61 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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I was underwhelmed. Professor Deaton is highly regarded in his field of development economics, and there is one chapter, the penultimate, that focuses on that sector and it was hard-hitting, pithy, and insightful. Professor Deaton is a proponent of the theme that external aid does not make much difference in the least developed countries, due in large measure to corruption within the recipient nation. He lays out his case forcefully. For those who have encountered the philosophical, non-empirical argument of Peter Singer in favor of such aid, this chapter is a very effective rejoinder.
But otherwise, the book is basically a survey course -- at a 50,000 foot, totally macro level -- of the developments, mostly positive, in material wellbeing and health over the last couple of centuries -- the "Great Escape " of the title -- with some very high-level consideration of the reasons why they have not been uniform and the implications of the lack of uniformity. Pretty much everything is studied at the level of comparing statistics collected at the national level, which I find to be maddeningly frustrating as there are so many differences one can find between any pair of nations. And then one gets to the chapter on cross-border aid, and the author completely switches his vantage point and says that you can't limit your scrutiny of cross-border aid to the nation-to-nation level, you have to look at what is going on inside the recipient nation. I agree, but by the same token doesn't that perspective conflict undermine the nation-to nation comparisons that make up the prior chapters?
There are definitely insights of value -- for instance, that improvements in health and income are not as closely correlated as one might expect, and that economic inequality can be a spur as much as a constraint -- but I felt an inordinate amount of pages was devoted to setting up every point, as if the reader were an undergraduate student with no prior exposure to any of the issues. For a specific example, there is a chapter on "Material Wellbeing in the United States" of 50 pages length, but it largely rehashes themes and materials that you can find in the New York Times and other sources on the web. The work of Piketty and Saez is laid out for instance (as the NYT does every year when they update their work) and a few of the limitations in their data collection that skew the analysis to overstate inequality are noted (as Cato and others do every year in response) and then the author moves on. If you are not familiar with that work at all, I guess this is an introduction - just as you would get in a survey course - but it is not particularly insightful relative to other work already published much of which is available for free on the web.
I found the title partially misleading. There was very little about the "origins" of inequality in here, unless you count the chapter on globalization. And, to reiterate my theme, however strong or weak that link may be, did you not already know that globalization has been linked to increases in economic inequality before you read this book? Again, I felt I was getting a survey course level of presentation.
There is a secondary theme that runs through this book that I would have liked to have seen played up more, which is that, repeatedly in making his points, Professor Deaton shows that an economic hypothesis is based on a skewed collection of data, on incomplete data, or ignores conflicting data and does not hold up under moderate scrutiny from an unbiased analyst. I personally would have found it much more compelling a read had this point been played up more explicitly, although it probably would not have endeared him to his colleagues in the economics profession. I wondered whether the professor was being cunning and embedding the criticisms in a book that, on its face, appears to be more aligned with the point of view of the academy and ngo community that might be most inclined to pick it up. Although a book called "The Great Hoax; How Economists Obscure Reality to Convince You They Have Magic Powers" might sell more copies, albeit through different channels.
Other reviewers have noted that the book is quite readable and indeed it is, although I suggest the readability is in part a bug and not a feature, because so much time is devoted to setting up points. That is what makes it readable, I think, but also, to me, slowed it down and made it less efficient than I would have liked.
Although one might think that a 3-star review conflicts with the other, 5-star reviews, I think if you read the higher-starred reviews and this review, you will see that we are basically saying the same thing about the book, as a descriptive matter; our differences lie in how much value we assign to its level of generality. I hope this added point of view will be "helpful" to you as you decide whether to acquire the book.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Format: Format Kindle
Has the human race made progress since the days when all our lives were nasty, brutish, and short?
Some might think this question patently silly, since it would appear to answer itself. But Angus Deaton finds in it a point of entry into his inquiry on “health, wealth, and the origins of inequality,” the subtitle of his ambitious new book. He is in no doubt that humanity has progressed, not steadily but by fits and starts — and continues to do so to this day. “Today,” he writes, “children in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to survive to age 5 than were English children born in 1918 . . . [and] India today has higher life expectancy than Scotland in 1945.”
In The Great Escape, Deaton, a veteran professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton, explores inequality — between classes and between countries — with a detailed statistical analysis of trends in infant mortality, life expectancy, and income levels over the past 250 years. He concludes that the large-scale inequality that plagues policymakers and reformers alike in the present day is the result of the progress humanity has made since The Great Divergence (between “the West and the rest”) since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. “Economic growth,” Deaton asserts, “has been the engine of international income inequality.”
No argument there: Deaton is far from alone in this belief. Other scholars have written extensively about this topic in recent years. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark, is just one example.
Late in the 18th Century, the countries of Northern Europe and North America on the one hand and those of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America on the other hand were not that far apart as measured by the available indicators of health and income. Deaton cites “one careful study [that] estimates that the average income of all the inhabitants of the world increased between seven and eight times from 1820 to 1992.” However, that average obscures a harsh reality. The ever-quickening rate of change in “the West” since 1760 or so has widened the gap between (and within) countries to an extreme degree. Deaton terms the freedom from destitution and early death that so many of us now enjoy “The Great Escape,” taking his title from the 1963 film of that name about a massive escape of prisoners from a German P.O.W. camp in World War II.
Only now is the gap closing between the rich nations and China and India (by far the world’s two biggest countries, with nearly 40 percent of the planet’s population and half the world’s poor). Deaton doesn’t consider a bright future for all a certainty, not by any means, in view of global climate change and the ever-present threat of killer pandemics. But, assuming the species continues to thrive, there is sufficient data available now to have some confidence that the gross inequality now existing among nations will not persist forever. After all, five sub-Saharan African countries are now growing their economies faster than China’s.
However, that misleading factoid ignores the outsize role that China has played in “the Great Escape” globally. Deaton notes, as have other observers, that “the number [of] people in the world living on less than a (2005) dollar a day fell from about 1.5 billion in 1981 to 805 million in 2008 . . . [This] decline in numbers is driven almost entirely by the Chinese growth miracle; if China is excluded, 785 million people lived on less than a dollar a day in 1981 compared with 708 million in 2008.” (This reality is one of the principal reasons why Paul Polak and I insist in The Business Solution to Poverty that traditional methods to end poverty have largely failed. After all, China’s methods were hardly traditional!)
In the course of exploring the historical record of growing inequality on the world stage, Deaton delves deeply into the role of foreign aid (officially, Overseas Development Assistance, or ODA) and finds it comes up short. ”You cannot develop other countries from the outside with a shopping list for Home Depot, no matter how much you spend,” he writes. With the exception of outside interventions in public health programs — including such breakthroughs as the eradication of smallpox and the near-success with polio — Deaton finds that foreign aid has done more harm than good. He argues that where the conditions for development are present, outside resources are unnecessary. Where they’re absent, ODA entrenches local elites, distorts the local economy, and discourages local initiative. The author insists that “the record of aid shows no evidence of any overall beneficial effect.”
But that’s only part of the story.
In 2012, ODA totaled about $136 billion. Throw in another $30 billion or so from NGOs, and total outside assistance comes to under $200 billion annually. However, net resource transfers from developing countries to rich countries are well in excess of $500 billion annually. (Transfers reached a peak of $881 billion in 2007, fell with the Great Recession, but are rising again.) Quite apart from the fact that an estimated 70 percent of “foreign aid” is actually spent on products and services from donor nations, ODA merely puts a dent in the huge disadvantage that poor countries suffer as a result of lopsided trade policies and prevailing political and commercial imbalances. In any case, just one factor in those resource flows — remittances from overseas residents of poor countries to their families back home — are twice as large as ODA.
The Great Escape is a worthy effort from a senior scholar whose wide-ranging studies have led him to big-picture conclusions. Policymakers and practitioners should be listening carefully.