Inequality: What Can Be Done?

Anthony Atkinson Harvard University Press, 384 pages, $29.95

Sir Anthony Atkinson is a British economist who has worked on inequality and poverty issues for more than four decades and mentored the French economist Thomas Piketty, whose 2013 book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" became a bestseller. Atkinson, 70, has now written his own book. Thankfully for the layperson, "Inequality: What Can Be Done?" is a lot more digestible than Piketty's. It is also more radical. Atkinson calls for robust taxation of the rich. He believes government should meddle in markets in all sorts of ways to influence the distribution of economic rewards.

Even the most egalitarian economists, such as Piketty, are reluctant to recommend employment guarantees and wage controls. Atkinson is not. And if his arguments are not always wholly convincing, he may nonetheless succeed in shifting the debate. He does not mind speaking uncomfortable truths. Among them: that the comfort and opportunity provided by wealth matter just as much as the consumption that wealth affords and that holding down a job may not be enough to allow most workers to keep up with economic growth.

Atkinson's answer might not be the right one. But if his book reminds the reader how far out of fashion the policies of the post-war decades have fallen, it also conveys how skewed the economy of today might look to an observer from the not-so-distant past.