on June 26, 2004
I read this book because Sen had written the preface to one of my favourite books, Paul Farmer's "Pathologies of Power." I had absolutely no knowledge of economics when I went into this book, but a friend assured me that it was very accessible. It was fairly accessible: but perhaps my ignorance was just extreme. There were a few terms that I had to google, but overall it was a good introduction to some economic theories.
As to the economic theories themselves: just plain brilliant. Who says that economists have no common sense? This book just made complete and utter... sense! I just sat there shaking my head, because sentence after sentence was phrased in just a way to make it so obvious that I wondered why I had never thought of it... and why those who have the power to listen to this book don't do something about it.
I recomend this book to anyone who is interested in the state and the future of developing economies. Frankly, this should cover everyone who lives in North America and Western Europe because (as Sen shows) what affects horribly impoverished people on the other side of the globe affects us too. No knowledge of economics is required (though you might find Google helpful ;-) ), but an open mind and a modicum of common sense is necessary.
on June 30, 2004
Amartya Sen, winner of 1998 Noble Prize in Economic Science, in this book, not only turns decades of economics on its head by arguing that economic development and individual freedom should go hand-in-hand, to counter poverty, but also lambastes Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew's "Asian Values thesis", also known as "the Lee thesis", that promotes economic development at the expense of freedom in the initial stage of development.
In a clear departure from the main stream of economic thoughts that concern with achieving economic well-being for individuals, Sen, however, contends that freedom of individuals - economic and political freedom and civil liberties, should not be divorced from economic well-being. In fact, he believes freedom should be the principal goal of economic development as well as as the principal mean to counter poverty and insecurity. Freedom and development, rather than being hostile to each other, actually reinforce and complement one another to achieve economic prosperity and ultimately freedom for all. Democracy is not a luxury whereby only rich or developed nations can splurge, but should be seen as an end per se as well as a guiding force to foster and promote economic development and individual freedom.
Clearly, Sen is up against most economists who confine themselves to only measuring individual well-being in economic terms like GDP per capita and neglect the non-economic factors like freedom of speech and press freedom. Sen, instead, attaches great importance to freedom. He believes the goal of achieving freedom need no justification and every society should also work towards achieving it regardless of whether it promotes economic development.
The book on the whole provides much insights to what we usually known as economic development and how we should see it in the light of freedom for individuals. Though I may not totally agree with his analysis, I am sure that I will not see the issue of development and freedom the same as before.
on April 4, 2004
In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen tells us that the process of development is best understood as expansion of the freedoms that people enjoy in five spheres: political, economic, social, transparency (in the sense that important information is available to the public), and personal security. Each of these types of freedoms reinforce one another and contribute to outcomes such as higher incomes, better health, and longevity. Sen quotes Peter Bauer, an iconoclast in the development field, as saying that "I regard the extension of the range of choice, that is, an increase in the range of effective alternatives open to the people, as the principle objective and criterion of economic development; and I judge a measure principally by its probable effects on the range of alternatives open to individuals."
Sen points out that markets are not simply a means to an end but rather a fundamental freedom. All people want to enter into exchanges with others, and this is how people everywhere behave unless they are prevented from doing so. Sen shows that markets are not an expression of rapacious self-interest but rather are dependent on virtues such as trust and rectitude. Seen in this light, market exchanges are an expression of deep human needs. Yet Sen realizes that markets have limitations and he argues for non-market decisions to optimally provide for education, health care, protection of the environment, and prevention of the grossest inequalities in income distribution.
As an illustration of the interrelationships between the different types of freedoms, and between these freedoms and economic outcomes, Sen explains the Asian economic crises of the late 1990s as partly a result of a lack of transparency: that is, a lack of public participation in reviewing financial and business arrangements. Had they been able to, members of the public likely would have demanded greater transparency and the crises might have been averted; however, authoritarian political arrangements prevented effective demands for transparency. And, once the crises struck, the response of governments in the region was inadequate. Had these governments been democratically accountable, they would have responded more quickly and forcefully to boost employment and otherwise cushion the impact of the crises on the poorest members of their societies.
Sen, the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in economic science, has aimed this work at a general audience. For specialists, though, the book offers an extended discussion of methodological issues introduced by Sen's view of development as freedom, more than 50 pages of end notes, and an index of names and subjects. This book will be an adventure for readers interested in the greatest problem us at the outset of the 21st century: how can the poorest people in the world live better lives?
on December 18, 2012
Amartya Sen brought the Economic Science to its core as part of moral philosopy. He recognizes the importance of growth of GDP, GDP per Capita,or economic organization, Industrialization or the advances in technology as factors that lead to economic development but they are also other factors that can not only be explained in pure techinical or mathematical terms.This factors include for example: political and civil rights,The right to have facilities for education and health care. All the above mentioned factors can play a very important role in removing major sources of unfreedom, and freedom means development. Amartya Sen made a revolution in economic development by restoring the ethical dimension to the vital economic problems as mentioned by the Noble Prize committee in 1998.In my opinion in the age of globalization social factors are vital in determing economic development. This book changed the way which economic development is taught in universities around the world. This book can be very useful for policy makers, international organizations, students who study economic development or international development, it is also imporant for any one who is interested in development issues and the world economy.
on December 12, 2003
There are few riddles more entrenched in the economist's mind than that of how economies prosper. Economists have been baffled by the miracle of economic growth and have offered various hypotheses to account for its existence: the expansion of markets, the enforcement of property rights, strong governments that invest wisely, Protestant ethics, Asian values, international trade, technological growth, people's savings, and so on.
While theories abound, the economic profession, smitten by the desire to quantify, has often been too narrow in its approach to development. Discussing what motivates economic growth usually entails the use of elaborate equations and complex graphs. "Development as Freedom" is a both welcoming exception to that rule, and a direct challenge to it.
The thesis that Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, puts forward is that freedom is and should be both the means and the ends of development. The former (that freedom promotes development) flies in the face of conventional wisdom that prioritizes economic growth over political enfranchisement. Yet Mr. Sen defends with eloquence, both theoretical and empirical.
As for the latter, Mr. Sen offers an alternative to the "growth per capita" approach to economic development. Development, Mr. Sen contends, should be a process by which people can live the lives they have reason to value. This thesis can be traced back to the writings of the classical economists, and more recently to Frederick Hayek and Peter Bauer. But one would be hard pressed to find policy makers today speaking in terms of enhancing people's freedoms rather than merely increasing their incomes.
In the end, "Development as Freedom" is probably the most ambitious work on development economics in last quarter century. It shares with other classics an attempt to encompass the various processes of economic development under one theme-in this case, freedom. Yet, what is remarkable is not how much Mr. Sen has brought in under the umbrella of freedom, but how little he has left out.
on October 15, 2003
Nobel Prize-winning economic scientist Amartya Sen attempts to popularize a series of lectures he presented to executives at the World Bank in 1996. He challenges traditional economic theories to justify a more aggressive, humane and generous funding formula to benefit the world's poorest nations. This goal is based on his theory about individual capabilities and functionings, and how they affect opportunity, both person by person and in a society. Even though this is aimed for general discussion rather than Ph.D. course work, it is an extremely daunting book to read, a mental maze land mined with quirky thoughts and a thick lexicon only an academic could love. More thesis than not, the text is 298 pages plus 60 pages of small type footnotes. The short version: the rich get richer and the poor remain deprived of abilities and awaiting enlightened development. We recommend this dense, challenging but, as they say, important book to insomniacs, liberal world bankers, economic policy makers, the Kofi Annan fan club and students of economic science.
on June 28, 2003
Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen argues most convincingly that people need first and most freedom. Freedom is the necessary basis from which poverty, famine, violation of elementary political, social and economical liberties, the protection of the environment and the subordination of women can be dealt with. Freedom means also a change in mentality: human beings should not be considered as patients but as actors.
Real development is removal of intolerance and lack of freedom (opportunities for everyone, a free market, free elections).
His critic of the theorem of Lee (Singapore's ruler Lee Kuan Yew) is essential. For Lee, people don't need first democracy, but economic growth instead. For Sen, the strengthening of the democratic system is a conditio sine qua non for the development process. Free elections will generate economic growth and more freedom, because otherwise the men in power will not be re-elected.
But Amartya Sen argues also rightly that, besides the free market, there must be some basic public goods: education, medical aid, social security and a solid legal system (against corruption). He also fustigates against investment in military goods instead of in those basic public services.
He stigmatizes communism as a new form of feudalism.
This book contains also excellent comments and/or criticism on Pareto, Rawls, Hayek, Arrow, Bentham and Nozick.
The only point I don't agree with is his rosy picture of the Japanese economic and social system (see K. van Wolferen, A. Nothomb's 'Fear and Trembling' or A. Sergeant's 'The old Sow in the Back Room').
This book is the work of a true humanist with a very broad intellectual horizon. An essential read.
on March 2, 2003
Development As Freedom by Amartya Sen explains and examines the complex topic of how people gain freedom through the process of development. In this novel, Sen focuses on economic development and how its progress brings forth an increase of freedom among the world's human inhabitants. He tries to prove this theory through many different sources, including historical examples, comparing and contrasting a number of countries throughout the world, and numerous government policies and practices.
The novel is comprised of twelve chapters that break his theory into smaller bits of similar information. It is also important to note that Sen based Development As Freedom on five lectures he gave as a Presidential Fellow at the World Bank during the fall of 1996. According to him, this novel was written and organized as a much more accessible piece of literature geared towards non-specialist readers. This was done surely for the sake of getting his research and theory out to the interested general public.
But for me, Development As Freedom was one of the least accessible novels I have ever read. I probably would have gotten just as much out of the book if I would have just read the title. Don't get me wrong, Sen makes some great points and does a good job of arguing his position, but it was quite a task to get through his entire novel. Half the time I found myself trying to figure out what he was trying to get across to the reader as well as re-reading the plethora of information he wrote in parentheses. This novel still seems aimed at a population with an excellent understanding of economics and how markets operate. And I myself do not fit into this specific population.
But I did understand Amartya Sen's underlying theory throughout Development As Freedom, which states that humans will gain substantive freedoms through the process of development. This novel definitely focuses on developing countries and how many of their inhabitants are deprived of necessary freedoms that most people in developed countries take for granted. I admire Sen's stance on the issue of bringing forth these freedoms to the developing world. Everyone, no matter where they live, work, pray, etc., should be given a fair chance in life. The author seems to think the same way and has devised an economic theory as to how to bring forth this change. Although I may not understand the technicalities of his findings, I do support his passion for granting freedom to the entire human race.
on November 17, 2002
Sen reviews some to the best research on reducing poverty (broadly defined). He is particularly concerned about the poorest of the poor and marginalized groups. An expert himself on the economics of famines, he brings an interdisciplinary approach to economics (very uncommon for respected economists). Demoncratic institutions and constitutional protections for minority rights are critical ingredients in avoiding famines.
While he points out no economies have eliminated economic cycles, the most severe collapses occur mostly in dictatorships.
There is a wealth of information in this book, with great references for further reading on specific issues.
My only regret about the book is the poor editing. The book reads like a lose collection of lectures. It needs editing to organize the contents more logically, and to reduce repetition. These drawbacks will discourage many readers. Yet, the writing is non-technical, and the contents are so important that I encourage people to plow through to learn what Sen has to say.
The conclusions Sen draws in this book are based on the best economic research. It is very inspiring stuff for anyone concerned about world poverty.
on September 18, 2002
Development is a worldwide, ongoing dialogue, and Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen makes a valuable contribution to it. He argues for the position that development is ideally conceived in terms of building a society that in its social, political, and economic institutions allows the individual to maximize the exercise of "substantive freedoms--the capabilities to choose a life one has reason to value" (p. 74). In this view, individual agency is both the means and end of development. Means, in the sense that "greater freedom enhances the ability of people to help themselves and also to influence the world, and these matters are central to the process of development" (p. 18). End, in the sense that "the success of a society is to be evaluated, in this view, primarily by the substantive freedoms that the members of the society enjoy" (p. 18). He calls this conception "development as freedom."
It is not novel. Indeed, Sen squarely locates in the liberal tradition flowing from the eighteenth-century philosophes. However, Sen makes an eloquent case for his own uniquely nuanced interpretation. He recalls the finest traditions of the classical orator, drawing on his unquestionable economic expertise, broad knowledge, and warm humanity.
The crux of his argument lies in what he believes "substantive freedoms" consist. He defines freedom in a negative way, what he calls "unfreedoms," as "elementary capabilities like being able to avoid such deprivations as starvation, undernourishment, escapable morbidity and premature mortality" (p. 36). He also defines freedom in a positive way, giving examples of "freedoms associated with being literate and numerate, enjoying political participation and uncensored speech" (p. 36).
There is little dispute that "substantive freedoms" generally work together, synergistically, in advancing development, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sen cites very poor countries like India, Botswana, or Zimbabwe, in which he believes the establishment of democracy has successfully thwarted famine, while in Maoist China, in sharp contrast, massive famines arose in the fifties despite its superior economic performance vis-à-vis India. He also cites the well-known inverse correlation between higher female literacy rates and lower child mortality rates.
But there is some debate about whether the expansion of political freedoms, specifically, go hand-in-hand with the growth of economic benefits, that is, in Sen's framework, economic freedoms. Here is the real bone of contention. Sen argues against what is known as the "Lee thesis," meaning the claim that authoritarian regimes, with concomitant restriction of civil and political rights, purportedly have some advantage over democratic regimes in promoting economic advancement. He devotes two chapters--"The Importance of Democracy" and "Culture and Human Rights"--to rebutting this position, and in my opinion, they are the most important part of the book. But Sen is never entirely successful in his rebuttal because at one point he concedes:
...Systematic empirical studies give no real support to the claim that there is a general conflict between political freedoms and economic performance. The directional linkage seems to depend on many other circumstances, and while some statistical investigations note a weakly negative relation, others find a strongly positive one (p. 150).
Sen does not adequately account for the unusual success of the East Asian economies--we must include Japan here--as prospective models in the transition toward development. There may indeed be undisclosed factors operating among these cultures, perhaps even a communal ethos working in a manner distinct from the individualistic ethos on which Sen's conception of development is based.
Sen's objective is to contribute to the dialogue on development. In his words, his motivation is "to draw attention to important aspects of the process of development, each of which deserves attention" (p. 33). In this endeavor, he is eminently distinguished.