by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Sit down at your computer and buy his 2013 book The Great Escape, which employs his theoretical and statistical achievements in the science of economic measurement to define and explain economic growth itself. As he says, “Without data, anyone who does anything is free to claim success.”
The Great Escape is about our escape—North Americans, Western Europeans, and Japanese—and how our societies recently freed themselves from the Hobbesian state of nature, in which, the 17th century philosopher said, “men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.” …
… Comparisons with those who have not escaped trouble Deaton, as they do most people. There is fundamental inequality within our advanced societies, but much more so between our societies and the poorer societies that have not advanced much in the past two centuries.
Deaton’s book is largely a book about income inequality, with interesting excursions into inequalities of health and happiness.
Unlike last year’s data-rich best seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty, Deaton’s book does not tell us that capitalism is a disease to be cured by global wealth taxes. He sees it as a machine that produces inequality by producing wealth. Though Deaton and Piketty more or less agree that capitalism creates inequality, Piketty would drag down the wealthy while Deaton would like to see the poor raised up.
Deaton follows the popular commandment to “speak truth to power,” which so often ceases to be popular as soon as the speaker delivers an unwanted truth. He advises the countries that have not yet climbed the ladder that they need the institutions that allow growth to take place: property rights and a trustworthy government and legal system financed by fair taxes, with choices about the public interest made through a representative government chosen democratically.
Unfortunately, these prerequisites are easier to talk about than to create, and Deaton offers no easy road. He advises well-meaning people of the now-rich world that they should allow the Third World the benign neglect that they enjoyed, “to develop in their own way, in their own time, under their own political and economic structures. No one gave them aid or tried to bribe them to adopt policies for their own good. What we need to do now is to make sure that we are not standing in the way of the now-poor countries’ doing what we have already done.”