Public Thinking As It Should Be- A Tribute to Tony Atkinson
“I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws – or crafts its advanced treatises – if I can write its economics textbooks,”Paul Samuelson,Economics: An Introductory Analysis, 1948
This post I want to take a break from the rather abstract thoughts posted so far, to pay my own brief tribute to a wonderful man Tony Atkinson, who died earlier this month. I didn’t know Mr Atkinson in person but by common agreement he was a giant in his chosen field of academic economics, namely the study of inequality and poverty. Other tributes are here and here.
Not only did he shape the field of poverty and inequality studies with his research, his ability to communicate and his ideas, he also led a series of institutions and approaches that, with for example Thomas Piketty, now shape our discussions of these issues. And he cared about and wanted to solve the issue of poverty, not just research it.
Towards the end of his long career, Mr Atkinson published a work on Inequality that I would highly recommend- ‘Inequality- What Can Be Done?’(1)
The book is not only an excellent primer in how inequality is actually measured, but also how it has changed over the last 50 years, in the UK but in other countries. Most of interest may be the solutions that are offered, born of a life-times thinking about the issues.
What Did He Call For?
I won’t comment on these proposals, other than to say this- if we are serious about inequality then these sorts of ideas are what we must debate, and work out how to progress. I would also say they fit very well with the principles I was writing about earlier and that such strong action is justified given the inimical effects of inequality.
The 15 Proposals from Tony Atkinson’s ‘Inequality – What can be done?’
Proposal 1: The direction of technological change should be an explicit concern of policy-makers, encouraging innovation in a form that increases the employability of workers and emphasises the human dimension of service provision.
Proposal 2: Public policy should aim at a proper balance of power among stakeholders, and to this end should
- (a) introduce an explicitly distributional dimension into competition policy;
- (b) ensure a legal framework that allows trade unions to represent workers on level terms; and
- (c) establish, where it does not already exist, a Social and Economic Council involving the social partners and other nongovernmental bodies.
Proposal 3: The government should adopt an explicit target for preventing and reducing unemployment and underpin this ambition by offering guaranteed public employment at the minimum wage to those who seek it.
Proposal 4: There should be a national pay policy, consisting of two elements: a statutory minimum wage set at a living wage, and a code of practice for pay above the minimum, agreed as part of a “national conversation” involving the Social and Economic Council.
Proposal 5: The government should offer via national savings bonds a guaranteed positive real rate of interest on savings, with a maximum holding per person.
Proposal 6: There should be a capital endowment (minimum inheritance) paid to all at adulthood.
Proposal 7: A public Investment Authority should be created, operating a sovereign wealth fund with the aim of building up the net worth of the state by holding investments in companies and in property.
Proposal 8: We should return to a more progressive rate structure for the personal income tax, with marginal rates of tax increasing by ranges of taxable income, up to a top rate of 65 per cent, accompanied by a broadening of the tax base.
Proposal 9: The government should introduce into the personal income tax an Earned Income Discount, limited to the first band of earnings.
Proposal 10: Receipts of inheritance and gifts inter vivos should be taxed under a progressive lifetime capital receipts tax.
Proposal 11: There should be a proportional, or progressive, property tax based on up-to-date property assessments.
Proposal 12: Child Benefit should be paid for all children at a substantial rate and should be taxed as income.
Proposal 13: A participation income should be introduced at a national level, complementing existing social protection, with the prospect of an EU-wide child basic income.
Proposal 14 (alternative to 13): There should be a renewal of social insurance, raising the level of benefits and extending their coverage.
Proposal 15: Rich countries should raise their target for Official Development Assistance to 1 per cent of Gross National Income.