Sunday, July 12, 2015

Piketty On Atkinson And A More Equal Society: How We Can Get There From Here

Most of you know of French economist Thomas Piketty and his by now famous Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (Warning: "famous" means "also not cheap" no matter what format or medium you choose.) This month, in the previous issue of the New York Review of Books (thanks, Barbara B!), the estimable Monsieur Piketty reviewed a book by economist, Oxford scholar and inequality expert Sir Anthony B. Atkinson titled Inequality: What Can Be Done, summarizing Atkinson's last several decades of work on that subject, both analysis and field work, concluding with some concrete proposals for a course of action.

Tonight, with Stella's help (she gifted me some coupons she could obtain as part of her B&N membership), I actually got my hands on a copy of that book. B&N being what it is, and the book being from Harvard University, the list price was almost $30 and B&N's starting price was that very list price, so even allowing for Amazon shipping it would have been a couple dollars cheaper to order it online, but I was impatient and Stella, mindful of our approaching birthdays, was willing to help, so I can start skimming Atkinson's Inequality soon. It may be a while before it reaches the top of my serious reading list, but at least I don't have to wait for HPL to acquire a copy and then wait still longer on a hold list for my scant three weeks' visit with the book: this is clearly a book worth owning if you are an amateur economist or even a progressive political activist.

Inequality is fast becoming the issue of the day, and could serve as a significant wedge issue emphasizing the D/R difference in the 2016 elections. Stay tuned!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Perhaps it would be helpful to offer a sample of Piketty's review, so you can see for yourself how it tempted me to go to some lengths to obtain Atkinson's book (the bolds are my own):
To fully appreciate this book and its proposals, we should first place it in the larger setting of Atkinson’s career, for he has mainly produced the work of an infinitely cautious and rigorous scholar. Between 1966 and 2015, Atkinson published fifty or so books and more than 350 scholarly articles. They have brought about a profound transformation in the broader field of international studies of the distribution of wealth, inequality, and poverty. Since the 1970s, he has also written major theoretical papers, devoted in particular to the theory of optimal taxation, and these contributions alone would justify several Nobel Prizes. But Atkinson’s most important and profound work has to do with the historical and empirical analysis of inequality, carried out with respect to theoretical models that he deploys with impeccable mastery and utilizes with caution and moderation. 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.
[/Steve takes a deep breath] Then by all means, let him instruct and inspire me as well in my limited pursuit of economics. Politically, these are times as parlous as the world has ever known; I can use all the inspiration I can find, from Atkinson or any comparable scholar.

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