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The Great Escape

Health, Wealth and the Origin of Inequality

By Angus Deaton
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Great Escape by Angus Deaton

The Great Escape (2013) clearly explains that humanity is doing better than ever before. But not everyone has benefited from the technological and political developments that have made our prosperity possible. By examining both historical and modern inequality, this book offers solid advice on how to close the gap.

Key idea 1 of 9

There’s never been a better time to be alive.

When listening to the news these days, one gets the impression things are just getting worse and worse. But the news never gives the whole story. In fact, rather than getting worse, our well-being has, on average, never been better than it is today.

Until about 250 years ago, most people throughout the world lived in poverty. And today, although a lot has happened since then, more than a billion people live in extreme poverty, suffering the same terrible living conditions as their forebears.

But overall well-being – which includes things like access to health services, higher pay, longer lifespans, happiness, opportunities for education and progress as well as general quality of life – has increased considerably.

For example, a white middle-class girl born in the Unites States today has a life expectancy of over 80 years (with a 50 percent chance of living to 100). She also has opportunities for education and better economic prospects than her parents.

Despite all this, however, there is still extreme inequality in well-being worldwide. Though people today earn more money and enjoy better living standards than ever before, there are still massive disparities between rich and poor countries.

The health standards in Sierra Leone, for instance, are actually worse than health standards were in the United States in 1910, when 25 percent of children died before the age of five. And over half of the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo lives on less than a dollar per day.

The good news is that these inequalities can lead to progress – if they’re used in the right way. For example, if the difference between, say, the rate of child mortality in rich and poor countries is well known, poor countries will likely try to adopt the innovations that allowed wealthier countries to increase life expectancy, and thus diminish these inequalities.

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