Pikettyjev “In memoriam”Anthonyju Atkinsonu

Na novoletno noč je po dolgi bolezni umrl Anthony B. Atkinson, nekdanji profesor na London School of Economics, sicer pa pionir zbiranja podatkov in empiričnih študij o nenenakosti ter mentor celi generaciji današnjih superzvezdnikov – od Saeza, Zucmana do Pikettyja. Glede na njegov prispevek k analiziranju neenakosti ga lahko postavimo ob bok slovitemu ameriškemu nobelovcu Simonu Kuznetsu. Razlika med Atkinsonom in ostalimi ekonomisti, ki se ukvarjajo z neenakostjo (razen morda Branka Milanovića) je, kot je pokazala tudi Atkinsonova zadnja knjiga “Inequality: What Can Be Done?“, ob sicer enaki rigoroznosti glede podatkov in vsebinske analize predvsem v njegovi praktičnosti. Atkinson se z analizo neenakosti ni ukvarjal zgolj zaradi analize, pač pa z namenom, kako na podlagi poznavanja vzrokov za povečanje neenakosti le-te tudi odpraviti prek pravega nabora ukrepov ekonomske politike.

Thomas Piketty, četrtletje dolgo protežiranec Atkinsona, mu je na svojem blogu v Le Mondu napisal lep “In memoriam”. Predvsem mi je všeč, ko Piketty pove, da je Atkinson neenakost pripeljal spet nazaj v osrčje  družbene problematike, s čimer je demonstriral, da je ekonomija najprej in predvsem družboslovna in moralna znanost.

Anthony “Tony ” Atkinson occupies a unique place among economists. During the past half-century, in defiance of prevailing trends, he placed the question of inequality at the center of his work while demonstrating that economics is first and foremost a social and moral science.

Atkinson’s most important and profound work has to do with the historical and empirical analysis of inequality, carried out within a theoretical frame that he deploys with impeccable mastery and utilizes with caution and moderation. With his distinctive approach, at once historical, empirical, and theoretical; with his extreme rigor and his unquestioned probity; with his ethical reconciliation of his roles as researcher in the social sciences and citizen of, respectively, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world, Atkinson has himself for decades been a model for generations of students and young researchers.

Together with Simon Kuznets, Atkinson single-handedly originated a new discipline within the social sciences and political economy: the study of historical trends in the distribution of income and wealth. Of course, the question of distribution and long-term trends already lay at the heart of nineteenth-century political economy, particularly in the work of Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. But these writers could draw only upon limited data, and were frequently obliged to limit themselves to purely theoretical speculation.

It was not until the second half of the twentieth century and the research of Kuznets and Atkinson that analyses of distribution of income and wealth could actually be based on historical sources.


At a more personal level, I was very fortunate to meet Tony when I was a young student at the London School of Economics in the fall of 1991. His many advices, always delivered with infinite care and kindness, had a decisive impact on my trajectory. Soon after I published Les hauts revenus en France au 20e siècle, in 2001, I had the chance to benefit from his enthusiastic support. Tony was the first reader of my historical work on inequality in France and immediately took up the British case (where historical income data had not been exploited yet) as well as a number of other countries. Together, we edited two thick volumes that came out in 2007 and 2010, covering twenty countries in all. These works are at the origin of the database WID.world, and also of my 2014 book « Capital in the 21st century », which could not have existed without the support of Tony.

Leaving aside his historic and pioneering writings, Atkinson has been for decades one of the leading international specialists doing comparative investigations on the measurement of inequality and poverty in contemporary society. He has also been the tireless architect of projects for international cooperation on these subjects.

In his most recent book published in 2015, Inequality: What Can Be Done? —wholly focused on a plan of action— he provided us with the broad outlines of a new radical reformism based on his many decades of research analyzing inequality and public policy. Witty, elegant, profound, this book brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer.

Atkinson was a generous and rigorous scholar, a unique source of inspiration for all of us. He was also the kindest of mentors.

Vir: Thomas Piketty

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