Knoop explores economic inequality in new book

The pages of today’s newspapers are packed with stories about economic inequality in which the rich are becoming richer and the poor are falling behind.

Todd Knoop in his office
Todd Knoop

Those stories inspired Cornell College’s David Joyce Professor of Economics and Business Todd Knoop to look for answers in his new book, “Understanding Economic Inequality: Bigger Pies and Just Deserts.” 

“Economists have always primarily focused on growth—increasing the size of the pie is the priority, not so much how the pie is divided up,” Knoop said. “But in an age where economic growth is slowing, how you slice the pie becomes a bigger issue.”

This marks Knoop’s seventh book–something he says is hard to wrap his mind around. After three years of research, he is taking a unique approach to looking at our new economic reality.

“The objective of this book is to bring an economist’s eye and a mind broadened by insights from philosophy, sociology, psychology, and politics to examine questions related to why economic inequality is growing and why this is so important,” Knoop said. “How bad is inequality? How has it changed over time? What is driving it? How does it differ across people and places?  Why should we worry about it? What policies can be adopted to moderate it?”

Knoop’s goal is to help people understand the world around them and how much economic inequality actually matters for everyone.

“Inequality impacts our institutions, which influences our ability as a society to function effectively and productively,” Knoop said. “More unequal societies become less cooperative societies and are more likely to suffer from political dysfunction, lower public health, worse educational outcomes, and less intergenerational mobility. More unequal societies provide fewer public goods, suffer from more discrimination, are more vulnerable to conflicts such as crime and war, and suffer from greater macroeconomic and financial instability.”

Knoop has already incorporated his findings into his courses at Cornell and has goals to teach this topic as a full course. He would like for it to become a second-year-seminar (SYS) course under Cornell’s new Ingenuity curriculum with students visiting local schools and jails. SYS courses are focused on citizenship in practice, where students learn through a variety of hands-on experiences.

“One of the best things about teaching at a liberal arts college is that I have great freedom to pursue my academic interests, whatever they might be and however they might change,” Knoop said. “I have the luxury to get interested in something and to read and learn more about it.  I often find ways that I can incorporate these interests into class, and occasionally I can turn this learning into a book. It is a real privilege to have a job where learning and sharing what I learn is what I get paid to do.”

Readers can purchase “Understanding Economic Inequality: Bigger Pies and Just Desserts” on Amazon.