With the news of the passing of IDS Emeritus Fellow Michael Lipton, we present a list of tributes from Michael’s friends and colleagues from the development community. If you wish to add a tribute please email Gary Edwards.
From Arjan de Haan:
I worked closely with Michael for three years, as he had created the Poverty Research Unit, and got to know him and his family well; that was the kind of person he was, invited colleagues over, welcomed people in his house, told family stories, unique sense of humour.
His commitment and rigour have influenced me deeply. Few scholars have the drive for evidence that he had, and few the ability to allow his beliefs to be contradicted.
We will deeply miss him, and Merle.
From Barbara Harriss-White
Michael has been a massively influential and creative figure with whom, if you were studying rural development or poverty, you had to engage from the 1970s onwards – even, especially, if you disagreed with what he was arguing.
Once a year, just as Bernard Schaffer did, Michael used to come and do a teaching session with the medical masters students of nutrition at LSHTM when I worked there in the 1980s. It was a real privilege to listen to him laying out the importance of the optimising peasant, or village studies, or the evidence for urban bias, or grain storage losses, or the cases for small farmers and for land reform – all fields in which he had done the authoritative reconnaissance, all in crystal clear terms so that intelligent non-specialists could grasp the arguments and their significance for under- and mal-nutrition.
Just as Stephanie Griffiths-Jones has written, he also helped me along the way. When I was tackling a problem I felt was knotty (growth linkages from agriculture) I drafted an argument against the development establishment. Instead of rejecting it as unpolished, and although he might well have disagreed with it, behind the scenes Michael edited it into dev econ language and made sure it appeared in the right place.
It was later that I saw another side of Michael – and of Merle. As neighbours just off Marine Parade, he and Merle were always there if something happened to Gordon (White) and he needed urgent rescue in his wheelchair – as happened only too regularly with the outdoor lift. This had been the result of much campaigning from IDS fellows led by Raphie, but on occasions it got jammed with sea salt half-way through its cycle leaving him stranded in mid air…Before mobile phones, the need for help was taken by passers-by and Michael, who was very fit, raced to the rescue ..
For all this and more, Michael and Merle will be much missed.
From Sir Gordon Conway
Michael Lipton was an inspiration. I knew him and Merle well when I was vice chancellor. I admired him for his clarity of thought and international experience in so many areas of development.
From Mick Moore, IDS Research Fellow
Over more than a decade, Michael was my boss at IDS and then my doctoral supervisor. The imprint is indelible, and irrepayable. The intellectual training was second to none. But so too were some of the broader lessons. I had up to that point never met anyone who seemed so totally free of personal bias of any kind. Like quite a number of the early IDS Fellows, Michael, from a Jewish émigré background, was cosmopolitan, secular, and a committed opponent of racism. He was also very much my kind of manager, telling a substantial group of Research Assistants and Research Officers what needed to be done, and leaving us alone to do it – and to choose how to spend the budget. He did read and comment on the early chapters of my doctorate, but then sensibly decided that this was not a good use of his time.
There were of course highs and lows in our relationship. One low came when I unwisely took Michael and Merle shooting in the countryside. This was outside their previous range of experiences. Michael was not a natural sportsman in any sense of the term. It was when he was climbing awkwardly over a fence, shotgun in one hand, that I began to question the wisdom of my career choice. The shotgun was cocked and ready to fire. The business end of the gun was waving around, but mostly pointing right at me.
The highest point occurred in the Indian Punjab, in April. For those that do not know, that means very, very hot. We had been travelling over a very long day in a non-AC bus with a Study Group focusing on India’s recent Green Revolution. Our hosts, who were senior Indian public servants, had organised a packed schedule designed to showcase the Green Revolution’s achievements. Michael and I had done our best to wander off at each stop to look for the agricultural labourers and the Dalits, and to explore the other side of the story. Were they really benefitting? What was happening to wages? Combine harvesters were now being used on a large scale. We fell more and more behind schedule, and our hosts were increasingly purse-lipped. They had organised a big reception for us in a very grand hotel in Jullundur. We arrived several hours late. We were very tired, very hot, very sweaty and very dishevelled. As we walked into the air-conditioned grand reception room, there were dozens of (mostly) older Sikh men sitting cross legged around the wall and dressed immaculately in white. I imagined a combine harvester behind each one of them. I shrank psychologically, and prayed ‘Michael, please just say something nice and then we can go.’ He probably did say something nice. What I remember is the absolute coolness and clarity with which this uncombed and unkempt arrival pointed out that combine harvesters were being subsidised, that they were putting people out of work, and that this was not in India’s long term interests. The audience responded with silence. Uncharacteristically, I could not resist telling Michael how much I admired what he had said and how he had said it. Characteristically, he reacted with a shrug. He was just telling the truth as he saw it.
Let me close with a secret that Michael probably never knew. In his younger days, he was not what used to be termed zen. I shared his office for a while, and became used to sudden outbursts of temper. A few years later, his secretary (yes, IDS Fellows had secretaries) told me that, whenever Michael informed her that he was about to come into his IDS office, she would pre-emptively spray lavender oil around to calm him down. I don’t know if it was the high doses of lavender oil, but he did become much more zen – and much more charming – in his later years. I will miss you, comrade.
From John Connell, Dept of Geography, University of Sydney
Michael (via IDS) was my first employer after I finished a PhD in Geography at University College London. It was at times a daunting experience and I was never entirely sure why Michael had hired me; after all he had noted in print that geography was mere ‘higher journalism’. Later I borrowed one of Michael’s books (how a geography book had got onto his shelves was not clear). Already by page one he had written very firmly in the margins – ‘sh*t’ – and he was less gentle on subsequent pages. Still, Why Poor People Stay Poor was decidedly informed by geography.
Michael was not always the easiest of bosses – suffering fools gladly was not in his linguistic armoury – and it often seemed like one of his chess matches where I was fumbling with pawns and he was well on the way to check mate. But it was easy to warm to him and savour his support and the clarity of thought he brought to every issue.
A year before Why Poor People was published, we had jointly (with Biplab Dasgupta and Roy Laishley) completed a book on Migration from Rural Areas: its authors were in alphabetical order though Michael was the inspiration. Consequently he cited the book several times in Why Poor People, and I dined out for some time on being the most cited author, trailing Karl Marx but leaving Trotsky and Stalin in the shade. By then I had moved to Australia, geography intervened and our regional interests diverged, but just as I still think about IDS as the spiritual home where I learned about development, so I remember Michael as charismatic, generous and an inspirational leader. I had been very lucky
From John Harriss
I have been encouraged by several friends/colleagues to post, in tribute to Michael, an essay I wrote some years ago in appreciation of his work. It is to be found, most recently, in David Simon’s edited book Key Thinkers on Development (Second Edition, Routledge, 2019, pps. 259-266). At the moment, however, I have not had permission from the publishers to make the posting, so for the moment I’d just like to share one personal memory.
It is of my first meeting with Michael on an early summer’s day in 1971. I was soon to start work on a PhD that would take me to South India and to do a village study on the social implications of the introduction of ‘HYVs’ (as the ‘modern’ rice varieties were then known). Through some connections that I can’t now remember I was put in touch with a young man called Mick Moore at IDS, who kindly agreed to meet me and to share his knowledge of ‘village studies’. Mick was working at that time with Michael on the Village Studies Project. I remember a long and extremely helpful conversation, in the course of which a message was brought to me from Michael Lipton, asking to meet me before I left the Institute. I’d been reading The Theory of the Optimizing Peasant on the train to Brighton, and – not at that time knowing anything about the celebrated Harris-Todaro model – I hadn’t a clue as to why this eminent economist should want to meet me. Anyway, I was summoned to meet him in the IDS bar in the early evening. Then I gradually twigged that there was a well-known American economist with the name of John Harris (one ’s’), whom Michael had expected to meet. I remember his moment of surprise that the young man who presented himself was not THE ‘John Harris’. But it was characteristic of him, as I later came to know, that he treated me with great courtesy, bought me a pint of bitter, and walked me to the train, continuing the conversation that I’d had with Mick about village studies. He was exceptional person, an absolute titan among development scholars, and it is a great privilege to have known him.
From Milasoa Chérel-Robson, UN Economist
It is with sadness that I heard the news about the passing of Michael Lipton. I feel sad because of what the loss is bound to mean to his family, and because of what it means to many of us: the end of an era.
Michael Lipton was a bridge between the Economics department where I had studied for my MA and IDS, which later became my intellectual home. It is at the Economics department that I met Rob Eastwood. Rob was the quintessential British university lecturer: approachable, warm, sharp, and with a great sense of humour. And unbeknown to me, he was close to Michael Lipton.
It was thanks to Rob Eastwood that I was sitting in Michael Lipton’s office on a Monday afternoon. This was 1999. I had just finished working on a major project at IDS. Rob hired me to work a few hours on a paper on rural-urban inequality changes that he was writing with Michael Lipton. Here I was, pinching myself, listening to a conversation between these two men on the merits of a particular set of inequality indices. The rigour, quick thinking, the gentle voice, the jumping from talking about the work at hand to making plans for outings. Michael Lipton was kind enough to include me but I was star stuck and did not say much. This small support earned me a footnote on the very first draft of the paper, just before I left to South Africa, then Madagascar, for my PhD field work.
I have asked about Michael Lipton whenever Richard Longhurst was visiting Geneva over the years. I heard about the time he helped his daughter in law give birth unexpectedly. The magic, the beauty in the story. And the latest news Richard shared was about the Liptons, the Longhursts and other friends going to a concert together. He also said that Michael Lipton was getting frail.
Michael Lipton: A man of a certain age, making time for friends and music. A memory to treasure.
From Norman Dombey
I think I can claim to have known Michael longer than any other tribute writer as not only was I at Oxford with him from 1956 to 1959 but I was at Secondary School with him at Haberdashers’ Aske’s in Hampstead from 1950 to 1955 and at Mora Road Primary School in Cricklewood, North West London, before that. He didn’t change much in 70 years. At Haberdashers’ a master in our final year had the bright idea of setting an exam in major subjects for the whole school so that students could be ranked and prizes awarded. I was very pleased to win the mathematics’ prize. Michael, however, won two prizes: not just the German prize (which was not surprising as German was his first language) but the French prize too. Nor was he the only student whose language at home was German who competed in the exam. So did Leon Britton, our future Home Secretary and European Commissioner, but Michael won. Just as he won the Prize Fellowship at All Souts College in Oxford a few years later. I joined Michael at Sussex in 1964.
Our paths at Sussex did not really cross. But he enlisted me to join him in an effort to prevent the worst effects of the Brighton Marina which was being constructed almost opposite where he lived. There was a Public Inquiry into the details of the Marina and Michael enlisted me to help with some of the more mathematical aspects of the evidence put forward by Ove Arup for the Marina’s developers. For example Ove Arup claimed that even if the Marina were to house a large supermarket on its site it would have a negligible effect on shopping patterns in the rest of Brighton. Brighton Borough Council were unable to deal with this sort of evidence. Michael and I looked at Arup’s shopping model. It was based on Reilly’s Law of Retail Gravitation (yes, really). I knew something about Newton’s law of gravitation so it was not difficult to check how Arup did their calculation. Newton stated that the gravitational force on a particle of unit mass in the gravitational field of a body of mass M at distance r was proportional to M and inversely proportional to. That is intuitively correct. The further the particle is from the body and the smaller M was the weaker the force that the particle experiences. So in retail gravitation the further the shopper is from the store the less attractive the store is to shop in. And the larger the area of shopping space in the store the stronger the attractiveness of the store to the shopper. So a sensible model in retail gravitation would be to say that the attractiveness of the store is inversely proportional to distance squared and proportional to floorspace area A. But Arup’s model didn’t include floorspace. So in their model a little corner shop sited at the Marina would have the same effect on shopping patterns in Brighton as a supermarket at the Marina. This was clearly absurd. After we had submitted our evidence pointing this out, Arup submitted new evidence. Neither Michael nor I realised that was allowed.
What Michael did in preparation for the Inquiry was to badger anyone who could possibly help. This was typical. Faced with a Public Inquiry he needed a lawyer versed in planning matters. So he started phoning round. A Labour government under Harold Wilson was in power. So he called Arnold (Lord) Goodman, Harold Wilson’s fixer. His All Souls’ connection must have helped. He explained the problem to Goodman and was rewarded by an introduction to Joseph Harper, a young planning barrister. Harper led our team at the Inquiry: we didn’t stop development of the Marina but it didn’t have the effect on Kemp Town that Michael was dreading.
Henrietta and I would see Michael and Merle often in the year, usually at local concerts. We had varied common interests. Neither of us have been to South Africa but Henrietta’s cousin Clare lives in South Africa and was an anti-apartheid activist as was Merle. Clare’s husband Jeannie Graeff was a distinguished economist and a Fellow of All Souls just like Michael. Jeannie was also a fine mountaineer just like Henrietta’s mother Janet Adam Smith. who became Vice-President of the Ladies’ Alpine Club. I first met Merle professionally (i.e. after the Marina inquiry) at Chatham House where I was a member in the 1980s when I worked on nuclear proliferation and my friend from Oxford John Roper was Director of Studies. In June 1989 John and I arranged for the visit of the Soviet physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov to Chatham House where he gave a talk predicting that the Soviet Union would collapse. Hardly anyone believed him but of course he was right and the USSR collapsed in 1991. I think Merle was encouraged for the future of South Africa when she saw that “permanent” political structures such as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union itself could be overthrown in a few months. Nelson Mandela of course was the first recipient of the Sakharov Prize.
One of my last meetings with Merle was at the Martin Wight lecture at Sussex which was given by Geoffrey Hosking, who had translated for Sakharov at Chatham House. The title was The Heritage of the October Revolution. Merle drew parallels between political development in South Africa after apartheid and that in Russia after perestroika and glasnoct. We will miss her intellect and political activism as we miss Michael’s.
From Richard Longhurst, IDS Research Associate
I first met Michael as an undergraduate about to embark on a study trip to India, and my tutor at Wye College suggested I might talk to him. At that time IDS was housed in Stanmer House, and we walked out onto the cricket pitch at Stanmer on a bright and warm day in March. I could scarcely believe this eminent academic would spare such time for an undergraduate, but this was something I saw many times over during our long collaboration. He said he would supervise me if I wanted to come to Sussex for a PhD on nutrition, which came to pass.
Being a student and then colleague with Michael was exhausting, driving me towards higher standards of clarity and argument. He left you with no place to hide: he wanted to engage in vigorous debate. This was interlaced with reams of knowledge about literature, food, wine, history, music, current affairs, geography, and kindness and hospitality from himself and Merle, and above all a unique sense of humour. He and Merle will be very sadly missed but never ever forgotten.
From Ruth Meinzen-Dick, International Food Policy Research Institute
I was privileged to join IFPRI when Michael was Director of the Consumption and Nutrition unit—though I may not have realized what a privilege it was when Michael asked a very incisive question during my job talk. He challenged us all to elevate the level of our research—once giving a colleague an 8-page review of a 15-page draft paper. But it wasn’t just academic—he spent serious time in the field (to the point where he knew where to get the best gourmet “bush foods”). He took the research seriously because he felt it could make a difference in reducing poverty.
In the last meeting I attended with him, he was still making the most incisive comments—often in his self-designated role as the “keeper of the pre-internet literature”, reminding us that many of the things we discussed had long and rich histories of research. May we all build on the traditions of dedicated research that Michael fostered.
From Simon Maxwell
There will be lots of tributes to Michael which reflect on his academic achievements – this paper and that paper which changed the way people think. I want to share some thoughts instead about what it was like to work with Michael and know him as a friend. He and I were colleagues and friends from when I joined IDS in 1981.
Of course, Michael was a formidable intellect, academically and otherwise.
At work, he was rigorous and uncompromising. I remember once giving a seminar at IDS, and Michael looking fiercely across the table and asking a question. I was about to bluster, as usual. ‘Yes or No’, Michael demanded. I was paralysed by indecision. I don’t think ‘Yes and No’ was an option! At IDS, we all looked to Michael for information and advice, and up to him as an authoritative voice.
On non-work matters, Michael was equally impressive. We went to a little, local concert on holiday in France once, and heard the Coffee Cantata by Bach, a piece of music we had never heard and knew nothing about. The programme talked about how his wife hated the fact that Bach wasted so much time in the coffee houses. When I told Michael about this, he not only knew all about it, but hummed the piece pretty well from beginning to end. His range was extraordinary. In my last proper conversation with him, just a couple of weeks before he died, Michael lying in bed, me sitting on the chair at this bedside, he recited from memory a poem by Ogden Nash about Japan. And don’t let’s start on Michael’s knowledge of wine, or his passion for chess problems.
There was much more to Michael that pure intellect, however. He was sympathetic and generous. I remember once his then secretary, Barbara, standing in the corridor, holding a parcel and crying. She had been at the receiving end of Michael’s expectations of high standards (see above, ‘rigorous and uncompromising’!), but he had given her a generous Christmas present and written a message thanking her for everything she had done. It meant a lot to her. Many of us benefited from Michael and Merles’ generosity, and from their hospitality.
Michael’s death reminds me that those of us who work in international development share many common bonds and form a strong community. Michael devoted his professional life to thinking about poverty in poor countries. He could have followed many other paths, but he didn’t. That he pursued his passion with such commitment and such success over such a long period tells you a lot about the man. Michael was genuinely an inspiring figure.
From Neil McCulloch
Michael was a formidable intellect and a generous and kind individual. Happy to champion unpopular views where he felt the evidence required it, he was a brilliant example of the fearless development intellectual. He will be sorely missed.
From Prasada Rao Mecharla, Government of Andhra Pradesh, India
Professor Michael Lipton and Dr. Diana Hunt graciously volunteered to supervise the PhD. study after Pramit K. Chaudhuri passed away, with the initiation of Ralf Grillo, who was then the Dean of the School of African and Asian Studies at the University of Sussex—had learned about Michael Lipton for the first time at the VIII World Economic Congress in Delhi in 1985. I did not know Michael Lipton would be my future doctoral supervisor then. We established a close relationship in 1997.
The research activity during the visit was highly productive, diligent, and successful. We previously met at Sussex University, Brighton Public Meetings, LSE, and other conferences, where had also met with several other intellectuals, including Hans W. Singer, Barbara Harriss, John Toy, Simon Maxwell, Arjan de Haan, Deepak Nayyar, G.K. Chadha, J. Litchfield, M. Vellia, Martin Greeley, Andy Newell, Marc Williams, Mick Moore, Robert Eastwood, Jim Fairburn, Frank Ellis, P.K. Mishra, Kiran Pandya, Saurabh Sinha, Mohammad Razzaque and many more.
Michael Lipton received almost weekly visits from me at his office; reports, books, and files were everywhere. It is an inspiring atmosphere. When we first spoke, he inquired about my research interests and responded that I was interested in researching generating employment opportunities in Andhra Pradesh’s rural non-farm sector. He instantly told me everyone is talking about the non-farm sector, but I am glad you are researching this area. The remark he made was very motivational to me. He has always had insightful things to say at every meeting. As I understood, he was an accomplished writer who produced much research academic work, an avid reader, and an excellent speaker. He had a thought-provoking personality and was an enthusiastic advocate for poor rural masses, small and marginal farmers, agriculture and non-farm, land reforms, urban bias, property rights, nutritional, health, and gender issues affecting rural people.
He once mentioned that India is a heaven for massive data sets. During 1965-1966, his research interests led him to some highly intriguing findings in the village of Kavathe in Maharashtra state in India. On another occasion, when I remarked that violence was a significant barrier to development in the Indian setting, he promptly replied that violence was not a significant challenge because Western societies were much more violent despite making great strides long ago. In one of the seminars, we also discussed farmers’ suicides and compensation payments by the respective governments. Also, Michael Lipton posed a brilliant question: ‘Can genetically modified crops feed the world?’ And analyzed. He was the main attraction at a large-scale ‘India Society event’ at Sussex University. We hosted in 1993 and he was one of the main speakers who shared his insightful comments on Indian society.
I observed that Michael Lipton always had hectic schedules, travelled worldwide, and advised governments in India, Bangladesh, Botswana, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Africa, and other countries. He was engaging in international intellectual forums, publishing publications, writing papers, supervising research students, and advising international institutions such as the World Bank, British Council, United Nations, WHO, ODA, DFID, and many more. During his travels to various nations, he perused a few of my draft chapters while on the flights, would text me about the corrected chapters when he returned from the airport, and ask if I would like to pick them up from his workplace or, in case of urgency, from his house.
He consistently read my chapters carefully and promptly provided feedback on each line. He pointed out that I had read your chapters a few hours ahead of prime time. He emphasized the value of interesting economic and statistical tool outcomes and figures portraying them. Michael Lipton kindly invited me over for supper on a few occasions. I reciprocated only after completing my D.Phil. Michael Lipton and Diana Hunt wrote an excellent foreword for my book upon my request. They mentioned, ‘This book is a pioneering effort to grapple with a key issue in development and poverty reduction, and its central results are of great importance.’ I will continue to communicate with them via email in the future. Michael Lipton once told me that people would listen if I had a point. Otherwise, there was no need; it inspired me a lot.
As I completed, my unpublished thesis was quoted in one of the Department for International Development (DFID) Project reports. During our conversation, whenever I share some of my immature thoughts, he politely refuses by saying, ‘I do not think it is a good idea,’ and then I change my views.
We also communicated through an email dated last year, mentioned you were a pleasure to teach, and worked on a book about Malthus in Africa. I invited him to visit Andhra University a few years back and deliver a keynote address on the SAARC countries. He committed to return on his next visit. He also told me about Diana Hunt, who passed away two years ago.
When I sent my new year greetings last year, he replied, Merle and I are well, though here too, we are hiding from the virus. I hope it has not harmed you and your family. He mentioned that in our world, the brilliant scientific efforts against Covid-19 were marred by maladministration. He always imparted a wealth of knowledge to me. His guidance was instrumental in motivating me. After completing my D.Phil. at Sussex, I remained focused on solving economic problems at all levels. He taught me many things, and his oversight inspired me; most academicians in India would be aware that Michael Lipton guided me as my doctoral research supervisor. His ability to align his thoughts, words, and actions is phenomenal. When I think of economics research, the first person that comes to mind is Professor Michael Lipton.
From James Putzel, Professor of Development Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science:
It was with great sadness I learned of the death of Michael Lipton, one of the giants of Development Studies over the past fifty years. I first met Michael soon after I began doctoral research on agrarian reform at the University of Oxford in the mid-1980s. I found him a challenging intellect whose careful scholarship often went against the grain. From his early articles and chapters on land reform in the 1970s to his important book, Land Reform in Developing Countries, published in 2009, Michael’s work stands as one of the most important contributions to understanding thorny issues of land redistribution and the conditions under which such reforms can contribution to poverty reduction and development.
With his book, New Seeds for Poor People, Michael cut through the often simplistic criticisms of the modern “green revolution” demonstrating with empirical evidence how the new technology had been a boon for all rural producers, rich and poor alike. Michael was part of a school of development economists who understood the value of field research in tackling problems of theory and, importantly, producing analyses that could have an impact on improving the lives of poor people. He will be sorely missed.
From Pramod Kumar Mishra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister of India:
My three-decade long association with Michael Lipton started in 1990 when I had to choose a topic for my dissertation as a part of the MA course in Development Economics at the University of Sussex. I wanted to work on farmers’ risk and crop insurance. The Department of Economics asked me to see Simon Maxwell, a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), who worked on agriculture issues. Maxwell said that he did not have such expertise, but he could send a note to Lipton, who had more knowledge and experience on the subject. At the IDS, most turned to him for information and advice.
A few days later, I was called for a meeting with Lipton, who spent half an hour with me. He asked several questions about my academic and professional background and then agreed to supervise the work.
In October 1990 I completed the master’s programme in the Department of Economics; he encouraged me to pursue a PhD at the IDS. I went back in October 1991 to start doctoral research with Lipton. He was very happy to see me back.
I enjoyed working with him. I would send him a draft chapter. Once he had gone through it, he would give it back to me and then call me for a discussion. He would have read every sentence and every word, and he would make numerous comments on the draft. His approach was very rigorous and evidence based. He would not allow any sentence not supported by either some data or research finding.
Several eminent economists and academics would come to meet Lipton. When one of them learnt of my research topic, he said, ‘You are wasting your time. The issue has already been settled in the world of academic research.’ I was taken aback. I wondered if all my work so far would go waste and my research not yield any meaningful result. Lipton was unfazed. Later, he advised me not to worry about such comments.
In 1995, I was a visiting fellow at the IDS for about six months to work on a book based on my PhD thesis. Lipton invited me to his house to dinner. I met his mother, who talked about Lipton’s early days, how he went to India and other countries at a very young age to do his fieldwork.
He wrote an excellent foreword for my book, which brought out its key findings with much more clarity than I could express in the book itself. In conclusion, he wrote:
This fascinating, clearly written and thoroughly researched account will induce many – as it has induced me – to re-examine their position on State-subsidized crop insurance. It should be included in the armoury of plausible measures to assist micro-enterprises, including family farms – and not only in India.
In subsequent years, I was in touch with him via email and met him during my visits to the United Kingdom. In 2008, when he visited India, I invited him for dinner at our residence in Moti Bagh. He talked about many of his experiences and shared many anecdotes.
Since he wanted to visit a village, we selected one in Haryana. We spent one-and-a-half hours with the villagers. Lipton asked them many questions. Then we went to two more villages without any prior information. We went to the fields, where some farmers and farm labourers were working. His questions related to the type of tenancy, farming technology, use of combine harvester and so on. I admired his depth of knowledge of farming practices and tenancy-related matters. I could feel the rigour and in-depth fieldwork of his early years.
In 2009 I got an email from Lipton asking me if I could write a blurb for his forthcoming book, Land Reform in Developing Countries: Property Rights and Property Wrongs, which was possibly his last major work. I readily agreed. In fact, I felt honoured that a person of his calibre and standing wanted to include a blurb from me along with renowned scholars.
The last time I met him was on 22 November 2018 during my visit to London. He invited me to lunch at the Lansdowne Club, where he was staying on his visit to London for a book discussion at the London School of Economics. We had lunch together, and then he took me around to show me the various facilities at the club. The same warmth, hospitality and personal touch, as always.
In my long association with Professor Michael Lipton, I have learnt many foundational aspects of economics, such as a new concept of risk, methodological sophistication, rigours of field-level research, and how to write an academic paper with authenticity and authority. He has left behind a legacy in development research that has changed the way we look at micro economics.
From Stephany Griffith-Jones
Michel, and his wife, Merle were my dear friends and I miss them so much!
Michael was first of all a wonderful person and such a kind friend. I remember, when I had recently met him, he and Merle kindly invited me to their home, as they did many times after. I commented on how much some delicious marzipan cigars covered in chocolate, which they served reminded me of identical ones my father used to bring home when I was a child. Next morning, when I arrived at IDS, I found a couple of those very cigars. So kind and thoughtful!
Michael was an intellectual giant and such a rigorous academic, as well as always so interested in policy applications of his research. His intellectual interests were so wide ranging. It was always very interesting to talk with Michael about macro- economics and finance; he had so much knowledge and interesting view points. I always learned much from such conversations, even though it was supposed to be my subject and not his. I greatly enjoyed and learned lots from co-authoring at his invitation a paper on International Lender of Last Resort: Are Changes Needed? The knowledge I gained from writing this paper and from Michael’s erudition have been very valuable to me in my work later. I also benefited and am so grateful for the fact Michael very kindly mentioned my name and work to a funder, who helped finance a research/ policy network I ran in Latin America. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as it helped me go back to Chile (just emerging from dictatorship) and to other countries in Latin America, leading to several books and papers. Michael did this in such a generous and low- key way, and at his own initiative.
Michael’s academic contributions, on poverty, as well as the poor, agriculture, the green revolution, urban bias and land reform, amongst others were extremely important, and are reflected so well in the Financial Times obituary written by John Harriss. But Michael was a Renaissance man, and he wrote on chess and also was so knowledgeable on classical music and wine. Above all, he was a wonderful person, colleague and friend.
From Sir Tim Besley, London School of Economics
I first met Michael when he interviewed me for the first fellowship that I was awarded at Oxford. It was a searching interrogation and his dissection of my ideas was more than a little nerve-wracking! But I survived and was the better for it. Over the years, our paths crossed many times and I benefitted greatly from Michael’s many insights as well as encouragement when I worked on what were considered to be “off-beat” topics among economists.
In his generation, he was a pioneer in making the study of development a mainstream field of economics. Conversations with Michael were real and substantial; he hated sloppy thinking and could be harsh on research that he felt was wide of the mark. But he was also driven by his values and commitment to meaningful economic development. Michael was always full of interesting ideas; one my last e-mails from Michael last year was to share his letter to the CEO of Octupus energy with a series of proposals to insulate the poor from the worst impact of increases in energy prices without encouraging the consumption of fossil fuels. I will miss those e-mails and the opportunity to read his views on a wide range of topics.