Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Frank Cowell

Others have written about the influence of Tony’s inspiring qualities on their own work. In my case the inspiration first came from a third-year undergraduate course that he gave at Cambridge in the 1970s. It was enough; I was convinced that Public Economics and issues of income distribution were what I wanted to work on too. This effect has continued with cohorts of students: until very recently he taught on the EC426 Public Economics course. Over recent days it has been touching to see the Facebook exchanges of our recent graduates all saying essentially the same thing: how lucky they were to have been taught by him.

In his early days at STICERD Tony Atkinson acquired a nickname, “The Twins.” It seemed impossible that one person alone could so successfully be doing so many different things at the same time; there had to be two of them. You might imagine that trying to work alongside a high-level performer could be a trying and tiring experience. But working with Tony, even when he was in go-faster mode, was never a problem. He was always ready to make time for others and to take on more than his fair share of irksome tasks. I have benefited from his naturally generous approach not only in STICERD and in the LSE Economics Department, but also in the management of Economica, the establishment of the Society for the Study of Economic Inequality (ECINEQ), the development of the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) and in so many other places where Tony has left a permanent mark.

And, finally, I have heard Tony Atkinson sing. The occasion was a dinner at the first LIS Summer School. During the first dinner, somehow a singing contest spontaneously emerged. We had Finnish drinking songs, a Japanese ballad, American grad students doing numbers from Camelot and so on. Some opted out (they needed to practise first!), but not Tony. We were treated to a solo rendition of Paddy Ryan’s “The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer". It wouldn’t have won prizes on a TV talent show, but every time I cite one of ABA’s numerous works, I think I will hear again that voice in my head, “I am the man, the very fat man / That waters the workers' beer…”

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