Courage for progress

An­gus Deaton comes from a fam­ily of Scot­tish min­ers. Here, he tells the story of how he was able to over­come un­fa­vor­able cir­cum­stances to be­come an economist and No­bel Prize win­ner. Ed­u­ca­tion is the strong­est driver of progress and pros­per­ity.

Bulletin - - Contents - Text An­gus Deaton

An­gus Deaton went from mineworker’s son to No­bel Prize lau­re­ate.

The school in the York­shire min­ing vil­lage in which my fa­ther grew up in the 1920s and 1930s al­lowed only a few chil­dren to go to high school, and my fa­ther was not one of them. In his vil­lage, teenagers could go to evening classes to learn ba­sic sur­vey­ing and mea­sure­ment tech­niques that were use­ful in the mine.

My fa­ther worked tem­po­rary jobs in the coal mines, and like most of the young men in the vil­lage, he dreamed of one day work­ing in open cast mines. He spent much of his time as a young man re­pair­ing this ed­u­ca­tional de­pri­va­tion, mostly at night school. He was de­ter­mined that I would have the ad­van­tages that he had been de­nied. Al­though not well-ed­u­cated, and less of an ad­vo­cate for ed­u­ca­tion than my fa­ther, my mother was a great story-teller.

I was born in Ed­in­burgh, in Scot­land, a few days after the end of the Sec­ond World War, and we lived there un­til I was nine. I didn’t care for school much – it was very strict, cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in the form of the “tawse” was com­mon and un­pre­dictable, and I was of­ten afraid – but I be­lieve that I did well enough.

The ed­u­ca­tional high­lights I re­mem­ber were not in the class­room. My fa­ther spent a lot of time with me when he could. He taught me how to take square roots, a skill I have re­tained, but do not use of­ten, ex­cept to check that I still re­mem­ber. At week­ends, he took me to Ed­in­burgh’s great zoo, to mu­se­ums, to the botan­i­cal gar­den (with a gi­ant hot­house) and to the har­bor at Gran­ton.

THE IM­POS­SI­BLE DREAM OF COL­LEGE Loom­ing in the dis­tance over the east­ern end of the botan­i­cal gar­dens was an enor­mous cas­tle, adorned with hun­dreds of grotesque gar­goyles, which my fa­ther wist­fully ex­plained was Fettes Col­lege, Scot­land’s most ex­clu­sive (and ex­pen­sive) school where he had (im­pos­si­ble) dreams of send­ing me – the tu­ition cost more than what he earned in a year.

I was lonely when my fa­ther had to go on long civilengi­neer­ing as­sign­ments away from home, and I re­mem­ber be­ing even more lonely, and des­per­ately bored, when I caught scar­let fever, and had to spend seven weeks in a dark­ened room, with no books and only an in­fin­itely dull ra­dio for en­ter­tain­ment. Bore­dom and lone­li­ness have been fa­mil­iar vis­i­tors through­out my life, though I have come to (re­luc­tantly) ac­cept that the turn­ing in­wards that they bring is linked to cre­ativ­ity, at least for me.

“The most ex­pen­sive and ex­clu­sive uni­ver­sity in Scot­land” – Fettes Col­lege, Ed­in­burgh.

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