May 30, 2015

Atkinson Addressing the Inequality of Opportunity

Atkinson Addressing the Inequality of Opportunity

Lauded academic economist and author Anthony Atkinson spoke to a packed Sala Depero at the Palazzo della Provincia of Trento on the economics of inequality, reminding his audience that poverty and inequality are interrelated. As the Senior Research Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics explained, the more unequal a society is the more scope it has for resolving the issue of poverty.

Atkinson addressed how people with low skills have been negatively affected by the forces of globalization. Furthermore, the rapid development of technology has led to a degree of biasness, benefitting people with education and high-quality skills. “Technology must serve the wider interest of society,” remarked Atkinson. He stressed that policy makers must remember to encourage technological and economic innovation that increases the employability of workers.

With particular focus on the topics of income, wealth, earnings and the inequality of opportunity, Atkinson presented 15 proposals in five areas: taxation, employment, the sharing of capital, technology and social security. The economist outlined a progressive rate income tax structure that would include increasing marginal rates of tax up to a top rate of 65%, accompanied by a broadening of the tax base. In addition to this, Atkinson proposed that richer countries should raise their target for Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 1% of Gross National Income (GNI).

Furthermore, the economist stated that governments should offer guaranteed public employment and act as an “employer of last resort”. Seemingly aware of how potentially ambitious his policy proposals were to certain members of his audience both in the room and in the general political and economic world, Atkinson went on to recommend that governments offer a guaranteed positive real rate of interest on savings via national savings bonds with a maximum holding per person. Of course, these proposals are not necessarily easy to accomplish. To ease the process of change and decision-making Atkinson suggested the creation of a public Investment Authority. This public Investment Authority would operate a sovereign wealth fund to build up the state net worth.

“Today’s outcomes shape the playing field for the next generation.” As Atkinson looked around at his audience near the end of his presentation, he noted that about half the room was filled with young scholars and intellectuals. “I’m sure at least 50% of this room would agree with me”, he joked, the audience responding with thoughtful laughter. 

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Stiglitz and Atkinson: Lessons not Learned and the Future

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Trento’s Festival of Economics returns for its 10th edition

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