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6 Quotes: Angus Deaton on Poverty

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deatonYesterday, Princeton economist Angus Deaton won the Nobel prize in economic sciences for his work on “analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.”

In honor of this recognition, here are six quotes by Deaton on poverty:

On poverty measurements: “Poverty lines are as much political as scientific constructions.”

On measuring global poverty: “Measuring poverty at the local level is straightforward, at the national level it is hard but manageable, but at the level of the world as a whole it is extremely difficult, so much so that some people argue that it is not worth the effort.”

On the international poverty line: “Focusing on the number of people who are below the line is like chasing an unicorn through the woods. I am not sure it is wise for the World Bank to commit itself so much to this project.”

On effective governments in developing countries: “Throughout the developing world, children die because they are born in the wrong place, not of exotic, incurable diseases, but of the commonplace childhood illnesses that we have known how to treat for almost a century. Without a state that is capable of delivering routine maternal and child health care, these children will continue to die.”

On near-poverty: “In Dickens’ David Copperfield, the character of Mr Micawber has an eloquent understanding of a poverty line. As he frequently observes, “Income twenty shillings, expenses nineteen shillings and sixpence—result happiness. Income twenty shillings, expenses twenty shillings and sixpence—result, misery.” One of the reasons Mr. Micawber’s observation is so memorable is that it is nonsense. Why should everything depend on such a tiny difference? And why do we say that someone who is just below the poverty line is poor, and thus a candidate for transfers and the special attention of the World Bank, while someone who is just above it, whether by sixpence or by six annas, needs no help and can be safely left to their own devices? Even if we could precisely set the poverty line, and even if we could precisely measure each person’s income, neither of which conditions are close to being met, it makes no sense to treat such similar people so differently.”

On economic growth: “Economic growth is the engine of the escape from poverty and material deprivation.”

 

Other posts in this series: 

John Cochrane on Rule of Law in the Regulatory State

Milton Friedman on Freedom and Economics

Roger Scruton on Conservatism

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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