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Tony Atkinson joined STICERD in 1980, where he was chairman between 1981 and 1987, and an active affiliate for the following thirty years; he joined the Economics Department first as the Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics from 1980-1992 and then as Centennial Professor in the Departments of Economics and Social Policy from 2010. Throughout these years, many had the privilege to learn from his sharp mind, dedication to policy and utmost kindness. This page collects their memories.

Oriana Bandiera, Leonardo Felli and Stephen Jenkins, on behalf of STICERD, the Department of Economics and the Department of Social Policy on the 3rd of January, 2017

  • Nicholas Barr

    Many others have written about Tony’s towering analytical and agenda-setting contributions to public economics and social policy, and I have little to add. Instead, like many others, I have been reflecting on all that Tony did to help my work.
    Returning to the UK after my PhD in the United States working on the US welfare system and subsequently on the welfare state more broadly, I often faced the response, ‘that’s interesting, but is it economics?’ Tony’s work quickly made that question redundant – Tony was the academic battering ram that made the economics of social policy respectable for me and the many others (think health economics) who work in those areas. More specifically, the first edition of my book on the Economics of the Welfare State drew on Tony’s work and also benefitted greatly from his customary generosity with his time commenting on the strategic outline of the book.
    At least as important, Tony’s suggestion to use a survey of student income that STICERD had acquired to study student poverty was the origin of my subsequent work on higher education finance, and over the years Tony was the best of colleagues in disagreeing with some of my conclusions.
    Alongside huge intellectual influence was kind and helpful advice about promotion and later, when no longer at the School (what a huge loss), acting as one of my referees.
    Finally, and most important, the person: in some ways Tony set an austere example with his ramrod integrity, never for an instant allowing his strong ideological views to distort the conclusions of his analysis – a lesson to us all. But that austerity was always tempered by his manifest kindness – the brain might have been scary, but the warm smile was always there. I shall remember both with gratitude, admiration and affection.

    Tue, 07 Aug 2018
  • Asghar Zaidi
    Tony has been an exceptional source of inspiration for all of us who came in contact with him.  I had the privilege of being supervised by him for my DPhil when he was Warden at Nuffield College, Oxford.  I owe great gratitude to him for his personal guidance to me and for many of his writings on poverty in Europe. I will miss him like a father, and will hope to carry his work forward in some small ways.  
    Tue, 31 Jan 2017
  • Jane Dickson
    Tony was one of the most decent, kindest people I have ever met,
    and it was an honour to work for him.
    Wed, 18 Jan 2017
  • Valentino Larcinese
    Tony Atkinson was an almost mythical figure for me during my undergraduate studies in Bocconi, when I first came across his contributions to the theory of optimal taxation and later, when I decided to write my bachelor’s thesis on the effects of progressive taxation on inequality. His JET 1970 paper “On the measurement of inequality” remains one of the most inspiring papers I have ever read. The idea that positive analysis and normative views of inequality are inextricably linked (and that there exists no such thing as value-free measurement of inequality) is also extremely relevant for current economic and political debate. A few years after my encounters with his papers I was lucky enough to meet Tony in person and to appreciate in several occasions what an unassuming and generous person he was.    
    Fri, 06 Jan 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.
    Fri, 06 Jan 2017
  • John Van Reenen
    Tony was a towering figure and has inspired generations of economists
    Thu, 05 Jan 2017
  • Howard Glennerster
    Tony made an unmatched contribution to the economics of public policy, income distribution and social security but also to wider social policy.

    It was his idea to found two key programmes of work within STICERD, one on taxation and income distribution, (TIDI), the other on the economics of the welfare state, which attracted to STICERD two groups of outstanding academics. They built bridges between two disciplines that had once been shy, if not contemptuous, of one another. That now seems absurd but it was Tony's genius to cut through such idiocy. He nurtured the open challenging atmosphere that makes STICERD such a great place in which to work. It was an honour to try to hand that on to later generations.  We have lost not just a great man but a warm and generous one too.
    Thu, 05 Jan 2017
  • Jane Waldfogel
    Like others, I will always recall Tony’s kindness and humility. When I was researching Britain’s war on poverty, one persistent puzzle was where the goal of ending child poverty had come from. I asked Tony one day and with his usual modesty he said it might have been him and kindly gave me his 1998 IPPR paper. That paper was the first to suggest the poverty reduction targets which of course helped set in motion the anti-poverty reforms of the Blair and Brown governments. That is just one example of his impact on policy which I am sure will be lasting. I particularly admire his last book -- Inequality: What can be done– which I have used in teaching in the US and which I hope will continue to have an influence on policy there (where it is surely much needed). 
    Thu, 05 Jan 2017
  • Oriana Bandiera
    Tony was an exceptional colleague in many ways: extremely smart, passionate about designing a society that works for the weakest, humble and kind beyond belief. His perfect alignment of intellect and morality gave him the calm and clarity to tackle the difficult path from rigorous research to effective policy design. 

    My most precious memory dates back to when I was appointed director of STICERD and I had tea with Tony to learn from his experience. Before I could take out my long list of questions, Tony started asking about my work on health service delivery in Zambia, he knew it well and offered many brilliant insights. Most importantly his enthusiasm rubbed off and I went back to my office buzzing with energy and a childlike excitement to analyse more data.

    It took me hours to realise I hadn't asked a single question on my "how to be a good director" list. It took me much longer to understand that Tony  had answered the most important question: that the Director's job is to encourage research excellence, and that excellent research requires a strong sense of purpose.
    Wed, 04 Jan 2017
  • Anne Power
    My most vivid memories of Tony are his brilliant presentation to the EU in Luxemburg on how poverty in Europe could be overcome and his explanation to me in Oxford on why unemployment was unnecessary and unavoidable. Truly a kind and inspiring teacher and role model.
    Wed, 04 Jan 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…”
    Wed, 04 Jan 2017
  • Johannes Spinnewijn
    I got to know Tony as one of the great minds in economics when studying Public Economics. That was before coming to the LSE. While feeling terribly sad, I am also very grateful that I have had the opportunity to really get to know Tony here. Not just for who he was professionally, but also for who he was as a person. He was so incredibly kind and generous in his enthusiasm and interest, for research and beyond. He has surprised and inspired me with his modesty and ongoing commitment to research. 

    Almost apologetically knocking on my door to have lunch or coffee? Of course, always!
    Always making the trip to London – even after falling sick – when I would invite him (as apologetically) to a presentation. Much appreciated!

    I will miss him dearly.
    Wed, 04 Jan 2017
  • Henrik Kleven
    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.
    Wed, 04 Jan 2017
  • Nick Stern
    Tony Atkinson was an extraordinarily distinguished academic whose works changed our understanding of poverty, inequality, mobility, public policy and economic growth. His very first book, Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security (Cambridge University Press, 1969) and his last, Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard University Press, 2015) showed how he approached his work throughout his career. Define the issues, examine the facts, analyse what forces shaped the outcomes, ask what we can or should do in the way of policy.

    For Tony, the definitions and the data were to be treated with great care. And analysis had to be rigorous. For Tony, like Frank Hahn, his teacher at Cambridge and a former professor at the School, economics was a deeply serious subject and arguments had to be right. But the analysis of issues also had to take careful account of the institutional circumstances in which they were set. Thus, for example, he studied very closely how social security systems actually worked before making policy assessments or recommendations. And when he was a professor at Essex in the early 1970s he worked on a stall in Colchester where he lived, helping people understand their rights to benefits and how to claim.

    His distinction was recognised around the world: President of the Econometric Society, of the Royal Economic Society, of the European Economic Association and of the International Economic Association together with 21 honorary doctorates. Last year he was awarded the prestigious Dan David Prize for his work on poverty and inequality (shared with Francois Bourguignon and James Heckman).

    He was amazingly prolific averaging close to a book a year and around 7 published articles a year across half a century of professional life. He faced his cancer by just carrying on, with seminal publications over the last few years, including the 2015 inequality book and his major report in the summer of 2016 for the World Bank, Monitoring Global Poverty.

    What is, perhaps, less recognised about Tony was his ability to lead institutions. He was a creator and a builder, from his invigoration of the Essex economics department where he arrived as a professor aged 27 in 1971, to his years as a much loved Warden of Nuffield College, 1994-2005. Of special interest to us at LSE was his dozen years with us, 1980-92, as Tooke Professor and then as Centennial Professor from 2010.

    With its founding director, Professor Michio Morishima, Tony built STICERD, where he was Chair from 1981-1988. Indeed, STICERD was critical to the “package” that brought Tony to the LSE. Michio, who secured the generous donations from Suntory and Toyota to launch STICERD in 1978, planned from the beginning that he would hand over the Chair to Tony as soon as he arrived at the School. It was, in large measure, Tony who shaped STICERD into what it is today, a jewel in the LSE’s crown and one of the world’s outstanding research centres.
    It was Tony too who conceived the ESRC programme on “Taxation, Incentives and the Distribution of Income” whose 12 year period coincided almost exactly with Tony’s time at the LSE. When at UCL he shared his initial thoughts with Mervyn King (then professor at Birmingham) and myself (then professor at Warwick) and we directed it as a trio. Before long we were all at LSE as professors working together on that programme. They were special years. It was one of the very first examples of ESRC embracing the programme approach to funding, as opposed to project-by-project. He founded the Journal of Public Economics in 1971 and was editor for nearly two decades.

    It was not just as an academic and leader of academic institutions that we remember Tony. He was the finest of human beings. His decency, humanity and integrity were profound and extraordinary. He was quiet and understated but deep and strong. He was charming and he could be very funny, including irony of the highest class. He was a very special friend, always ready with his support, wisdom and gentleness.

    His human strengths were rooted in and nurtured by his wonderful family. He met his wife Judith (neé Mandeville) at Cambridge as undergraduates when they were 19. They were married for more than 50 years. They shared and reinforced their commitment to making the world a better place and tackling injustice. They took great pride in and strength from their three children Richard, Sarah and Charles, their spouses and their eight grandchildren. For all its difficulties, the world is much a better place because of his life. His values and ideas live on.

    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • John Hills
    Like so many others in and connected with STICERD and LSE, I am only here because of Tony.  Not just because I had the immense luck to be recruited by him to join STICERD's Welfare State Programme, which he established, in 1986, but because his work acted as the inspiration for my whole career - his book, 'Unequal Shares' was the first book I was advised (by Mervyn King, as it happens) to read when I decided to switch to economics at university.  That left me believing that who gets what and why - distribution and inequality - was at the heart of what economics should be about.  But he was an inspiration in so many other ways.  We have lost our most generous and supportive role model, but are so fortunate to have known him and to have been touched by his great career and life.  He was the epitome of what Keynes said that economics was for - to understand the present, in the light of the past, for the purposes of the future.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Camille Landais
    Tony was the epitome of kindness and humility, which are probably the rarest qualities for a man of his intellectual stature and brilliance.
    But I believe this is the way he thought a life truly dedicated to research and knowledge should be: insanely rigorous yet friendly and humble, relentless but with a constant smile.
    He showed me that research was not about competition for ideas, but collegiality in thriving for knowledge.
    I remember his kind words, as he was sitting on my dissertation committee at the Paris School of Economics, and I was desperate that progress was so slow.
    He gave me hope, he gave me strength. My research, as that of most Public Economists, owes an immense deal to his work, which we all tried to emulate.

    From his Lectures on Public Economics with Jo Stiglitz, to his seminal and monumental research on inequality or his founding the Journal of Public Economics, he has created, shaped and designed the field more than any other economists. This is a truly tragic loss, and we already miss Tony, his sharp, broad and deep mind, his warm presence…
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Julian Le Grand
    Tony Atkinson:  a great economist who fundamentally changed both thinking about, and policy towards, poverty and inequality.  But, more importantly, as all of us who had the honour and privilege of working with Tony at STICERD know, an exceptional person whose warmth, generosity of spirit and breadth (and depth) of understanding were without parallel.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Thomas Piketty
    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. 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.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Stephen P. Jenkins
    A great man has left us all too soon. Tony has been a professional and personal inspiration for me for decades -- and for many others as well. A huge gap has been left.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Gabriel Zucman
    What was most striking about Tony was how an incredibly generous man he was. He had numerous projects all over the world, yet despite his illness he would still find the time to mentor several generations of researchers and actively support the work of his colleagues up to his last days. We exchanged regularly on inequality at Sticerd, and in particular on the project to create distributional national accounts that he so critically supported. With his typical enthusiasm and rigor, he would point to multiple references I had never heard of, provide guidance for future work, raise doubts and highlight promising tracks. You could be sure that whatever amount of time you had spent researching a topic, he would teach you something you did not know — especially, of course, if the topic in question was related to inequality, the field of studies that he led for so many decades. Tony, an extraordinarily decent and good man, was a giant among the social scientists of the last century. He will be sorely missed.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Ruth Kattamuri
    Tony Atkinson will be remembered among those who were wonderful human beings together with having been great intellectuals that contributed to making a better society.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Maitreesh Ghatak
    Tony was a truly great economist and a refreshingly down to earth, humble, simple man with a permanent twinkle in his eyes. Whenever I bumped into him at the LSE library he would give a conspiratorial grin (he told me, I don't see too many of our colleagues in the library these days), seeming more like a friendly teacher out of Hogwarts than the legendary figure that he was in the profession. Once I was looking around for some Indian state level data and bumped into him. He asked me what I was looking for and then pointed me to the right section. Anyone else who might have witnessed the exchange and didn't know who he was would think what a friendly member of the library staff!
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Tania Burchardt
    Tony was one of the most intellectually vigorous and rigorous people I have ever met. His work has had - and will continue to have - a profound influence on our understanding of inequality, conceptually and empirically; and also, crucially, on what can be done about it, as highlighted by the title of one of his recent books. At a personal level, I had the privilege briefly to share an office with Tony, and to experience first-hand his modesty, courtesy, warmth and respect for others that were all of a piece with his egalitarian principles. Such a combination of academic and personal integrity is a rare treasure indeed.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017
  • Tim Besley
    Like many of my generation, I was brought up on Tony Atkinson’s work.  His Economics of Inequality was among the first economics books that I bought as an undergraduate and helped to inspire me to carry on studying economics.  He showed that economics could be rigorous and yet focused on major societal policy issues.  As a graduate student, I recall working through every line of his Lectures in Public Economics (with Joe Stiglitz).  It defined the subject for a generation or more.  More generally, his commitment to measurement, bringing insightful theory and policy together made him an inspirational figure.  His enduring commitment to the study of inequality and the importance of policy rooted in normative concerns made sure that these remained central to public economics.  Tony was brought to LSE in to STICERD at an early point in its history and his approach to economics lives on in the work that STICERD does.  We owe it to Tony to strive even harder to emulate the standards of human decency and scientific integrity that he set.
    Tue, 03 Jan 2017