Economic Inequality According to Adam Smith

Eliminate poverty and economic inequality disappears.  Not so, says DePaul Political Science Professor David Lay Williams, who treated a recent Mess Hall audience at the SSRC to a preview chapter from ‘The Greatest of All Plagues’: Economic Inequality in Western Political Thought, a book he’s writing for Princeton University Press.


Returning to an examination of seminal free-marketeer Adam Smith, Williams traces the recurring theme of economic inequality throughout Smith’s writings, particularly in his less celebrated book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  And while he finds Smith’s solutions for alleviating desperate poverty stronger than those addressing economic inequality, he points out that Smith was quick to recognize potential pitfalls of inequality at the nascent roots of capitalism.

Smith, whose own 18th Century Scotland was marked by great economic inequality, ascribed its development to a combination of people’s tendencies to base their actions on self-interest, the desire for rank and distinction, and an appetite for both superiority and domination over others.  In commercial societies where people are considered responsible for their station in life where success is measured by wealth and poverty equals failure, two separate moral codes can evolve, observed Smith.  People’s inclination to worship the rich allows the rich to indulge in a very lax moral code, one that tolerates their foibles while subjecting the poor to life-long punishment for theirs.  Likewise, greater wealth will also enjoy greater political authority, continues Smith’s critique.

To Williams, relieving poverty wouldn’t address the pathologies Smith identified or control badly performing political institutions.  What Smith described as the “natural selfishness and rapacity” of the rich has both individual and societal implications.  Pitted against the morally corrupting effects on individual character that Smith warned of, the interests of the poor barely register on the radar of the rich, Williams said.  The more disproportionate the wealth, the more violently and unjustly the rich will treat the poor, a Smithian observation not generally remarked on, Williams noted.

In other chapters of his book, Williams will examine the issue of economic inequality through the lens of Plato, St. Augustine, Hobbes, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx.

SSRC Co-sponsoring Hacia un Enfoque Event

The Social Science Research Center is co-sponsoring the event “Hacia un Enfoque/Shifting Focus: Race and Gender in Cuban Film”, which is to take place May 17-18th at the DePaul Art Museum. Faciliatator and curator Karina Paz Ernand will screen one of Cuba’s most prestigious film festivals “La Muestra Joven de Cine Cubano”.  Ernand is a Professor of Audiovisual Studies at La Universidad de la Habana and the Institute of Fine Arts in Cuba.  The film festival is a highly anticipated cinema competition that spotlights the up and coming vanguard of young directors on the island.  The screening will take place on Tuesday May 17, from 6-8 pm at the DePaul Art Museum.

Additionally, there will also be a panel on Wednesday May 18th from 4:30-6:30 pm on the topic: Acercando a Una Miranda: Critical Interventions of Race and Gender in Latin American/Caribbean Media.  The panel will take place in the DePaul Art Museum (at 935 W. Fullerton Ave) and refreshments will be served.


Vehicle Theft in Chicago

Even though vehicle thefts accounted for only a 3.9% of all crimes in Chicago last year, 62% of the stolen vehicles were recovered with severe damage says Chicago Police department.Most often the vehicles are stolen by organized rings sold on black-markets or shipped overseas, stripped for parts and resold to various body-shops, or even resold to unsuspected customers. In Chicago, 78.9% of the vehicles are stolen from streets, alleys and by the side of the sidewalks, 8.6% from buildings other than residences, 6.7% from parking lots, 5.5% from residences, and 0.3% from the airports.

The map below shows a hot-spot analysis of the communities that are most and least affected by vehicle theft. The visualization shows statistically significant (statistically significant is the likelihood that a theft is caused by something other than mere random chance) hot-spots in red where a high number of thefts occur and statistically significant cold-spots in blue where less or no thefts occur.

Communities most-prone to vehicle theft (not safe): Uptown (3) in the north, or Austin (25), Avondale (21), Logan Square (22), Hermosa (20), Humboldt Park (23), West Town (24), East/West Garfield Parks (26,27), Near West Side(28), North Lawndale(29) in the west , or any south central parts of Chicago, namely Chicago Lawn (66), East/West Englewoods (67,68), Greater Grand Crossing (69), South Shore (43), Auburn Gresham(71) are prone to vehicle thefts.

Communities lest-prone to vehicle theft (safe): Edison Park (9), Norwood Park (10), Jefferson Park (11), Forest Glen (12), North Park (13), Dunning(17), Portage Park(15), Lincoln Square (4), North Center (5), Lincoln Park (7) in the north and Bridge Port (60), New City (61), Garfield Ridge(56), Clearing(64), Ashburn(70), West Pullman(53), Morgan Park(75), Beverly(72), Washington Heights(73), East Side(52) and Calumet Heights(48) in the south are least prone to vehicle thefts.
The following infographic shows the extent and distribution of CO2 emissions in the world, the U.S. and Illinois, including the carbon footprints of certain products.

Click through to see the enlarged image.


Techniques Used
The above visualization includes 2 major types of spatial analysis techniques. The vehicle theft locations was geocoded using the address, and then a hotspot analysis was used to identify statistically significant clusters.

Implementing visualization techniques in faculty research
The image of the map reflects the different visualization techniques that might be used to effectively convey data or research conclusions to different types of audiences in various disciplines or industries. Visualizations can help identify existing or emerging trends, spot irregularities or obscure patterns, and even address or solve issues.

Ask us how to visualize your research
For help visualizing your own research findings or seeing if your research lends itself to similar techniques including data acquisition and pre-processing of both quantitative and qualitative data, contact Nandhini Gulasingam at

SSRC Research Retreat

Productivity can be a fleeting idea:  sometimes you can have the best intentions to do this and that, finish those revisions, make these edits, etc.  But it can be hard- when office neighbors decide to drop over for a quick question.  Or a student wanders into your office for guidance.  Or everyone decides this is the day we’re going to have loud hallway conversations outside your door.  It can be extraordinarily difficult on campus to have a 2-3 hour session for writing and thinking with optimal research conditions.

Over Spring Break, I facilitated an experimental research retreat sponsored by the SSRC for a group of Assistant Professors from DePaul University.  The idea was simple:  get professors out of their offices for three days and foster research productivity by having accountability sessions interspersed with intensive writing sessions.

The SSRC wanted a remote location within a reasonable drive from Chicago- in order to eliminate some of the distractions that come with being in bigger cities.  In the end, we settled on the Madison/Evansville, WI area, because its proximity to Chicago meant that travel to and from the site would take 1.5 hours each way.  After arriving to the historic Cooksville Farmhouse Inn and getting down to business- the group started with a 15 min planning session, where each  member detailed what they wanted to achieve during the upcoming writing session.  Part of the process involves thinking very critically about what can be done in the amount of time you have.  It is a strategy that is central to the LP Accountability Group, one that we borrowed from the Paul J. Silva’s How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing.  Make smart, measurable, doable goals and DO them.  So part of the retreat was about breaking big projects into smaller, manageable tasks and then turning intense focus and effort on each of those tasks in turn.

Overall, the four professors who made the trip accomplished a lot.  The general sense was that multiple accountability meetings per day was useful- it kept tasks manageable and doable- but also provided a sounding board for members who were struggling with some aspect of their project.  There is something to be said for leaving an office behind with an autoresponder set, to head out to the country for three days where all you do is write, eat, drink, and sleep.  Something indeed.


American Life Panel

I had the great fortune to attend the annual meeting of the Population Association of America last week.  I first attended when it was in New York City, and was sort of intimidated by it- in terms  of heavy hitters in demographic and population health research, they are all there.  The men and women whose work shaped the foundations of most demography students’ understandings of the world go to PAA: Sam Preston was on the program.  The guy that LITERALLY wrote the book on life table analysis.

I have come to appreciate the depth of the sessions offered.  As a demographer and health researcher, I love the fact that at any time, there are multiple sessions where I might find something of interest or useful to me.  This is different than the annual Sociology meetings, where the demography and population health sessions are all held on one day- leaving the demographers either very bored or with a lot of extra time on their hands because many of the sessions are outside of population and health.

Yes, I am aw4835996128_60a1075127_oare that this might make me a bad sociologist.

That said, I wandered into the Rand American Life Panel exhibition.  “What?  Excuse me, what?”  You ask.

Well- let me tell you.

RAND has a standing, nationally representative, probability-sampled panel of respondents that can be deployed for survey research.  It started in 2003 with a five year grant from NIA to study methodological issues of internet interviewing among older populations.  It has expanded from 800 panel members over the age of 40 to over 6000 participants, aged 18 and older.  This in and of itself is pretty nifty.  But it also includes a vulnerable population cohort (individuals recruited and incentivized from zip code area with high percentages of Hispanics or low-income individuals).

This is cool for primary data collection efforts.  Let’s say you get some $$ and want to do a survey research project.  But maybe you don’t have the infrastructure or support to have a massive data collection effort.  RAND might be a decent avenue for you to get responses to your survey.

But, even cooler, is their data repository.  After initial embargoes on it, the data go into a database that can be used *for free* by researchers.   The topics are fairly diverse, including life satisfaction, social security and health,  presidential polling, health literacy, etc.  It’s brilliant.

From a demographic/health perspective, some of the more interesting datasets are on Longevity,  Breast Cancer, Long Term Care Insurance, and Health Expectations.

Very cool, indeed.