Positive and Normative Aspects of Income Distribution
Department of Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University
Monday / Wednesday Section A : 11.30‐12.50pm, P3067 Section B: 1‐2.20pm, P3067
Instructor: Christine Neill Office: P2034
Office Hours: Mon, Wed: 10‐11.30am Phone: (519) 884‐1970, ext. 2469
Course website: MyLearningSpace (MyLS) Email: via MyLS only, please
I cover roughly the same material in each of these time slots. I do not mind which section you attend, or
if you switch between sections from week to week, unless there is no seating available in one of the
slots. Note that while I cover roughly the same material in each class, there may be slight differences, so
it is always safer to attend the same section consistently.
“The study of the distribution of income measures how the output of the nation is shared among the
individual and household units of society. The positive aspect of income distribution measures and
explains how income is actually distributed in Canada. The normative aspect of income distribution asks
how income should be distributed in Canada. Government redistribution of income through taxes and
transfers is also considered.”
Pre‐requisites: EC120, EC140. Exclusion: EC310t
EC246 is about economic approaches to understanding how income is distributed across individuals and
households, and about policies that could change this distribution.
The calendar description does not mention a few things we will discuss in this course. We will examine
the distribution of wealth and of other measures of well‐being than income. We will also look at how
individuals move up or down the income distribution within and across generations (income mobility).
And the course will not be quite as Canada‐centric as suggested by the calendar description: there is
important research on the income distribution from other countries (especially the US) and global
inequality is major concern. A full list of the topics we will cover is on the weekly schedule.
The calendar description places a stronger emphasis on normative questions than we will cover in the
course. I will post optional extension resources that can help you to explore these issues in more detail
if you wish. If you are interested in taking a course that puts these issues from and centre, you should
consider PO350 (Theories of Justice).
A full list of the topics is on the reading list and weekly schedule. Course Goals and Learning Outcomes
By the end of this course, you should be able to:
1. Calculate key distributional (or other) statistics given (a) a data set; (b) a mathematical formula;
and (c) a spreadsheet program [data quizzes; data assignment; final exam]
2. Use formulae for variance and mean decompositions to describe determinants of inequality
3. Find primary economic research on a set topic and outline the methods and findings of that
research [annotated bibliography/video/Income in Canada assignment]
4. Describe current levels of inequality and recent changes, and use economic concepts to analyse
policies to affect inequality, includingome which have not been explicitly covered in class.
[Income in Canada assignment; data assignment; annotated bibliography; final exam]
5. Describe how statistical analysis is used to examine a particular economic or policy problem
[reading surveys; annotated bibliography/final exam]
6. Describe the basic set of redistributive policies used in Canada [final exam]
7. Show how theories of distributive justice, economic theory, and/or statistical analysis can be
applied to particular economic and/or social issues [reading surveys; annotated
bibliography/video; final exam]
Due Date Submit via Marks
Data analysis quiz 1 Week 2 MyLS 3
Data analysis quiz 2 Week 4 MyLS 5
Data assignment Week 5 Hard Copy 20
Reading surveys Weeks 3, 7, 10 MyLS 9 (3 marks each)
Annotated bibliography Week 12 MyLS 23
Video on a core concept
Replication of Income in
Final exam Exam period 40
Details of each piece of assessment will be provided in MyLS under Content/Administrative Information.
All assessment is due by 4pm on Friday of the week identified, unless otherwise stated.
I will accept late assignments, but with a 2 percentage point deduction from your final grade for each
day late, starting immediately after the deadline (each weekend day counts as a full day, and hard
copies cannot be handed in on the weekend). That means if you hand in your data assignment two days
late, and get 10/15 for it, then your grade will be 10‐2*2 = 6/15. Submitting any of the reading surveys or data quizzes late will lead to a grade of zero. There is very little you can do in one day to raise your
grade by enough to compensate for this penalty, so it is in your interest to submit on time.
I will consider requests for regrades if submitted within two weeks of the posting of the mark for that
item on MyLS, and accompanied by a clear, detailed, and substantive written statement outlining the
grounds for the request. (“I think I did better than a D‐“ is clear, but neither substantive nor detailed.)
How to ask questions in this course
All communication in EC246 should be either face‐to‐face (office hours, lectures) or through MyLS.
If you have any questions about the course material or general questions about assessment, please ask
either in lectures or over the MyLS bulletin boards. Most questions you have are likely to be ones that
at least a few of your fellow students also have. You’re doing them a favour by asking publicly rather
than privately, especially if you do so over the bulletin boards, since students can go back and check
them for answers. This only works if you check the boards before you post a question. The bonus for
you of using the bulletin boards is that you get your questions answered faster – either because you find
your question has already been answered, or because often another student answers before I can. I
really appreciate responses posted by other students in the class. Having some discussion of
substantive questions helps everyone learn more. If there is ever any ambiguity about answers that are
provided by other students, I will clarify it, so no need to worry about misleading other students.
The only sorts of questions you should ask by email are ones that involve personal information, or that
only you could be interested in the answer to (such as why your grade for a particular assessment item
doesn’t appear). Please use the MyLS email for this. I cannot guarantee to answer promptly if you use
my @wlu.ca address.
If you have asked a question on content in a lecture or over the bulletin boards, and are still having
problems, please come to see me during office hours sooner rather than later. You are always welcome
to come to see me during office hours for any reason.
I check the bulletin oards and email in MyLS regularly. You should expect a response from me within
48 hours (except over the weekend).
Learning Materials and Aids (MyLS/External Links)
Weekly schedule: tells you what the basic topics are, and what you should read to help you
understand the topics and issues; tells you roughly what you missed if you missed class
Course outline/reading list: tells you the topics and the bibliographic detail for each of the
readings. Lectures are based on them.
Lecture slides: give a basic overview of content from class, will be posted on MyLS after the
lectures Class notes: sometimes act as a substitute, other times a complement, to journal articles/book
Practice questions: a guide to the types of questions that can appear on the final exam; helps
you review your understanding of the course content. I do not provide solutions, since there is
typicallynot a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ answer to most of the questions
Library: can help you track down journal articles, online or hardcopy
Writing Centre: can give you advice on early drafts of your annotated bibliography
Learning Services: can help with time management, exam preparation, etc
Note that I do not take attendance at class, or reward attendance with participation marks. But
students who attend class regularly will inevitably perform better on the assessment than students who
have not, in part because they have been keeping up with the content and in part because I have no
compunction about including a question on a test that has been covered in class in more detail than in
Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
Please read the university policies regarding Academic Integri