Interview with the 2015 Laureate in Economic Sciences Angus Deaton on 6 December 2015, during the Nobel Week in Stockholm, Sweden.
Angus Deaton discusses what brought him to Economic Sciences; if luck has played a part in his life (1:01); his Prize-awarded work (3:10); when he does his best thinking (4:43); intelligence (6:10); inspiring teachers (7:54); the biggest challenge facing the world today (9:16); what advice he would give himself at 20 years (11:28) and overcoming tough challenges (12:45).
“Can money buy you happiness?” Angus Deaton answers the age-old question in this interview from the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm on 10 December 2015.
Transcript of the interview
[Angus Deaton] Yes.
[Adam Smith] Hello, my name is Adam Smith and I’m calling from Nobelprize.org, the official website of the Nobel Prize in Stockholm.
[AS] Congratulations on the award of the Prize.
[AD] Thank you.
[AS] Fist of all, how did you hear the news?
[AD] By the traditional telephone call.
[AS] Were you asleep?
[AD] At 6:10am this morning.
[AS] Were you asleep when it came?
[AD] No, I wasn’t asleep. We get up pretty early around here.
[AS] Right. And what was your first…
[AD] It was very early though, I mean we had not begun our day.
[AS] No, sure. What was your first thought?
[AD] Oh, my first thought was ‘Oh my goodness’. It’s really happening. I mean, you know, there are many, many, many distinguished economists out there who deserve this prize and so you always know it’s a possibility but that’s very different from… you know it’s a possibility but you also know it’s a fairly remote probability. And so I was just absolutely delighted.
[AS] Lovely, lovely, who did you most want to tell on hearing the news?
[AD] Well, of course the person I most wanted to tell is my wife and kids. My wife was with me and she could hear over the line, so that was the wonderful thing, we could share it. I didn’t have to go and tell her and say ‘Oh, guess what just happened’. So, she actually picked up the phone and she I think had a pretty good idea of what it was.
[AS] Gosh, what fun.
[AD] And so we shared that moment. And I’m now sort of texting and trying to get hold of my kids.
[AS] Of course. What fun it would be to be a witness to such a moment.
[AD] Well, one’s not actually dressed appropriately!
[AS] I don’t know, it’s an interesting question. What is the appropriate dress to receive the phone call in?
[AD] Right, exactly.
[AS] Your work seems to have been really a combination of a desire to measure and increase well-being and also a love of solving puzzles.
[AS] Is that a fair summary?
[AD] That’s a very, very fair description. Just trying to figure stuff out, and also to try and bring data to bear on those puzzles and get some illumination. It’s a murky world out there and it’s hard to figure things out sometimes. You know, the best moments are when, together with… you bring information, you bring data to bear in a way that helps illuminate something that you just don’t really understand. Even if it doesn’t completely clarify it, it just, you know, helps bring it together.
[AS] So much of your work seems to have focused on collecting data at the very local level, at the household level. Why is that so important?
[AD] Well, you know, it’s individually… it’s about people in the end, and if you don’t understand… you have to understand what makes people tick, and you have to understand, you know, what’s good for them. And for me it’s always been about trying to understand behaviour and to try to infer from that behaviour, you know, how people are doing.
[AS] Happily we’ll have a chance to speak more about this when you come to Stockholm to receive the Prize in December. But I just wanted to ask, you’re a Scot, you were born and bred in Scotland, educated in Scotland. Now you’re in the US. Are you a Scot or an American, or a combination?
[AD] All of them, all of the above. I was very glad that, in the end, that the referendum did not make me forced to choose between being British and Scottish. You know I feel very Scottish, but you know my father was born in England, my mother was born in Scotland, and as I think someone else said in Britain at the time, you know I would feel like I would be being personally dismembered. And so I like the idea of being England and Scotland being a part of Britain.
[AS] Nice. And one last thing, the award of the Prize will of course mean everybody’s asking you for your advice on things. How do you feel about that prospect?
[AD] It’s OK. I’m old enough and I’ve been around the block enough enough to be able to say not embarrassing things … about those things.
[AS] Well yes, you sound well in control and very measured. Very good. Anyway, it’s a great pleasure to speak to you, congratulations again. We look forward to welcoming …
[AD] OK, thanks very much indeed. I appreciate that.
[AS] OK, thank you, bye, bye.
[AD] Bye, bye.