Angus Deaton on “The Great Escape”

This week’s EconTalk podcast is very interesting. Download and listen to the full interview. It is an hour worth your time.

Angus Deaton of Princeton University and author of the Great Escape talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book–the vast improvements in health and standard of living in recent times. Deaton surveys the improvements in life expectancy and income both in the developed and undeveloped world. Inequality of both health and wealth are discussed as well. The conversation closes with a discussion of foreign aid and what rich nations can do for the poor.

Deaton on Health, Wealth, and Poverty“, hosted by Russ Roberts, EconTalk, 18 November 2013.

At the link, you will also find highlights of the discussion. Here is a sample, from the part on ‘happiness’:

Russ: …. I think we all have some awareness that money doesn’t “make us happy.” We also understand that happiness is a very rich concept, and you do some nice work in the book distinguishing between happiness, satisfaction, meaning, etc. But if we really discovered that all of this rat-race is a mistake, that you and I who have a ridiculously high standard of living by historical standards are no happier than someone living in the bush in Australia, then what?

Guest: Well, we know that’s not true. What you just said is not true. Because if you look at the Gallup data, people in Togo think their lives are terrible; and people in Denmark think their lives are terrific. And that part of it is certainly–that’s only one concept of happiness, of course. We do know there is some sense in which people think their lives are much better when they are better off, at least across countries. What we don’t really know is: What did the Danes think 100 years ago, or 50 years ago? Because the Togolese could just be unhappy because they have television and they see what a nice time the Danes are having; whereas 100 years ago our ancestors didn’t know that they didn’t have iPads because they didn’t know what iPads were.

Russ: Or flush toilets.

Guest: So that sort of issue is not resolved.

Russ: Yeah. Nobody in 1900 was miserable because they didn’t have a flush toilet, although most of them didn’t. Or maybe none of them did.

Princeton University Press published Deaton’s The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality two months ago. I have added the book to my reading list.

Professor Deaton’s past TdJ appearances are posted here, here, here, here and here.

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