2017 started off badly, with the death of Tony Atkinson – the most important economist working on inequality, poverty (in affluent societies), the economics of the welfare state, and ‘optimal taxation’. Academics who have known Atkinson have lost one of the most humane, wise and gentle of their colleagues, who was genuinely caring about other people in his work as well as in his interactions with them.
The world at large has lost a wise welfare economist who was the Godfather of modern inequality analysis and therefore (and for other reasons) should have received the Nobel Prize. Without his work, inequality metrics and knowledge on social security mechanisms wouldn’t be what they are now; he continued working on normative welfare economics throughout the decades in which it wasn’t fashionable at all (I am not sure it is fashionable again, but at least I hope that the recent hugely popular and influential work by Thomas Piketty has improved the status of inequality analysis among economists.)
Atkinson’s work on how to effectively protect the poor and decrease inequalities will be badly needed in the years to come, so luckily he has left us a goldmine of scholarly papers and academic books, including most recently Inequality: What can be done? which doesn’t require an economics degree to be understood.
For Thomas Piketty’s obituary of Atkinson, see here.