Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Economic inequality is one of our most urgent social challenges and at the forefront of the political debate. Economist Anthony Atkinson is a pioneer of the study of income distribution and wealth. In this well-composed and thought-provoking book he helps the reader understand the meaning, relevance and evolution of economic inequality, while mainly focusing on developed countries. The book is divided into three parts. First, Atkinson provides a diagnosis of the problem of economic inequality, shows why it matters in developed countries and how it has evolved over time. The main problem, he argues, it not simply that the rich are getting richer. We are also failing to tackle poverty, and the economy is increasingly leaving the majority of people behind. In the second part he turns to action, presenting no less than fifteen concrete policy proposals that individually or together should reduce the level of economic inequality. In short he recommends new policies in the areas of technology, employment, social security, the sharing of capital, and taxation. Only the final proposal deals with reducing inequality in developing countries – through increasing foreign aid. This is an interesting and controversial topic to which the author could have devoted some more space than just a couple of pages. In the final part Atkinson systematically assesses the feasibility of his fifteen policy recommendations, trying to foresee and respond to any thinkable objections. The book is grounded in sophisticated theory (albeit without equations) and state-of-the–art quantitative data. Yet, Atkinson manages to convey his optimistic message in a manner that makes it accessible to non-experts. It is hence recommended to anyone with a general interest in economics and politics.