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Unit information: Inequality, Crisis and Prosperity: How to Make Sense of the Global Economy in 2018/19

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Unit name Inequality, Crisis and Prosperity: How to Make Sense of the Global Economy
Unit code UNIV10003
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Birdi
Open unit status Open




School/department Centre for Innovation
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit introduces students to the global economy through a practical based work using global economic data. It develops key data analytical skills and introduces students to basic economic models with an emphasis on models that are applied and policy-oriented. The analysis strongly emphasises three broad themes. These are:

  • sustainability and climate change and the problem of global cooperation;
  • inequality, institutions and policy;
  • the causes and effects of innovation, such as growth and instability.

The unit will develop the skills of basic data literacy, the representation of data, the distinction between causation and correlation, the use of natural experiments, survey and experimental data and other key aspects of a mature understanding of data. The unit also introduces some basic analytical modelling frameworks and tools that economists use to understand the global economy such as game theory, asymmetric information and incomplete contracts. The unit is based around group-based exercises that develop a familiarity with data handling and presentation through Excel. There are no pre-requisites for the unit as it is aimed at students with no prior experience in these areas.

The aims of the unit are:

  • To enable students to understand how economics can contribute to an understanding of global challenges such as inequality, the effects and impact of innovation, and climate change.
  • To develop confidence in the use and understanding of data including the manipulation of economic data using Excel, the presentation of data, types of data, understanding of causation and correlation and the use of natural experiments in economics;
  • To develop confidence in the formulation of well-evidenced and articulate contributions to debates on the policy responses to the major challenges of inequality, innovation and sustainability.
  • To develop basic theoretical frameworks and tools that are used in modern economics to understand the economy, including game theory, asymmetric information and incomplete contracts;

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will

  1. Be able to interpret key economic data such as those often presented in economics media, for example, on GDP, unemployment, growth, inequality, climate change.
  2. Be able to distinguish between causal statements and correlations, and judge whether conclusions based on economic data are justified
  3. Be able to synthesise data analysis and some key economic modelling approaches to articulate evidence-based evaluations of policy in the areas of global inequality, the problem of climate change and innovation, growth and crisis.
  4. Be able to clearly communicate and present data based arguments on policy questions to academic and general public audiences, using multimedia appropriately.
  5. Be familiar with the basic analysis and presentation of economic data using Excel.

Teaching details

The course will be taught in three 3-week blocks each devoted to a single theme: sustainability, innovation and inequality.

Week 1 of the course consists of a general orientation to the themes, the methods of delivery and an introduction to data methods.

There are then three 3-week blocks which have the following format:

For each block a number of multimedia resources will be made available at the outset of week A. These comprise: a video about the overall theme, a reading list for the online text, and one or more short videos helping students to read the online text and to work on the exercises.

Then each week, a short audio podcast about that week’s work will be produced. In addition, ad hoc video content will be produced as clarifications for aspects that students find difficult.

Students will engage with these online resources and then participate in activities as follows in each of the the three 3-week blocks.

Week A and B : There is a 2 hour workshop for those in attendance mode. Other students will replace this contact with multimedia resources and remote group work. The workshop itself (and the online work for the remote groups) is based on step-by-step data-based exercises. It is expected that all students (face to face and online) will work in groups to receive peer feedback and support. There will also be a common webinar for all students which will be recorded for those students not in attendance mode. There will also be Skype or Collaborate-based office hours each week.

Week C: The mode of delivery is the same as weeks A and B except that no new material is introduced. The purpose of this week is to help students work on their assessments which require them to use the output and results from week B and create a report or other outputs which is aimed at reporting the significance and importance of the results to a specific audience.

Assessment Details

Much of the material will be online and students can use the online MCQ quizzes to self-assess and gauge progress.

Students complete three assignments. The summative assessment for the unit is a group project (50%) and an individual project (50%) which is selected from two assignments that the students complete in the unit.

The assignments involve students producing either a video podcast, BBC style news article or a blog article which explains the importance and relevance of the outputs they have produced using the data analysis, together with some underlying economic theory, to various audiences.

Reading and References

The main text for the unit will be the freely available CORE online text, Economy, Society and Public Policy based on the original specialist course at

Other useful reading

Acemoglu, D and Robinson, J (2012) Why Nations Fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. Crown Publishers, New York. Coyle, D. (2014) GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton University Press. Seabright, P (2010) The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. Princeton University Press.