Influential economist Tony Atkinson passes away

Q.  Which professor of economics was called “the godfather of modern scholarship on the distribution of income and wealth?”
- Published on 09 Jan 17

a. Tony Atkinson
b. Thomas Pikatty
c. John Maynard Keynes
d. JB Pareto

ANSWER: Tony Atkinson
Influential economist Tony Atkinson passes awayTony Atkinson, a professor of economics at University of Oxford well known for his stellar work on poverty and inequality as well as income distribution died on Jan 1, 2016 at age 72. His work led the fields of inequality, income distribution, and poverty for many decades, bringing clarity and practical insight to pressing social issues.

Atkinson was called “the godfather of modern scholarship on the distribution of income and wealth” by fellow economist Thomas Piketty. The Atkinson index has been named after him.

The index measures which end of the distribution has contributed most to observed inequality.

Atkinson published one co-authored article in the Indian Journal of Human Development on data for policy.

He was knighted in 2001 for services to economics and was also awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

At the London School of Economics, Mr. Atkinson held the title of Centennial Professor.

The author of more than 40 books, Mr. Atkinson was mainly known for his creative and exacting use of empirical methods besides revolutionary ideas like minimum inheritance.

Mr. Atkinson’s book “The Distribution of Personal Wealth in Britain” (1978), co-written with A. J. Harrison, examined inheritance tax records in Britain between 1911 and 1975 to describe changes in the distribution of wealth.

That book and an earlier book - “Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings” (1953) by Simon Kuznets, which drew on income tax records and national accounts in the United States between 1913 and 1948 - originated research on inequality.

His final book, “Inequality: What Can Be Done?,” published in 2015, summed up decades of findings and offered 15 proposals for tackling inequality.

Among his suggestions: a guaranteed interest rate on savings, via bonds; higher marginal income tax rates, with a top rate of 65 percent (it is currently 39.6 percent in the United States and 45 percent in Britain); and a progressive, rather than uniform, property tax rate.

Perhaps his boldest proposal was to use inheritance taxes to finance a minimum inheritance, payable to all citizens on reaching adulthood.

Among other major works, Mr. Atkinson was the author, with Joseph E. Stiglitz, of the seminal 1980 textbook “Lectures on Public Economics,” recently reissued by Princeton University Press.

Mr. Atkinson helped organize the World Wealth and Income Database, a resource for the comparative study of inequality.

He served on many boards, and was chairman of the World Bank Commission on Global Poverty, which issued recommendations in October toward the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

He was also the president, since 2012, of the board of the L.I.S. (formerly the Luxembourg Income Study), which manages a database widely used by researchers.

About Professor Tony Atkinson
  • Anthony Barnes Atkinson was born on Sept. 4, 1944, in Caerleon, a town in southern Wales near the border with England.
  • He attended the Cranbrook School in Kent and then Churchill College, Cambridge, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1966.
  • He was a fellow at St. John’s College, Cambridge, from 1967 to 1971.
  • He was a professor of economics at the University of Essex from 1971 to 1976.
  • He held the post of a professor of political economy at University College, London, from 1976 to 1979.
  • He joined the London School of Economics in 1980 and taught there until 1992.
  • He was warden, or head of Nuffield college, from 1994 to 2005. He remained a fellow of Nuffield until his death.

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