A brilliant selection. Deaton works closely with numbers, and his preferred topics are consumption, poverty, and welfare. “Understanding what economic progress really means” I would describe as his core contribution, and analyzing development from the starting point of consumption rather than income is part of his vision. That includes looking at calories, life expectancy, health, and education as part of living standards in a fundamental way. I think of this as a prize about empirics, the importance of economic development, and indirectly a prize about economic history.
Think of Deaton as an economist who looks more closely at what poor households consume to get a better sense of their living standards and possible paths for economic development. He truly, deeply understands the implications of economic growth, the benefits of modernity, and political economy. Here is a very good non-technical account of his work on measuring poverty (pdf), one of the best introductions to his thought.
He brought a good deal of methodological individualism to the field of consumption studies, most of all by using household surveys more than macroeconomic data.
I think of this as a prize for “a whole body of work” rather than for one or two key papers. David Leonhardt has a good NYT summary of some his work and its deep underlying optimism about the situation of the poor in the global economy.
Deaton was born in Scotland but has taught at Princeton for some time. Here is Deaton on Wikipedia. Here is Deaton’s home page. Here are some recent working papers, he even has published in Review of Austrian Economics, an interesting review of Bill Easterly on experts. Here are previous MR mentions of Deaton, there are many of them. Here is Deaton on Google Scholar. Here is a Russ Roberts EconTalk with Angus Deaton. I think of Deaton as someone who is relatively willing to share himself with the world, let’s hope the Prize doesn’t ruin that openness. Here is 21 minutes of Angus on YouTube, on his core ideas.
Deaton has long had a special working relationship with India and South Africa. Here are his key pieces on measuring poverty and poverty reduction in India. Here is his work on the Indian health survey. Here is his 2010 AER piece on how to measure poverty globally in a consistent manner, by the way he suggests that asking people should be part of the answer.
He also has written on gender discrimination within the family in developing nations. Some of his work has helped direct our attention to the viability of cash transfers as a way of fighting poverty.
At first, say circa 1980, he was known for his work in developing Almost Ideal Demand Systems for analyzing consumer expenditures; much of this early work was with Muellbauer. That made a big splash, but it was more of a theoretical and technical advance than what was to follow. One message was that studies based on the idea of a “representative consumer” were likely to prove misleading.
It is interesting to note the trajectory of his career, as Alex noted on Twitter. He first did theory, then filled in the numbers and did empirics, applying the theory. Eventually he took theory + empirics and used it to tackle some of the big issues of poverty and development.
Here is his long survey piece on foreign aid and growth. He favors the move away from project evaluation, is skeptical of instrumental variable methods, and believes that RCTs need to be supplemented with a better theoretical understanding of mechanisms. He knows a lot about many, many topics.
I do not know him, but he is described by many as a colorful character. Dani Rodrik has strong praise for Deaton as a teacher.
Here are short, popular essays by Angus Deaton; you can call that the “what he really thinks page.” He is critical of the Republican war against ACA and connects that topic to Downton Abbey. He argues for regional price indices for the United States. He discusses American inequality and why it is often ignored as an issue. He warns against the creeping regulation of science. And he considers why the Stern report had a greater impact in the UK than in America.
I very much liked Deaton’s recent book The Great Escape, which focuses on how modernity revolutionized standards for consumption.
This award is no surprise at all and he has been on the short list for a while. Is it a slight surprise that Deaton won this prize on his own? Many thought he would be paired with Anthony Atkinson, but I see Deaton as worthy of a stand-alone prize and Atkinson’s chance has not passed him by. In any case, Tirole was a stand-alone prize too, so maybe in that regard there has been a shift in the Swedish regime.
Last but not least here is Alex’s post on Deaton.