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Fogel on Life-Expectancy

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I can’t wait to read Robert Fogel [2]‘s new book, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World [3].

The hot-off-the-press issue of the Journal of Economic Literature has a nice review of this book by Angus Deaton [4].  According to Deaton, Fogel extends Thomas McKeown [5]‘s thesis that the increase in life-expectancy during the past 200 years is much more the result of economic growth and improved nutrition than the result of improvements in medicine and public health.  Deaton questions — compellingly, in my view — Fogel’s (and McKeown’s) downplaying of the importance of public-health measures such as improved sewerage.  But overall Deaton finds Fogel’s data and use of these data wonderfully rewarding.

Here’s one of my favorite insights from Fogel, as expressed by Deaton:

Inventing a Wellsian time machine to take us all back to eighteenth-century England would be as good for our health as transporting us to the moon without spacesuits.  Our bodies are simply too large to survive on the average food supplies then available.

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