The Great Escape

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by Angus Deaton

A Nobel Prize–winning economist tells the remarkable story of how the world has grown healthier, wealthier, but also more unequal over the past two and half centuries.

The world is a better place than it used to be. People are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people and nations. In The Great Escape, Nobel Prize–winning economist Angus Deaton―one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty―tells the remarkable story of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today's disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind.

Deaton describes vast innovations and wrenching setbacks: the successes of antibiotics, pest control, vaccinations, and clean water on the one hand, and disastrous famines and the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the other. He examines the United States, a nation that has prospered but is today experiencing slower growth and increasing inequality. He also considers how economic growth in India and China has improved the lives of more than a billion people. Deaton argues that international aid has been ineffective and even harmful. He suggests alternative efforts―including reforming incentives to drug companies and lifting trade restrictions―that will allow the developing world to bring about its own Great Escape.

Demonstrating how changes in health and living standards have transformed our lives, The Great Escape is a powerful guide to addressing the well-being of all nations.

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If poverty is not a result of lack of resources or opportunities, but of poor institutions, poor government, and toxic politics, giving money to poor countries—particularly giving money to the governments of poor countries—is likely to perpetuate and prolong poverty, not eliminate it.

— Angus Deaton, The Great Escape