Princeton Professor Wins Nobel Prize

Nobel PrizeBy Anne Levin

Princeton University economics professor Angus Deaton has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics, it was announced on Monday. Mr. Deaton, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs and a professor of economics and international affairs at the University’s Woodrow Wilson School, was informed of the honor with a 6:10 a.m. telephone call from Stockholm, home to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“People keep congratulating me today, and I keep thinking, for what?,” Mr. Deaton joked at a press conference Monday afternoon. “I’m slowly getting used to it.”

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences goes to Mr. Deaton for his work in “consumption, poverty, and welfare,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy. Well known for his contributions to understanding consumption at the individual level and in aggregate, he is the author of several books on economics including The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality (Princeton University Press 2013), which was recommended by Bill Gates, “if you want to learn about why human welfare overall has gone up so much over time.”

“The consumption of goods and services is a fundamental part of people’s welfare. The Laureate, Angus Deaton, has deepened our understanding of different aspects of consumption,” the Nobel committee said. “His research concerns issues of immense importance for human welfare, not least in poor countries. Deaton’s research has greatly influenced both practical policymaking and the scientific community. By emphasizing the links between individual consumption decisions and outcomes for the whole economy, his work has helped transform modern microeconomics, macroeconomics and development economics.”

Richardson Auditorium was filled with colleagues of Mr. Deaton, students, University officials, and members of the press. University president Christopher L. Eisgruber hailed Mr. Deaton, who is a native of Scotland, as “a leader not only in his field but on our campus” and “a great economist and a great Princetonian.” Cecilia Rouse, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, praised him as “a devoted teacher known to push students to be better than they thought they were.”

Janet Currrie, the University’s Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and director of the Center for Health and Well-Being, is a former student of Mr. Deaton. Asked Monday by The New York Times what kind of dinner companion Mr. Deaton might be, she said she described him as “enormously funny, witty, well read, frighteningly erudite, and very good company.”

In his own remarks, Mr. Deaton thanked the University, where he has taught for more than 30 years, for providing him with a place to work “without having to worry about all the extraneous things that go on in universities.” He had high praise for the Woodrow Wilson School. “Nobel Laureates don’t usually come from public policy schools,” he said, but the Woodrow Wilson School “really believes in academic excellence.”

Mr. Deaton’s Nobel Prize in economics makes him the fourth from the University to receive the honor. Christopher Sims was awarded the prize in 2011, Paul Krugman in 2008, and Daniel Kahneman in 2002.

A graduate of Cambridge University who taught there and at the University of Bristol before joining the faculty at Princeton, Mr. Deaton described himself as the son of a coal miner with an interest in academics. His working class upbringing “certainly gives a perspective on the world that you don’t necessarily get otherwise,” he said. He is married to Anne Case, the University’s Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs.

Mr. Deaton’s current research focuses on the determinants of health in rich and poor countries, as well as on the measurement of poverty in India and around the world. He also maintains a longstanding interest in the analysis of household surveys. He said he feels passionately about measurement, describing it as “the center of what I do — trying to be honest and accurate about measurement.”

During a question-and-answer session in which queries had been called in from as far as Italy and Latin America, Mr. Deaton said he is worried about inequality and its effects on politics and climate change. “I do worry about a world in which the rich get to write the rules that the rest of us have to obey,” he said.

This year’s Nobel Prize is worth eight million Swedish kronors, approximately $970,000. Asked what he plans to do with the money, Mr. Deaton said he hadn’t had time to think about it. He joked that while he knew his name was on the list of candidates, he thought the early morning call to inform him of his win might be a joke. “But they were very keen to make sure I did not think it was a prank,” he said, adding that when he heard the Swedish accents, he knew it was real.