Top positive review
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Interesting and clear - sometimes a bit dry.
on 4 February 2015
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com
The movie The Great Escape tells the story of Allied POWs seeking to escape German prison camps. Some of them make it, and some don’t. Deaton argues this makes a general point: that inequality is an inevitable result of progress, because not everyone can escape at the same time. The key, however, is to make sure that inequality is only temporary: that everyone, to stretch the metaphor, escapes in the end.
Deaton focuses on health and wealth inequality, covering their historical evolution and the current state of affairs, before turning to how we might reduce inequality and particularly foreign aid. He is an interesting mix of idealist and pragmatist: he believes strongly we have a moral obligation to eliminate poverty and improve health for the less well off, but also rejects foreign aid as a failed method of achieving those goals. Aid, he suggests, tends to flow from a desire to be seen to be doing something, rather than actually making a difference, which is why so much money is spent to so little effect. He recommends we invest in things for the developing world, rather than just in the developing world: R&D on malaria and other diseases, improving country capacity in international negotiations, arms control, and other projects.
Deaton has a gift for making complicated concepts clear, and a book that might feel like a dry compendium of statistics works for that reason, though there are times when sections can feel like a litany of graphs and analysis. He is also good at explaining how statistics might mislead or betray our reasoning: the book may be of particular interest to readers without much background in statistics, but want to understand the debates around wealth and inequality. Still, at times the book can be a bit statistics and graph heavy, particularly for a general reader.
The book really comes into its own, however, in the final section. Deaton is passionate and eloquent when it comes to aid, something he feels strongly about. For someone well read in the subject, it won’t add a lot to your understanding (though it will serve as a helpful reminder of the basics), but if you’re willing to do a bit of work to actually understand issues rather than just read results, he’s insightful, interesting, and informative. Worth the read.