From an interview with Annie Lowrey at The Atlantic:
Angus Deaton studies the grand questions not just of economics but of life. What makes people happy? How should we measure well-being? Should countries give foreign aid? What can and should experiments do? Is inequality increasing or decreasing? Is the world getting better or worse?
Better, he believes, truly better. But not everywhere or for everyone. This week, in a speech at a conference held by the National Association for Business Economics, Deaton, the Nobel laureate and emeritus Princeton economist, pointed out that inequality among countries is decreasing, while inequality within countries is increasing. China and India are making dramatic economic improvements, while parts of sub-Saharan Africa are seeing much more modest gains. In developed countries, the rich have gotten much richer while the middle class has shriveled. A study he coauthored with the famed Princeton economist Anne Case highlights one particularly dire outcome: Mortality is actually increasing for middle-aged white Americans, due in no small part to overdoses and suicides—so-called “deaths of despair.” (Case also happens to be Deaton’s wife. More on that later.)(This is what Blue Gal refers to in The Professional Left podcast this week - click that link or scroll down a little to listen)
Lowrey: You have made the argument that OxyContin deaths are deaths caused by rent-seeking. Talk me through it.
Deaton: I don’t know if you read Sam Quinones’ book, which is terrific, called Dreamland. It’s a wonderful book and he spent a lot of time in some obscure part of Mexico where a bunch of people had not been selling drugs before and took to selling drugs and had a much better delivery system. Sort of like Walmart of drugs! They’d deliver to your house and give you discounts, and they wouldn’t use guns. At the same time, he’s contrasting this with OxyContin and the pharmaceutical companies. The parallel is that here are two sorts of drug dealers. And one of them is doing it under the license of the United States government.
A lot of the drugs that were pushed in the early phase were being prescribed to people who were poor enough to be on Medicaid. A lot of these people were addicted to OxyContin—Sam actually describes a town in Indiana where the currency is OxyContin units. They’ve stopped using money and they’re using grams of OxyContin!
Lowrey: It’s not a bad currency, right? Easy to carry around. Stable price. Fluid market.
Deaton: There’s enough of this being prescribed for every American to have a supply for a month! So it’s not like it’s scarce. Nicholas Eberstadt makes this very cute remark about how this gave a whole new meaning to “dependence on government.” It’s a very nice essay. Eberstadt tries to be the nicest of the AEI guys.There's also a piece of the puzzle that fits well, and reinforces part of the argument of "The Forgotten American" as a driver in the election.