Deaton on Deaton

It was during my time at Bristol that John Muellbauer and I worked together on our book. The computer facilities at Bristol were terrible — the computer was a mile away, on top of a hill, so that boxes of punched cards had to be lugged up and down. I was told to get a research assistant, which was sensible advice, but I have never really figured out how to use research assistance: for me, the process of data gathering — at first with paper and pencil from books and abstracts — programming, and calculation has always been part of the creative process, and without doing it all, I am unlikely to have the flash of insight that tells me that something doesn’t fit, that not only this model doesn’t work, but that all such models cannot work. Of course, this process has become much easier over time. Not only are data and computing power constantly and easily at one’s fingertips, but it is easy to explore data graphically. The delights and possibilities can only be fully appreciated by someone who spent his or her youth with graph paper, pencils, and erasers.

Given how far it was up the computer hill, I substituted theory for data for a while, and wrote papers on optimal taxation, the structure of preferences, and on quantity and price index numbers, but I never entirely gave up on applied work.

The entire biographical essay is of interest (pdf).


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