Professor Sir Angus Deaton

Winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics
Author, The Great Escape

Economics of Well-being
Health and Poverty
The economist who brings facts to economic thinking.

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Professor Sir Angus Deaton, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics, is one of the world's foremost experts on the economics of well-being, health, and poverty. Distinguished for the groundbreaking use of household data analysis to establish links between individual human behaviours and societal outcomes, his work relies on real-world facts to inform big-picture economic thinking.

As Deaton points out in his book The Great Escape, the historical patterns that shape developing countries indicate that income inequality is often a consequence of progress. Advancements in medicine and technologies that promote healthy living and enable escape from destitution are denied to those who can't afford them. This inhibits upward mobility and further widens the gap between rich and poor households.

To gain insights into the health and well being of developing nations, Deaton championed the use of household surveys to link consumption of goods and services with outcomes for, and insights into, the whole economy. For example, his studies measuring income against calorie intake in impoverished homes pointed to the value of giving poor countries economic assistance rather than food aid. His work on the distribution of household resources shed light on gender discrimination, as he found that in times of scarcity, families better provide for their boys than for their girls.

As a fundamental indicator of the health of an economy, Deaton's use of household data proved more reliable and useful than income or gross domestic product metrics, and helped convert the development economics discipline from a reliance on theory to a grounding in the empirical.

Noted for being accessible as well as optimistic, Deaton has been lauded by the Nobel organisation as "immensely important to human welfare." His work has helped transform modern microeconomics, macroeconomics and development economics; his findings have greatly influenced both practical policymaking and the scientific community, thus helping to not only analyse but to improve the world.

Deaton is a Senior Scholar and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University and has taught at Cambridge University and the University of Bristol. He has widely published, including for the World Bank, and is a regular contributor to the Royal Economic Society newsletter. His book The Great Escape broke its publisher's record for foreign rights sales.

In addition to his 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics, he is the recipient of numerous awards, including most recently being honoured with knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to research in economics and international affairs. He also received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award and the first Frisch Medal. Deaton is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and is a Fellow of the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Econometric Society.


The Great Escape

Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality

Professor Sir Angus Deaton

The world is a better place than it used to be. People are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people and nations. In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton — one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty — tells the remarkable story of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today's disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind.

Deaton describes vast innovations and wrenching setbacks: the successes of antibiotics, pest control, vaccinations, and clean water on the one hand, and disastrous famines and the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the other. He examines the United States, a nation that has prospered but is today experiencing slower growth and increasing inequality. He also considers how economic growth in India and China has improved the lives of more than a billion people. Deaton argues that international aid has been ineffective and even harmful. He suggests alternative efforts — including reforming incentives to drug companies and lifting trade restrictions--that will allow the developing world to bring about its own Great Escape.

Demonstrating how changes in health and living standards have transformed our lives, The Great Escape is a powerful guide to addressing the well-being of all nations.

Princeton University Press (16 Aug. 2013)
Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (26 May 2015)


Each of Sir Angus’ presentation is unique, and is adapted to suit his audience and, when relevant, to take account of current events and concerns. He works on and talks about a range of topics in economics and in health, including inequality and poverty; growth and development; happiness and wellbeing; the use of evidence in policy; food, nutrition and hunger; the design and effectiveness of foreign aid. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The titles below are illustrative, not comprehensive

1. Progress and inequality

Progress often brings inequality, and inequality reflects the incentives that bring about progress. Periods of rapid technical progress, with benefits for all, are also periods when the rich have got richer and the poor have been left behind. Innovators who benefit mankind and are to be encouraged and there is nothing wrong with their getting rich in consequence. Yet inequality can also be a threat to public wellbeing, especially when inequality is driven by rent-seeking or undermining democracy. If we are to continue to prosper, we need to find a way of not leaving behind large segments of the population.

2. Happiness, and what it can teach us

There has been great recent progress in measuring happiness and finding out how people think their lives are going. These new measures grasp a broader reality than comes from measuring income alone, and they are challenging GDP as a guide to economic success. Companies are experimenting with them as management tools. But are these numbers really credible? What can they help us know and do that we could not know or do otherwise? What do the data tell us? Does money make us happy? Do children make us happy? Should we refocus away from work and money and towards friends, family and leisure? Should we care about happiness at all?

3. Faltering progress?

As of the fall of 2016, the world is a difficult and dangerous place. Economic growth is faltering, and was so even before the great recession. Inequality is rising almost everywhere. Europe was facing intractable economic difficulties, even before BREXIT and the arrival of millions of refugees. Long established political institutions are under threat, and are not to be serving large segments of the population. In the US, there is an unprecedented upsurge of mortality from suicides and drug overdoses, especially among the white working class. Yet the world is still a better place today than at almost any time in history. What caused this long-term progress? Do we think those factors will continue to help us continue to prosper in the future? What is the long-term outlook for the world? Are today’s horrors a blip, or the new normal?

4. Evidence, and how to use it

Today, there are loud demands for policy to be evidence-based, following the long established movement for evidence based medicine. What could be wrong with finding out what works, and using only proven remedies? No one is against evidence, but there are dangers in the way the program is being carried out and especially in the transplantation of randomized trials to economic and social policy from medicine, where they also work much less well than is usually supposed. Such evidence can be a danger to reasoned debate and democracy.

5. The political lives of numbers

Numbers — data on GDP, prices, unemployment, population — are usually taken to be good; they are the truth around which policy needs to be shaped and judged. Politics is seen as the enemy of numbers, with politicians always ready to corrupt, suppress, or spin the data. But statistics are creatures of the state, and have politics and political judgments deeply coded into their DNA. Without politics, numbers are orphans, and can lose their relevance, accuracy, and influence. We can see this clearly if we contrast national and global data; the former are salient, contested, and largely accurate while the latter attract little attention and are wildly inaccurate.

6. Better health, worse health

Why do we live so much longer than our ancestors? Why is infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa lower today than it was in England at the end of World War 1? Was it progress in medical care, medical knowledge or new drugs? Or was health dragged along behind growing wealth? Does wealthier mean healthier? What was the role of people’s behaviors, smoking, drinking, or sanitation? And above all why, after a century of decline, have mortality rates among middle aged American whites been rising for 15 years? Has progress in health, like progress in growth, slowed down or reversed?

7. Poverty at home and abroad, and what to do about it

All of us know that there is dreadful poverty in Africa and in Asia, and the citizens of Europe and North America give generously to combat it, through their governments, through international NGOs like Oxfam, and through international organizations, like the World Bank. How much do we know about the effectiveness of this aid? Is it better to give money to save lives than to reduce poverty? Is it really true that there is no one in Europe or North America who is as poor as the poor in developing countries? We need to seriously rethink the foundations of poverty aid, how we give it, and to whom.

8. Food, nutrition, and hunger

Hunger is not the same thing as poverty, and malnutrition is not the same thing as not having enough to eat. Yet most of us, when we think about poverty in Africa and Asia think of hunger, even starvation. This is wrong, but there are many puzzles about what is right. Adult height, which is a measure of nutrition in childhood, is unrelated to national income in childhood, except in rich countries where nearly everyone has enough to eat. In India today, economic growth has come with a decline in calories consumed, even though heights are rising, more for men than for women. Sub-Saharan incomes are lower than Indian incomes, but sub-Saharan Africans are taller than Indians, though they have higher infant and child mortality. The link from income and food to nutritional status is mediated by a range of other important factors, especially the extent of physical labor, sex discrimination, and sanitation.


Economist Nobel Laureate's forecast | Financial Times

On Foreign Aid and Inequality | Council on Foreign Relations

2015 Nobel Lecture in Economic Sciences

Angus Deaton win 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics

"The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality"


A public university in Spain:
Our tenth anniversary celebration [...] came out fantastic. We had a very select audience, over a hundred of senior members of the Administration, from all the political parties, and through humility and closeness of Professor Deaton, apart from his great mind, the conference was a complete success.

I want to thank you for help you've given us all this time, and I hope Professor Deaton has had a pleasant stay in Madrid and has felt comfortable among us, from our side, it was a pleasure to share the meal with him. Do not be surprised if we contact you again for a new collaboration with Professor Deaton.