Our Friend the State
Economics in America: An Immigrant Economist Explores the Land of Inequality
by Angus Deaton
Princeton University Press, 2023; xiii 273 pp.
Economics in America disappointed me, but I have only myself to blame. As you would expect from a Nobel laureate, Angus Deaton is very smart and erudite, but what you might not expect is that he is funny as well. The book contains much good sense, but it is quite unsympathetic to the free market. And this is what disappointed me. In his >e,>The Great Escape (Princeton, 2013), Deaton pointed out that the escape from poverty of millions of people in the last 250 years depended on accepting substantial inequality; and he is well-known as a critic of foreign-aid programs, arguing that they usually cause more harm than good. Because of these views, I expected him to be much more critical of government intervention in the American economy than has turned out to be the case. Had I paid more attention to The Depths of Despair (Princeton, 2019), written in collaboration with Anne Case, as well as to his demands to reduce inequalities in The Great Escape, my expectations would have been lower.
Deaton thinks that people in the United States, including academic economists, are much more suspicious of the government than they should be. After he moved from the University of Bristol to Princeton in 1986, he tells us, “I was appalled when one of my new colleagues (publicly) proclaimed that ‘government is theft.’ I had grown up in a country [Scotland] where I, my parents, and our friends saw the government as benevolent, a friend in times of trouble, and I found it hard to believe that a distinguished academic could be so cynical and so libertarian.”
So much for Franz Oppenheimer, Albert Jay Nock, and Murray Rothbard, who argued that the state is inherently predatory. To his credit, Deaton acknowledges “the extent to which state and federal government in the United States often
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