The Nobel prize in economics was given to Angus Deaton of Princeton University and on Monday the Associated Press wrote about him and why he won the award. Without printing the original AP story or, for that matter, any story on the prize, the Wheeling News-Register on Wednesday afternoon editorialized about what Deaton had concluded. (As the Wheeling "newspapers" like to do, they ignored the original story preferring to provide in the editorial only what was necessary for their conclusion.)
In addition to discussing his background and some of his economic ideas, the AP story focused on one of his books:
In his 2013 book, “The Great Escape,” Deaton expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of international aid programs in addressing poverty. He noted, for example, that China and India have lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty despite receiving relatively little aid money. Yet at the same time, poverty has remained entrenched in many African countries that have received substantial sums.
You don't need a graduate degree in reading comprehension to understand that Deaton was discussing the effectiveness of international programs to help the poor. Look, however, at how the News-Register changes international aid to all aid programs for the poor including domestic ones:
To the jeers of liberals who claim they are merely insensitive to the poor, conservatives have argued for years that simply throwing money at the economically disadvantaged is foolish. More thought needs to be put into assistance that really helps people lift themselves out of poverty, it has been urged.
To anyone paying attention to "anti-poverty" programs at home and foreign aid distributed abroad by the United States, that has been obvious for decades.
Much of Deaton's career has been spent in learning the facts about people in poverty. He set some of his findings out in a 2013 book, "The Great Escape."
Deaton pointed out that in many countries where enormous amounts are spent to aid the poor, poverty rates have remained unchanged or grown worse. Yet in places such as China and India, where relatively little is spent, prosperity is shared by larger segments of the populations.
I spent some time reading about Deaton and his writings and it is clear that the editorial distorted (I would argue deliberately) his thesis for their own conservative ends. Despite what the editorial suggests, Deaton is certainly not some Randian conservative. (Given his views on income inequality, he may be just the opposite.) For example, Deaton is quite worried about the consequences of the widening division between rich and poor found in the United States. From the same "The Great Escape":
If democracy becomes plutocracy, those who are not rich are effectively disenfranchised. Justice Louis Brandeis famously argued that the United States could have either democracy or wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but not both. The political equality that is required by democracy is always under threat from economic inequality, and the more extreme the economic inequality, the greater the threat to democracy.
If democracy is compromised, there is a direct loss of wellbeing because people have good reason to value their ability to participate in political life, and the loss of that ability is instrumental in threatening other harm.
The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care; they have every reason to support cuts in Medicare and to fight any increase in taxes. They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone, or to worry about the low quality of public schools that plagues much of the country. They will oppose any regulation of banks that restricts profits, even if it helps those who cannot cover their mortgages or protects the public against predatory lending, deceptive advertising, or even a repetition of the financial crash.
To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the wellbeing of everyone else.
I did like the editorial's conclusion:
But if the goal is to help the poor - not just claim to be doing so - his ideas deserve more study.
Yes, I agree -- although I think I'd prefer to read them myself rather than having an unethical editorial writer misinterpret them for me.