2020/5/5 Boston Review


Boston Review talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton about COVID-19, the relationship between culture, financial hardship, and health, and why capitalism’s flaws are proving fatal for America’s working class.


In the mid 2010s, he and economist Anne Case turned their attention to what seemed to be a startling trend: the reversal of declines in mortality rates for white working-class Americans in middle age. That research culminated in the March 2020 publication of their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.

In the book you focus on these deaths of despair: 158,000 in 2018, about 100,000 of which are above and beyond what we would normally expect, an excess that is almost entirely among white non-Hispanic men and women without a college degree. The category covers three different causes of death: alcohol, opioids, and suicide. Could you talk about why you group them together?….

…We valorize this bachelor’s degree in a ridiculous way that’s not pinned to anything that people can actually do. It’s this one goal which leaves behind the two thirds of the people in this country who are not going to get it…..And the health care crises make things worse. Health care costs were 5 percent of GDP back in 1970, and now they’re 18 percent of GDP. Everything is heaping up on these people.