Each of Sir Angus’ presentation is unique, and is adapted to suit his audience and, when relevant, to take account of current events and concerns. He works on and talks about a range of topics in economics and in health, including inequality and poverty; growth and development; happiness and wellbeing; the use of evidence in policy; food, nutrition and hunger; the design and effectiveness of foreign aid. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.
The titles below are illustrative, not comprehensive
1. Progress and inequality
Progress often brings inequality, and inequality reflects the incentives that bring about progress. Periods of rapid technical progress, with benefits for all, are also periods when the rich have got richer and the poor have been left behind. Innovators who benefit mankind and are to be encouraged and there is nothing wrong with their getting rich in consequence. Yet inequality can also be a threat to public wellbeing, especially when inequality is driven by rent-seeking or undermining democracy. If we are to continue to prosper, we need to find a way of not leaving behind large segments of the population.
2. Happiness, and what it can teach us
There has been great recent progress in measuring happiness and finding out how people think their lives are going. These new measures grasp a broader reality than comes from measuring income alone, and they are challenging GDP as a guide to economic success. Companies are experimenting with them as management tools. But are these numbers really credible? What can they help us know and do that we could not know or do otherwise? What do the data tell us? Does money make us happy? Do children make us happy? Should we refocus away from work and money and towards friends, family and leisure? Should we care about happiness at all?
3. Faltering progress?
As of the fall of 2016, the world is a difficult and dangerous place. Economic growth is faltering, and was so even before the great recession. Inequality is rising almost everywhere. Europe was facing intractable economic difficulties, even before BREXIT and the arrival of millions of refugees. Long established political institutions are under threat, and are not to be serving large segments of the population. In the US, there is an unprecedented upsurge of mortality from suicides and drug overdoses, especially among the white working class. Yet the world is still a better place today than at almost any time in history. What caused this long-term progress? Do we think those factors will continue to help us continue to prosper in the future? What is the long-term outlook for the world? Are today’s horrors a blip, or the new normal?
4. Evidence, and how to use it
Today, there are loud demands for policy to be evidence-based, following the long established movement for evidence based medicine. What could be wrong with finding out what works, and using only proven remedies? No one is against evidence, but there are dangers in the way the program is being carried out and especially in the transplantation of randomized trials to economic and social policy from medicine, where they also work much less well than is usually supposed. Such evidence can be a danger to reasoned debate and democracy.
5. The political lives of numbers
Numbers — data on GDP, prices, unemployment, population — are usually taken to be good; they are the truth around which policy needs to be shaped and judged. Politics is seen as the enemy of numbers, with politicians always ready to corrupt, suppress, or spin the data. But statistics are creatures of the state, and have politics and political judgments deeply coded into their DNA. Without politics, numbers are orphans, and can lose their relevance, accuracy, and influence. We can see this clearly if we contrast national and global data; the former are salient, contested, and largely accurate while the latter attract little attention and are wildly inaccurate.
6. Better health, worse health
Why do we live so much longer than our ancestors? Why is infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa lower today than it was in England at the end of World War 1? Was it progress in medical care, medical knowledge or new drugs? Or was health dragged along behind growing wealth? Does wealthier mean healthier? What was the role of people’s behaviors, smoking, drinking, or sanitation? And above all why, after a century of decline, have mortality rates among middle aged American whites been rising for 15 years? Has progress in health, like progress in growth, slowed down or reversed?
7. Poverty at home and abroad, and what to do about it
All of us know that there is dreadful poverty in Africa and in Asia, and the citizens of Europe and North America give generously to combat it, through their governments, through international NGOs like Oxfam, and through international organizations, like the World Bank. How much do we know about the effectiveness of this aid? Is it better to give money to save lives than to reduce poverty? Is it really true that there is no one in Europe or North America who is as poor as the poor in developing countries? We need to seriously rethink the foundations of poverty aid, how we give it, and to whom.
8. Food, nutrition, and hunger
Hunger is not the same thing as poverty, and malnutrition is not the same thing as not having enough to eat. Yet most of us, when we think about poverty in Africa and Asia think of hunger, even starvation. This is wrong, but there are many puzzles about what is right. Adult height, which is a measure of nutrition in childhood, is unrelated to national income in childhood, except in rich countries where nearly everyone has enough to eat. In India today, economic growth has come with a decline in calories consumed, even though heights are rising, more for men than for women. Sub-Saharan incomes are lower than Indian incomes, but sub-Saharan Africans are taller than Indians, though they have higher infant and child mortality. The link from income and food to nutritional status is mediated by a range of other important factors, especially the extent of physical labor, sex discrimination, and sanitation.