In memoriam – Sir Tony Atkinson, leading inequality economist, 1944-2017

It was with great sadness that we received the news of UNU-WIDER’s friend and colleague Professor Sir Tony Atkinson’s passing on 1 January 2017. Tony Atkinson was a pioneer in inequality research, how to measure it, and how to reduce it. He was an early challenger of free-market orthodoxy, and saw the need to reform economies where markets were not working well.

Tony Atkinson undertook extensive work with UNU-WIDER over the years on topics including development finance, income inequality, and globalization. In 1999 he delivered the 3rd WIDER Annual Lecture on the topic ‘Is rising income inequality inevitable?’, wherein he focused on the rise in income inequality in a large number of industrialized countries showing that this experience is not uniform across countries, and argued against the common belief that inequality is an unavoidable consequence of globalization. He led UNU-WIDER’s project on innovative finance, which was undertaken for UN-DESA at the request of the UN’s General Assembly; this was published for UNU-WIDER by Oxford University Press entitled New Sources of Development Finance. He also advised UNU-WIDER on the first steps to set up the institute’s World Income Inequality Database (WIID).

Tony Atkinson had a distinguished career. He served as Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford, during 1994-2005, before which he held positions at the University of Cambridge, University College London, the London School of Economics, the University of Essex, and the University of Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1984, a Fellow of the Econometric Society in 1974, Honorary Member of the American Economic Association in 1985, and Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994. He was knighted in 2000.