This document contains only my personal opinions and calls of judgement, and where any comment is made as to the quality of anybody's work, the comment is an opinion, in my judgement.
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These notes are my about miscellaneous (non-computing) topics, often brief informal reviews of products or shops or places ranging from canned food to pubs.
The great escape
by Angus Deaton, a professor of Economics in a
prestigious, establishment, USA university, mostly follows the
health, wealth, and the origins of inequality.
The book starts by pointing out that the author grew up in a very poor mining village in the UK and via the prestigious, establishment UK of Cambridge he ended up in a very well paid profession in the USA, and so did his own children.
He then devotes two thirds of the book to showing how the
living conditions of the poor and the rich alike improved
immensely in the past few hundred years in
He clearly shows this is mostly due to much improve public health and public infrastructure, which have resulted in much lower mortality rates from infectious diseases and other avoidable causes. Part of the discussion is historical as to the enormous progress in first-world countries, and part in comparing with the progress in the rest of the world.
The last third of the book mostly discusses incomes and their
inequality among countries rather than within, in
particular as to how many people in aeach country are above the
conventional poverty line of
one dollar a day of
spendable income (as in this
related article he has written).
In both discussions he draws heavily on his own research, as
he is an economist with a large interest in demographics and
long term issues, what many economic historians call the
longue durèe. Somewhat in the
The wealth and poverty of nations
by David Landes.
The whole discussion is very interesting as a result, at least compared to most recent research in Economics, which is often pure elitist propaganda veiled in broken mathematics.
It even makes the very important point that in many poor countries until there is a change in the political elites to interest groups with less interest in extractive politics there will be no progress and first-world aid will just support the continuing power of the existing elites.
Also a good aspect of the book is that since the book is mostly about quantitative topics there are at least some graphs, but there should have been many more.
There are a few aspects that I like less, mostly deriving I guess from a long habit of speaking very softly about politically controversial issues:
He does not make sufficiently clear that his own
escape was due mostly to
a practice by the astute elites of the UK to admit in
their instutions and give a chance at a better life to a
tiny percentage of token representatives of the lower
This is mostly so that universally valid statements
cannot be made, and there are enough people who only
believe universal statements, not statistics. Apparently
it makes a big difference to be able to say
Some of our people are from the lower
classes even if that is something like a one in a
The point is only mentioned in glancing when he writes:
Somehow, he managed to persuade my local schoolteacher to coach me outside class for the scholarship examination of a prestigious Edinburgh public (i.e. private) school, where I was one of the two kids in my year that got a free ride.
and when he notes that of of all his group of cousings only himself and his sister managed to go to University and escape into the middle class.
Focusing very much the discussion on inter-country comparisons has very much the flavour of the usual elitist refrain to the poor of the first-world countries: that they should be happy of the enormous distance between them and the affluent of their own countries, because the poor of the other countries have it so much worse.
This is regettable because absolute and relative poverty are really different things with different causes.
However I liked his criticism of the notion of
Pareto optimality that politically aligned
economists use, even if arguing that it should be applied to
welfare rather than narrowly income seems somewhat weak to
However as far as it goes in its cautious language this book could be even considered brave, given the very low standards of other even more aligned economists.
But for me the major defect of the book is an omission: in the part about progress in income and wealth there is no mention of the crucial role of cheap oil to boost standards of living in the past hundred years.
Cheap oil provides not just cheap energy, which is
extremely important, but also in particular cheap
mobile engines, that is engines that provide
motive power using a built-in energy source (the petrol
tank). The classic example is the aptly-named
automobile, that is
propelled mobile carriage.
Without cheap oil mobile power has to be provided by either animals or humans; for example a horse pulling a cart, where the horse is the external power source for the cart, or a human harvesting corn, where the human is the external power source for the sickle.
Cheap engine self-propulsion made possible by cheap oil has allowed replacing very many people with machinery, in particular replacing very poorly paid people who could only supply cheap muscle power. Consider just mechanical harvesters each replacing dozens of serfs needed to harvest by hand, or earth moving machines, each replacing dozens of diggers and porters.
This gigantic omission is the more unfuriating as the authors makes a point on page 9 about how important was coal to the increased living standards of 19th century British people:
Wages were high in Britain after its success in the Age of Empire, and those high wages, together with plentiful coal, provided incentives for inventors and manufacturers to come up with the invention that powered the Industrial Revolution.
Overall I like the book, especially the first two thirds with the discussion of the rarely mentioned but crucial aspect of demographics as driven by public health and public infrastructure. Much less so the last third, which is far too anodyne and generic and politically correct.
This book should have been longer and more detailed too, because as it is it does not amount to easy or exciting reading, and it might as well have been a deeper and longer.
Some other reviews: 1, 2, 3.
The delightful cooked bacon previously mentioned has been slightly revised, and now appears on Sainbury's website.
After being sold for a while for £3 for two packets it is now back to £5 for 3 packets, of the same or different type, withing similar cured meat products.
A detail that I haven't mentioned in my previous entry is that it microwaves very well, becoming warm and juicy, and even a bit crispy.
In an article about a greek-style yogurt manufacturers in the USA there is description of what distinguishes it from ordinary yogurt:
The Greek variety contains more protein than regular yogurt, which makes it more filling, but has little or no fat.
Greek can cost about twice as much as regular yogurt, in part because it requires three times the amount of milk to make the more dense concoction;
This indicates how to figure out whether some yogurt is indeed greek-style, by looking at protein and fat content.
Indeed typically greek-style yogurt has 9-10% protein content versus 3-5%.
I like the classic tubs of Greek style yogurt from Fage which are available from Sainsbury's.
Mark&Spencer have been selling for a long time crispy pre-fried bacon and Sainsbury's like others offer now a similar product.
I have delighted to occasionally find in larger Sainsbury's supermarkets British smoked bacon (photo front, back) with a price of £1.85 per 100g tray or £3.00 for two 200g trays.
It is cooked supple instead of fried crispy, and it has excellent taste and texture, and goes really well into sandwiches and baps.
It is also seems to be quite good value; it may cost twice as much per weight as uncooked bacon, but it also has lost much water because of the cooking, and thus it is 42% protein and 28% fat by weight compared to 30% protein and 17% fat for uncooked bacon, and it is ready to go.
It is also much better value than crispy fried bacon which costs £3.64 per 100g or £3.00 per 100g if bought as 3×55g trays for £5.00.
An issue is that they are difficult to find, as they don't seem to be in the online catalogue, and they appear occasionally in the larger Sainsbury's, and not in the bacon shelves, but classified as cook's ingredients. You can use the photos above to recognize the product.