Michael Lipton, development economist, 1937 — 2023

Michael Lipton, development economist, 1937 — 2023

The author is emeritus professor of worldwide research at Simon Fraser College

Michael Lipton, who has died aged 86, was an economist who devoted his profession to understanding and fixing the issue of poverty in low-income international locations. For him, this fairly often meant the event of small-scale, peasant farming.

Lipton was dedicated to rigorous empirical investigation, and was uncommon amongst economists of his technology in having undertaken subject analysis in a village in western India for eight months. His nice contribution to his self-discipline was recognised in 2012, when he was awarded the Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Financial Thought.

Early on in his profession, Lipton targeted on redistributive land reform. He laid out the case for it in a big Worldwide Labour Group report on the event of Sri Lanka in 1971, and in his final main e-book, Land Reform in Growing Nations: Property Rights and Property Wrongs, which was revealed in 2009. Lipton defined how the agriculture sector typically, small producers particularly, and in consequence improvement as a complete, have been harmed by what he described as “city bias”. He held that this was, because the title of his 1977 e-book acknowledged, Why Poor Folks Keep Poor.

Although he was generally castigated as a populist for these arguments, Lipton was no dewy-eyed romantic reminiscent of the agrarian previous. He was deeply engaged with the sciences and, later in his profession, staunchly defended the constructive potential of genetically engineered plant materials.

Lipton was born in London in 1937, to German Jewish dad and mom who had left Hamburg 4 years prior. He went to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Faculty, after which, after finishing his Nationwide Service, to Balliol School, Oxford. He learn philosophy, politics and economics, successful the college prize for economics, and taking a fellowship at All Souls School.

Lipton was drawn to improvement economics when he started working with Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, on his pioneering institutional research of improvement points in South Asia, revealed in 1968 and titled Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations. From that time on, India was central to Lipton’s analysis, although he additionally labored in different international locations in Asia. He hung out in Africa too, significantly in Botswana, the place he was an adviser to the federal government between 1977 and 1979, and in South Africa.

In his work with Myrdal, Lipton discovered present micro-level analysis insufficient for understanding the issues of agricultural improvement, and it was in addressing this limitation that he started his subject work in India. In 1968, his findings gave rise each to the seminal article, “The Concept of the Optimising Peasant”, and to an necessary critique of India’s agricultural improvement coverage within the e-book he edited with Paul Streeten, The Disaster of Indian Planning.

On the time, tutorial analysis on agricultural improvement was influenced by the work of the (later Nobel prize-winning) economist Theodore Schultz, who argued that peasant farmers are “environment friendly however poor”. By this, Schultz meant that farmers goal to maximise revenue and achieve this by allocating their sources effectively — however these sources are severely restricted. He argued that progress subsequently required altering the situations of manufacturing by new expertise and inputs, equivalent to chemical fertilisers.

However Lipton confirmed that, given the danger and uncertainty farmers confront, it will be irrational for them to goal to maximise. As an alternative, they tried to optimise, by insuring themselves in opposition to the dangers of failure. He recommended that policymakers ought to subsequently attempt to cut back the riskiness of agriculture. Dedicating sources to irrigation, for example, relatively than to the supply of fertilisers to farmers working in favoured areas, would allow broader-based, extra egalitarian agricultural improvement. Within the gentle of the expertise of India’s “inexperienced revolution”, it’s unlucky that this recommendation wasn’t heeded.

Within the mid-Nineteen Sixties, Lipton additionally revealed a e-book on British financial efficiency, and a e-book of chess issues. Chess, in addition to poetry and classical music, remained a ardour for him.

Afterward, Lipton devoted a lot of his analysis, a few of it undertaken as an adviser to the World Financial institution, to understanding the causes and situations of poverty. He introduced this analysis and his work on agriculture collectively in his 1989 e-book, New Seeds and Poor Folks, maybe the definitive research of the “inexperienced revolution”. He subsequently pursued his evaluation within the context of the agricultural improvements introduced by genetic engineering.

Lipton’s writing is characterised by its rigour, and although his working by of other hypotheses could be demanding for the reader, his positions are at all times acknowledged with nice readability. In dialogue, he relished vigorous debate and loved participating with those that disagreed with him.

A lot of Lipton’s work was carried out from the Institute of Growth Research on the College of Sussex the place he was appointed as a professorial fellow in 1967, and remained a number one determine for nearly thirty years. In 1994, he established the Poverty Analysis Unit at Sussex. He was a sort colleague, and beneficiant with the time he gave to younger researchers.

Michael Lipton’s spouse of 56 years, Merle Lipton, a distinguished historian and political analyst, handed away simply three months earlier than him. He’s survived by his son Emanuel, and his grandson, Joshua.

Back To Top