and international institutions. We will survey historical thought on this subject from mathematical, economic and philosophical perspectives.

Some of the quantitative ideas in this course will be introduced by computer simulation of idealized mathematical models. No prior knowledge of a computer language is required, but instruction will be provided for the use ofMathematica ©, which is available to all Tufts students. We will ask questions such as,

  • Can inequality be quantified? What properties should a mathematical measure of inequality have to capture our intuitive notion of the concept?
  • Can idealized mathematical models, such as agent-based models, describe the current distribution of wealth with any accuracy?
  • Are market economies naturally stable, or is continuous government intervention needed to keep them stable?
  • What ethical tools exist to determine the morality of decisions that societies make about wealth distribution and wealth inequality?
  • Should societies attempt to manage their levels of inequality? If so, what public policy tools do they have at their disposal for doing so? If not, what, if anything, should be done about runaway concentration of wealth?

Only high school mathematics, and no prior background in economics is assumed. There will be weekly problem sets, at least one midterm and a final exam.

Tufts summer online courses are designed to provide high-quality, flexible, and interactive courses to Tufts and visiting students. While most online courses are offered in an asynchronous format, some courses may require webinar sessions and/or proctored exams. For more information about online course policies and expectations, please visit

A sample syllabus for this course can be found here.  Please note: Syllabus dates, content, and format are subject to change between now and the summer session.