Issue, No.6 (June 2018)

The legacy of Tony Atkinson in inequality analysis. Highlights of the 2nd LIS/LWS user conference

by Carmen Petrovici (LIS)

The 2nd LIS Users Conference took place on the 3rd and 4th of May 2018 in the Belval Campus of the University of Luxembourg, where the LIS Luxembourg office is also located. The aim of the conference was to give a tribute to our former President Tony Atkinson and to his legacy in the field of inequality analysis. Sixteen papers were selected by a Scientific Committee that included: Andrea Brandolini (Bank of Italy), Tim Smeeding (Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison, US), Daniele Checchi (University of Milano & LIS), Louis Chauvel (University of Luxembourg), Conchita D’Ambrosio (University of Luxembourg), Janet Gornick (The City University of New York (CUNY) & LIS), Aline Muller (LISER), Carmen Petrovici (LIS), and Philippe Van Kerm (University of Luxembourg & LISER). The selected papers covered many of the themes advanced by Tony in his remarkable academic career.

The conference was opened by Georg Mein, Dean of the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (University of Luxembourg) and François Bourguignon (Paris School of Economics, France & LIS President) who both welcomed the participants and emphasized the importance of the research in the field that is promoted also through conferences like ours.

The opening was followed by an introductory session in which Andrea Brandolini and Tim Smeeding highlighted Tony’s contribution to the advancement of inequality and poverty research and how the presented papers are linked to the themes Tony was mostly concerned about. Among them: the extremes of the income distribution— from children poverty to those in the top of income & wealth distribution; the value of linking data for income and wealth from different sources, and the importance of the LIS /LWS databases in comparative research as well as the policy implications of the research outcomes. In his outstanding career, Tony also focused on historical analysis of top income shares, cross-national comparisons of income inequality, intergenerational mobility, as well as theoretical advancements like creating new indexes to measure inequality. Furthermore, for all his research analysis, Tony paid particular attention to the quality of the data he was using (giving among others a valuable feedback for the improvement of the LIS databases), and these concerns were specifically tackled in several papers during the conference.

The highlight of the conference was the keynote lecture on European Poverty by Stephen Jenkins (London School of Economics, UK) that was an homage to Tony Atkinson, considered as “a true European and internationalist dedicated to reducing poverty everywhere”. The main topics covered in the lecture were: latest improvements on poverty monitoring in Europe, the progress done on EU poverty reduction and why it has remained below the expectations, and conceptual and measurement issues. Way ahead of others, already in the ‘80s, Tony considered that antipoverty policy should be an integral part of other social and economic policies. Stephen pointed out that we should always look at the link between policy, vulnerable groups that are targeted by the policy, and the indicators that monitor how efficient the policy was in reaching its goals. Among the reasons why poverty reduction has been under the expectations in Europe was the fact that the social inclusion policy was not prioritized as high as economic and employment growth policies. So far, policies implemented in EU countries for raising employment and growth did not automatically reduce poverty as was expected. Furthermore, EU countries had different objectives and by prioritizing national policies over a common EU policy, the antipoverty goals were not achieved in all Members States. The main message of the lecture was that we have to stay optimistic about the future: “to make progress happen, you have to believe, optimistically, that progress is possible” and this is one of the core lessons Stephen learned from Tony who was “a progressive and optimistic mind-set” for those who knew him closely.

The conference was a beautiful homage to our former President Tony Atkinson. You can find more highlights on the papers presented and discussions in the full conference summary here. All the papers and the presentations from this year conference can be consulted on our website. The papers presented in the first edition can be found here and presentations here. Given the success of the first two editions of our Users Conference, we are planning to organise a third one; please check our website for news and updates.