In his latest book, Princeton economist Angus Deaton argues that the world is a much wealthier and healthier place today than it was a half century ago, but that progress has not come without some setbacks, and a danger of "vast inequalities." Deaton has an introduction to the book, titled The Great Escape: health, wealth, and the origins of inequality , at Vox , where he shares this graph: The figure plots life expectancy at birth (for both sexes together) against per capita GDP in price-adjusted international dollars. Each point is a country, shown as a circle whose area is proportional to population; the lighter circles are for 1960, and the darker circles for 2010. The arrow points in the direction of progress, where both per capita incomes and life expectancy increase over time. The 2010 line is above the 1960 line so that, for a typical country, life expectancy has increased by more than would have been expected given a movement along the 1960 line. Preston suggested that movement along the curve was the effect of income on health, while the upward movement of the line could perhaps be attributed to technical progress. Death 'ages' as we move along each curve; this is the epidemiological transition. In the poorest countries, parents still live with the agony of watching their children die from long-conquered maladies like pneumonia, diarrhea, or vaccine preventable diseases like measles. In the rich countries, where disease has moved out of the bowels of children and into the arteries of the elderly, death comes from chronic diseases – heart disease and cancer – and comes to the old, not to the young. The aging of death recapitulates what happened in history, though poor countries today have achieved comparable health at much lower levels of per capita income than was the case in the rich countries in the past. When I was born in Edinburgh in 1945, life expectancy in Scotland was lower than it is in India today; when my father was born in the Yorkshire coalfield in 1918, child mortality in England was higher than it is in sub-Saharan Africa today. Progress has been repeatedly interrupted by horrors, not all of which are safely locked up in a historical museum. The Figure shows the huge increase in life expectancy in China between 1960 and 2010, most of which happened, not slowly over time, but immediately after 1960. In fact, this is not a story of progress, but of the unwinding of the disaster of the great Chinese famine. Mao’s demented attempt to catch up with rich countries in a few years, to assume leadership in the Communist world, and to preserve his own political position at home, led him to ignore the mounting evidence that millions were dying. Eventually, perhaps 30 million people died, Yang (2013). This is far from the first time in history that toxic politics has brought human catastrophe. It is sometimes hard to see the benefits that good policies bring, but the Great Leap Forward is a spectacular example of what bad policies and bad politics can do. Read the full post here .
Filed under: vox, global economy, india, VoxEU, income inequality, health, China, wealth, inequality, per capita gdp, scotland, princeton, income disparity, quality of life, standard of living, global wealth, angus deaton, edinburgh, per capita income