Anthony Atkinson occupies a unique place among economists. During the past half-century, in defiance of prevailing trends, he managed to place the question of inequality at the center of his work while demonstrating that economics is first and foremost a social and moral science. In his new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done?–more personal than his previous ones and wholly focused on a plan of action–he provides us with the broad outlines of a new radical reformism.
There’s something reminiscent of the progressive British social reformer William Beveridge in Atkinson’s reformism, and the reader ought to enjoy his way of presenting his ideas. The legendarily cautious English scholar reveals a more human side, plunges into controversy, and sets forth a list of concrete, innovative, and persuasive proposals meant to show that alternatives still exist, that the battle for social progress and equality must reclaim its legitimacy, here and now. He proposes universal family benefits financed by a return to progressive taxation–together, they are intended to reduce British inequality and poverty from American levels to European ones.
He also argues for guaranteed public-sector jobs at a minimum wage for the unemployed, and democratization of access to property ownership via an innovative national savings system, with guaranteed returns for the depositors. There will be inheritance for all, achieved by a capital endowment at age eighteen, financed by a more robust estate tax; an end to the English poll tax–a flat-rate tax for local governments–and the effective abandonment of Thatcherism. The effect is exhilarating. Witty, elegant, profound, this book should be read: it brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer.