Friday, 6 January 2017

Christopher Pissarides

Tony Atkinson was a true academic with one big ambition: to understand why there is poverty and inequality in a rich world and what does it take to correct them both? His work in these areas of research spanned advanced theory and practical policy advice. Had more of his policy advice being followed the world would have been a happier place to live in today. But his legacy lives on, through his many writings that are still widely read and especially through the many younger academics that he has influenced through his teachings and research. I was fortunate enough to be one of those who came across the person and his work as a graduate student, at the University of Essex and then at the London School of Economics. I first came across him when at a very young age he came to Essex as professor, and greeted as the young star who was going to transform Essex (and he did, in his relatively short tenure there), subsequently as the author that I read repeatedly when doing my research on unemployment – a big cause of poverty and inequality – and later as my colleague at LSE, where I learned from him how to approach university life. Tony the theorist was impressive: the way he constructed his inequality index from seemingly unrelated theory (attitudes to risk) impressed me enormously and made me look beyond the narrow confines of labour economics for a solution to the unemployment problem. But more impressive was his view that in economics no theory is worth doing if it is not addressed to a problem that is blighting our world. The intermarriage of theory and evidence were present in his work from the very beginnings to his more recent books; from taking abstract growth theory and calculating with numbers how long it takes an economy to reach growth equilibrium (very long!) to calculating what tax rates are needed to tackle poverty and inequality. The world will miss Tony but thankfully his legacy will live on.

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