Tony was an exceptional academic economist and human being. As an academic, I will remember him primarily for two key contributions. First, he was one half of the Atkinson-Stiglitz (1976) theorem, which is one of the three-four cornerstone results in Public Economics. It is a result that every student and teacher in the field must know and understand, and which continues to spark public policy debate (take the recent Mirrlees review as an example).
Second, he made major contributions to the field of inequality over more than four decades, including times where the profession and the world more broadly cared less about the topic than they do today. His work on inequality includes important theoretical contributions as well as an enormous body of empirical work spanning countries all over the world. His early contributions and intellectual leadership have been key influences on the recent collective effort by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Tony himself to study top income shares over the long run of history using administrative income tax records. Tony may have been the most important figure in the field of inequality since Simon Kuznets.
As a human being, Tony was such a kind and humble person. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but he had that rare ability to always make you feel good about yourself when you interacted with him. Let me give an example. Several years ago, a paper of mine (with Emmanuel Saez and Claus Kreiner) was presented at Harvard and it got slammed in the seminar. All three of us were present at the seminar, and we felt pretty bad about the outcome afterwards. Tony was also there as he was visiting Harvard at the time, and at the end of the day we sat down with him for a chat about the paper and about economics. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I do remember that after chatting with him we all felt okay again. His words and personality somehow provided an immediate antidote to the I-just-gave-a-bad-seminar-at-Harvard syndrome, which can otherwise take a while to get over.