deaths of despair in the US and the UK

British-American economist Angus Deaton has an excellent column in today’s Financial Times. The main point he makes is that Britain is not likely to experience the ‘deaths of despair’ we see in the USA for two reasons. First, access to painkillers is more restricted in Britain. Secondly, and more importantly, median wages in recent decades have increased in the UK, but not in the USA.

Here are three key paragraphs from the column.

In Britain, and outside the US more generally, the use of opioids is mostly restricted to clinical settings, where their use can be controlled. Opioids have been enormously profitable in the US, and pharmaceutical companies have pushed doctors to use them. Britain is better protected against abuse than is the US. ….

Yet there is more to the epidemic than opioids. Suicides and deaths from alcohol are not far behind. These deaths are symptoms of a deeper malaise, an ocean of despair, not caused by opioids, but much worsened by them. The underlying poison is found in a labour market that has delivered little or nothing for 40 years to those without a university degree. ….

In Britain, there has (rightly) been enormous concern over what has happened to median real wages since 2008. But there is a vital difference between the UK and the US. Real median wages in Britain in 2008 were almost 50 per cent higher than they had been in 1988. There was no such increase in the US, and even by 1988, wages had already been stalled for more than a decade.

Angus Deaton, “Britain can inoculate itself against America‚Äôs opioid scourge“, Financial Times, 25 July 2017 (gated paywall).

Listen also to Angus Deaton (born 1945 ) discussing with host Cardiff Garcia the work for which he won the economics Nobel Prize in 2015:

Encore episode: Angus Deaton on his Nobel Prize-winning career“, Alphachat, 20 July 2017.

FT podcasts and blogs are not gated. They are freely accessible by subscribers and non-subscribers alike. Free registration might be required.

Professor Deaton is a prolific writer. His most recent book is The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (Princeton University Press, 2013).

Angus Deaton on “The Great Escape”

In December 2016 he was invited to “Lunch with the FT”.

Angus Deaton on physical pain, mortality and disgruntled voters

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