Prize Recipient 2007: Anthony Atkinson

English economist Anthony B. Atkinson (1944-2017) taught finance at Nuffield College in Oxford, where he was warden from 1994 to 2005. His work focused on distribution politics, social politics, and public economics.

Atkinson was one of the few economists to question the distribution of income and wealth within a society. The center of reference of his research was the individual and his well-being – not, as it often so is in the study of economics, the “functional” distribution of production factors and growth.

Atkinson established the so-called Atkinson Index of social inequality with which changes in lower income levels could be measured and accentuated for the first time. With this index, changes in income of the lowest income groups are given more weight than in middle, high, as well as average incomes. The welfare of the poorest is brought to the foreground.

To protect people against poverty, Atkinson proposes a participation income. It differs from the much-discussed “basic income” because it is not unconditionally granted, but rather is tied to socially beneficial service.

Atkinson had strongly advocated stronger integration of national social politics in the process of European integration, whether through better social reporting or European socio-political programs. He contributed to the development, implementation, and establishment of appropriate empirical databases. The December 2001 decision of the European Council (“Laeken Indicators”) was based on Atkinson’s preliminary work. With the help of these indicators the progress of the fight against social inequality can be measured.

Atkinson was considered an advocate of the welfare state in Western Europe as well as in the transformation countries of the East. He had engaged repeatedly for a minimum income guarantee, whether in public pensions or minimum wage. During the Thatcher era he recognized the danger of increasing poverty. At the end of the 1990s he was a member of Tony Blair’s commission on the introduction of a minimum wage in Great Britain.