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.
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.