ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles By Angus Deaton

From Calorie Fundamentalism to Cereal Accounting

Utsa Patnaik's new critique of our work on food and nutrition is wholly unconvincing. Her analysis of international patterns of "total" cereal consumption, interesting as it may be, does not invalidate anything we wrote, and certainly does not indict us of any "fallacies". And her attempt to demonstrate that the decline of cereal intake in India reflects "severe demand-deflation for the majority of the population" is based on a circular argument.

Nutrition, Poverty and Calorie Fundamentalism: Response to Utsa Patnaik

Utsa Patnaik's critique ("A Critical Look at Some Propositions on Consumption and Poverty", 6 February 2010) of the authors' earlier paper on food and nutrition ("Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations", 14 February 2009) does not stand up to scrutiny. She claims that the observed decline in calorie intake at given levels of real per capita expenditure is an illusion due to faulty price indexes, but does not offer any evidence that the consumer price index actually underestimates cost of living increases. Patnaik's "alternative deflator" and "direct poverty lines" are devoid of any convincing rationale. The charge of miscalculations in the original paper is incorrect, and reflects a misunderstanding of what was done.

Price Trends in India and Their Implications for Measuring Poverty

National Sample Survey data on the unit values of a large number of foods can be used to compute price index numbers that can be compared with the official national price indices, the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers for rural India, and the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers for urban India. This paper finds that over the five years from 1999-2000 to 2004-05, the food component of the cpial understated the rate of food price inflation. This understatement can be attributed to the use of long outdated weights (from 1983), and the resultant over-weighting of cereals, whose prices fell relative to other foods. The overall weight of food in the cpial is also too large, so that the growth in the general cpial was understated during this period when food prices fell relative to non-food prices. Under conservative assumptions, the paper calculates that the five-year growth in the reported cpial of 10.6 per cent should have been 14.3 per cent. The nominal poverty lines are also understated. As a result, and ignoring other problems with the counts, the official poverty ratio of 28.3 per cent for rural India in 2004-05 should be closer to 31 per cent; at current rates of rural poverty reduction, this eliminates more than three years of progress.

Poverty and Inequality in India

This paper presents a new set of integrated poverty and inequality estimates for India and Indian states for 1987-88, 1993-94 and 1999-2000. The poverty estimates are broadly consistent with independent evidence on per capita expenditure, state domestic product and real agricultural wages. They show that poverty decline in the 1990s proceeded more or less in line with earlier trends. Regional disparities increased in the 1990s, with the southern and western regions doing much better than the northern and eastern regions. Economic inequality also increased within states, especially within urban areas, and between urban and rural areas. We briefly examine other development indicators, relating for instance to health and education. Most indicators have continued to improve in the nineties, but social progress has followed very diverse patterns, ranging from accelerated progress in some fields to slow down and even regression in others. We find no support for sweeping claims that the nineties have been a period of 'unprecedented improvement' or 'widespread impoverishment'.