Invitation: Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture 2023

The Interim Vice Chancellor, together with SALDRU and DataFirst, will be hosting the first Annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture.

The politics of numbers: economists confront poverty and inequality


Professor Sir Angus Deaton

 Date: Monday, 3 July 2023  Time: 18:00 SAST  Format: Hybrid

Venue: School of Economics Seminar Room, Level 4, Economics Building, Middle Campus, Stanley Road, UCT and online via Zoom

Please RSVP: In-person attendance – email, online attendance – register here

View the programme.

Image: Professor Sir Angus Deaton, who will be delivering the first annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture.

Francis Wilson founded SALDRU in 1975, and was among the most pre-eminent economic researchers of his time. It was he who painstakingly calculated that in 55 years – from 1911 to 1966 – black workers on the goldmines had not only received no increase in real terms, but in fact their wages had decreased by R1 in that time. The racial wage gap had also widened.

His work, combined with a strong social conscience, made him a leading voice for economic justice in apartheid South Africa, exposing the hardship and poverty caused by the migrant labour system and the mining industry. Under his leadership, Wilson put SALDRU and UCT on the map as a leading centre producing evidence about poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

In 2001, Wilson founded DataFirst, which has produced a wealth of survey and administrative data accessible by researchers and policymakers.

Wilson wrote prolifically: from his book “Migrant Labour in the Gold Mines”, published in 1972, until just two years before his death in 2022. His last article was a plea for a Sovereign Wealth Fund to address the historic injustices wrought on the southern African region by the mining industry.

In one of his last messages to students when he received an honorary doctorate in 2016, he reminded them of his own lodestar in research:

“What is needed are hearts on fire and heads on ice.”

It is therefore fitting that Sir Angus Deaton FBA, a Senior Scholar and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Economics Department at Princeton University, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare – and personal friend of Francis’, will deliver the first annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture.

His connection to Francis Wilson and South African research reaches back to the 1980s, and was especially close during the 1993 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development, South Africa’s first nationally representative household survey, conducted under the auspices of SALDRU. He was a key advisor on that project. He used its information to highlight the importance of South Africa’s old age pension for improving welfare in a series of seminal articles with Anne Case.

His current research focuses on the determinants of health in rich and poor countries, as well as on the measurement of poverty and inequality in the US, India and around the world. He maintains a long-standing interest in the analysis of household surveys and is also interested in what randomized controlled trials can and cannot do. His book with Anne Case, Deaths of despair and the future of capitalism was a New York Times bestseller in 2020.

This lecture will be presented online and Sir Deaton will share some thoughts on economists and their role in policy.