“TIME is of the essence,” wrote Sir Anthony Atkinson, a British economist, in a report on measuring global poverty, published in July 2016. His sense of urgency may have been influenced by another constraint. In 2014 Sir Anthony had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. Some might have paused; he sped up. He chaired the World Bank commission that produced the poverty report, and wrote a book, “Inequality: What Can Be Done?”, in just three months. On January 1st, his time ran out.
In his lifetime, he was tipped for a Nobel prize. On his death, fellow economists rushed to describe him as “one of the all-time greats” and emphasised his extraordinary “decency, humanity and integrity”. The two were linked. For him, economics was about improving people’s lives.
A six-month stint volunteering as a nurse in a hospital in deprived inner-city Hamburg was an early influence. He saw poverty, and went on to spend his life combating it. He fought his battles gently—shying away from the adversarial style he experienced as a student at Cambridge—but with rigorous precision and an unfailing sense of social justice.