Subsidies, Uneven Development, and the Race to the Bottom

Publication Date


Document Type

Teaching Resource


Through this set of materials students listen to an engaging interview about detailed reporting on local subsidies and explore an interactive map revealing local subsidy policies. The materials include a lecture outline for teaching these concepts with reference to works of relevant urban sociologists. Uneven development is often a critical concept in urban sociology courses, and is used to discuss how spatial inequality emerges from the unequal distribution of capital across space. Subsidies are policies which create incentives for local investment and can contribute to these inequalities. This set of materials explores how policy, especially subsidies, can exacerbate uneven development by creating a “race to the bottom” in which the incentives provided may reduce the overall benefit of increased investment for localities offering subsidies. These materials illustrate the writings of Engels, Lefebvre, and Harvey on uneven patterns of capital investment, and Logan and Molotch on growth coalition activities. Because the interactive materials guide students to engage with information about the subsidy policies of their local governments, many students become very engaged with the material and more interested in spatial inequality and the policy decisions of their representatives.

The steps of this material are:

  1. Students read assigned urban sociological readings on uneven development and capital accumulation.
  2. Instructor delivers in-class lecture and discussion on uneven development, related readings, and preview of subsidies assignment.
  3. Students listen to interview with Louise Story about her reporting on subsidies on Fresh Air, explore interactive map from New York Times and listen to Planet Money podcast episode “Why Did the Job Cross the Road?”
  4. Students complete subsidies assignment.
  5. In-class discussion of findings.

Original Citation

King, C. (2017, August 28). Subsidies, Uneven Development, and the Race to the Bottom. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology. Available at: http://trails.asanet.org/Pages/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=13437