Tony Atkinson has died


Tony Atkinson has died.

Tony Atkinson is a great economist because he is a master at all the challenges defining the subject.

He is a theorist of the first order.

And his theory informs measurement.

And better measurement guides the search for, the gathering of, and the presentation of better information.

And theory, measurement, and information are in the service of better public policy, better social decisions for the least advantaged … in his country, and across the globe.

Tony Atkinson is a great economist, and he was a great human being.



Without ego.

Full of empathy.

And I am grateful to have learned, and to be able to continue to learn, so much from his writings and example.

And I am grateful to have crossed his path.

Tony Atkinson’s inscription in my copy of his last book, Inequality: What can be done?

[ If you want to know more about this great economist, start with this post which will also direct you to his website.

Beatrice Cherrier has written a lovely tribute to Professor Atkinson, paying respect to his fundamental contributions to public economics: “Remembering Tony Atkinson as the architect of modern public economics.”

Thomas Piketty has done the same, paying respect to his empirical work on income inequality: “Passing of Anthony B. Atkinson.”

Andrew Leigh offers both a professional and a touching personal sketch of the man: “Tony Atkinson is the economist who had the measure of inequality.” As does Thomas Piketty: “Passing of Anthony B. Atkinson.”

Tony’s most recent contribution—continuing a long line of work on poverty—-is a World Bank report known as the Atkinson Report. Read Francisco Ferreira’s blog post: “Tony Atkinson (1944-2017) and the measurement of global poverty.”

And read this, from his colleagues at the London School of Economics: Tony Atkinson 1944-2017.

The Financial Times published an obituary on January 2nd, 2017 called “Sir Tony Atkinson, economist and campaigner; 1944-2017;” The New York Times on January 3rd, 2017, “Anthony B. Atkinson, Economist Who Pioneered Study of Inequality, Dies at 72;” and The Economist on January 7th, Anthony Atkinson, a British Economist and expert on inequality, died on January 1st . ]

Do falling tax rates explain the rising incomes of the top 1%?

Top income shares have increased significantly in some rich countries, but not so much in others. In the United States the fraction of income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since the late 1970s. And while top shares have increased in other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, they have not gone up all that much elsewhere, say in Germany or Sweden.

Globalization and technological change are often said to be the causes of growing inequality, but all rich countries have been confronted by these forces, and on their own they cannot account for the variation in top income shares between countries. A full explanation has to rely on institutions, policies, or norms of pay that differ across national boundaries.

The first and most obvious place to look is at changes in tax rates.

Continue reading “Do falling tax rates explain the rising incomes of the top 1%?”