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Angus Deaton wins the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

Author(s): Matias Vernengo

From Naked Keynesianism:

For his work on "consumption,
poverty and welfare"
according to the press release. It wasn't Atkinson, for inequality, as I suggested it was possible, but
given the other possibilities cited this is quite good. Deaton had received last
year the Leontief prize, which usually goes to heterodox economists
(the other Nobel to win the Leontief was Sen), together with Jamie

I should say, I recently read his The Great Escape. An interesting book, full of relevant
data. But it does maintain the conventional neoclassical view on growth. Supply
side constrained, and dependent on investment in education (aka human capital),
and the institutions to guarantee investment (e.g. property rights, rule of
law). The Douglas North New Institutionalist view. In his words:

“possession of common knowledge does not imply that all
countries should have the same living standards. To be able to use rich-country
methods of production requires rich-country infrastructure—roads, railways,
telecommunications, factories, and machines—not to mention rich-country
educational levels, all of which take time and money to achieve. Yet the gaps
between rich and poor provide plenty of incentives to make the investment in
that infrastructure and equipment, and, as Robert Solow showed in one of the
most famous papers in all of economics, average living standards should draw
closer over time. Why this has not happened is a central question in economics.
Perhaps the best answer is that poor countries lack the institutions—government
capacity, a functioning legal and tax system, security of property rights, and
traditions of trust—that are a necessary background for growth to take

It does say something about investment in infrastructure,
and one can read the need for money as an acknowledgment that the balance of
payments is an important restriction (but that might be reading too much). So as
most mainstream economists he seems to think that lack of convergence is
somewhat of a mystery. He says: “puzzling is the failure of the poor countries
to catch up.”

There are interesting things in his book anyway. He does
say, for example, that:

“One key to African growth is what happens to commodity
prices. Many African countries have long been and are still dependent on exports
of 'primary' commodities, mostly unprocessed minerals or agricultural crops.
Botswana exports diamonds; South Africa, gold and diamonds; Nigeria and Angola,
oil; Niger, uranium; Kenya, coffee; Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, cocoa; Senegal,
groundnuts; and so on. The world prices of primary commodities are notoriously
volatile, with huge price increases in response to crop failures or increases in
world demand and equally dramatic price collapses, none of which are easily

The preoccupation with commodity price volatility has
a long history in economic development, but probably Raúl Prebisch and the
economists at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
(ECLAC) have been the pioneers and the most persistent in emphasizing its
relevance. That tradition, of course, emphasizes demand as the engine of growth,
and the balance of payments as its main constraint in peripheral

More importantly, Deaton seems to take the profession and even
the Nobel prize with humor and skepticism. Again from the book: “The great
economist and Nobel laureate James Meade used to complain that the three great
disasters of the twentieth century were the 'infernal' combustion engine, the
population explosion, and the Nobel Prize in economics.”

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