Development as Freedom

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By the winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Economics, an essential and paradigm-altering framework for understanding economic development--for both rich and poor--in the twenty-first century.

Freedom, Sen argues, is both the end and most efficient means of sustaining economic life and the key to securing the general welfare of the world's entire population. Releasing the idea of individual freedom from association with any particular historical, intellectual, political, or religious tradition, Sen clearly demonstrates its current applicability and possibilities. In the new global economy, where, despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers--perhaps even the majority of people--he concludes, it is still possible to practically and optimistically restain a sense of social accountability. Development as Freedom is essential reading.

Customer Reviews:

  • Great Political Economy
    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?...more info

  • putting the person in development
    a number of people are turned off once a particular book or essay discusses normative topics. i think that this is somewhat wrong since it refuses all the potentials of our humanity. Amartya Sen's book discusses development as a very human process by harnessing the simplicity of the essence of freedom as a means in the achievement of a developed society. this is truly a must read for every student of political economy and to every politician on the planet....more info
  • A good text to follow others, but shaky on its own ground...
    I found Sen to be interesting, much more so in fact that I likely would have had I not come to Sen with an understanding of the material in Friedman's Capitalism & Freedom, Rawls' Theory of Justice and Schweickart's After Capitalism. In addition to the interest I found in Sen, which itself was based primarily on his new (or at least unique) definition of freedom as being primarily based in the development experienced by or promoted through, the work of the now free people in question. Indeed I found much of Sen's work to be strongly definitional in nature, seeming to draw almost entirely on the definitions of each aspect of his theory as he goes along through the text. This is all well and good until a reader does not share or cannot be made to understand the relation of his sometimes altered definition to the traditionally understood meaning of the terms he uses throughout. I should think, however that many would, could or simply should adopt to Sen's understanding of the major terms of socioeconomic influence and would be no worse off for it, and perhaps in the process, would have developed a more liberal viewpoint from which to gauge their own actions as well as those of others. In the notion of freedoms as being inhibited by unfreedom as put forth by Sen and later developed to be the idea of development as opposed to limited capacity to act, this is certainly true; when one comes to identify an unfreedom specifically as the limitation of another's rational and autonomous capacity, a certain liberalized viewpoint must enter into consideration in the form of a desire to release the constraint. This is precisely why I suspect Sen words his text as he does, to not only express his meaning, but to compel the reader to adopt a sympathetic yet active viewpoint of the struggle for freedom.
    Though the text is long, it seems to me that much of its drive may be summarized fairly simply; the affluent will grow more so, based on the extent of the resources available to them, and the poor will remain so, continuing to be deprived of abilities (usually at the hands of the rich), and will continue to await an enlightenment that, according to Sen, will never arrive with the obstacles that are in place now being left as such. This is a difficult aspect of the text to my understanding largely due to the fact that while it serves admirably as a "call to action" there is very little actual action or proposals for potential actions within the book itself and by this I mean that while providing an impetus to act in the form of presenting the problem and perhaps creating in the reader the desire to act in some way, Sen provides very few avenues along which to do so. It would seem to me that few readers will find the motivation in Sen beyond a feeling of needing to do "something" that will allow and indeed encourage them to seek further action against the injustices (in the form of Sen's unfreedoms) that will continue unchecked without such action. I do not mean to say that Sen's text is ineffectual, for it indubitably calls the reader to action, though falls short on proposals for how to accomplish said actions.
    On an economic basis, for up this point we have been led by our read authors to view freedom as inherently tied in to finance, Sen makes the clear case that it is freedom and not wealth that should be maximized. He defines a freedom as anything we have a reason to value (and not just in the sense of monetary or capital-producing value as before) and equates this new definition to understanding and agreeing with the value of freedom in society. For example, societies may want strive for political and economic growth to equal a sense of development, but development can also be, and Sen would seem to indicate is much more aptly and workably defined as extended life expectancy (the freedom to enjoy more years alive as opposed to the unfreedom of an early death) or less hunger (the freedom to avoid hunger in opposition to the unfreedom of starvation). Freedom and development, the two pillars upon which this book is supported are not so diametrically opposed as many may have thought previous to coming to Sen; and furthermore, on a Senian account, they actually reinforce and complement one another to achieve freedom for all by means of making economic prosperity more available to all. Sen seems to indicate that democracy is not a luxury whereby only rich or developed nations can profit and purchase to excess, but should be seen as an end in itself in a Kantian sense, as well as a guiding force to foster and promote economic development and individual freedom; a concept Friedman, Rawls and Schweickart should all certainly be able to agree on.
    ...more info
  • When moral philosophy and economics mix
    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....more info

  • A brillant and provocative book
    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....more info

  • Business Sense In A Not-So-Sensible World
    I can relate to to wisdom and clear trail of knowledge and experience easily and relevantly. I am reminded of the old saying that it is better to teach a man, or in the present context, also the woman, how to fish rather than to give a fish; I would go a bit further to amend the old saying even further: It would be still better yet to bring within the economic grasp of the majority the overall costs of the fishing pole, the bait and tackle, the fishing licenses, and so on....more info
  • A Solid Effort!
    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....more info
  • a wonderful work
    This is a must read for all people, the work is not just on economics but how we live our lives. One of the top economists in the world, shows how there is more to economics then just markets. Freedom is more then just free speech, and is critical in human development. ...more info
  • A great thesis on the real purpose of economics
    This is a good book by great economist. But, if you are not an economist, like me, you may suffer a bit through the general discussion on economic philosophies through the first few chapters. Once into the later part of the book where modern case studies and data illustrate his point, I found his argument very deep and interesting.

    Amartya Sen chooses to describe poverty not as a lack of resources, but as a lack of freedoms. Those freedoms include choosing where to live and work, with whom to associate, freedom to choose our leaders and decide the rules we live by, and many others. This key point is useful in that it does not focus solely on maximization of wealth as a way out of poverty. The problem with poverty is not lack of money, but that lack of money means that people are not free to make their own way in life. They may be trapped being at the mercy of nature, an opressive government, or an economy cripled by bad policy. The conclusion therefore, is that money alone cannot fix the real problem. Government reform, economic liberalization, and the general increase of personal freedoms is the true end we are striving for. Increasing incomes is one of several necessary steps to be accomplished and not an end in and of itself.

    Sen's thesis in this work is often reduced by others to simple phrases like "democracies never have famines" or other simplistic phrases that are not entirely accurate with what Sen is actually arguing. You can find exceptions to some of these simple summaries, but the whole of Sen's argument remains very compelling describing the roles and responsibilities of individuals, institutions, and governments in achieving development and real progress....more info
  • An oustanding work
    Although certain sections of this book are tedious and technical, the content is interesting and the analysis of current development policies provokes the reader to consider how to unite the concepts of development and freedom.
    Sen was exposed to poverty when young and has done extensive research on the nature of poverty, starvation and other deprivation. His work is deserving of the Nobel Prize which he received in 1998....more info
  • Five stars- A superb lie
    James Versluys, editor, Houston Review

    This is a very hard book to rate on some kind of star system. Being a longtime fan of Armatya Sen, this remains one of my favorite books, and it contains a good deal of worthwhile information and is an excellent general discussion of development.

    The problem with the whole book arises out of a very open and rather immediate consequence of Sen's reasoning. Simply put, development is not freedom, it is development. "Freedom to", or the "positive freedoms" are nothing of the kind- freedom to something is simply a trick phrase used by academics in general as a rather conscious attempt to subvert the meaning of the word.

    I call this approach the 'trigger word problem'. Politics likes to use certain emotional and somewhat vague words to its advantage. The political left has not for a long time been able to use the word freedom in a political context to its advantage for the simple reason that they're not for it, but consequently do not want to be seen as the enemies of freedom.

    Consequently the diversion of the idea of "positive freedoms" has come about, and is one of the central lies of this exccellent book.

    Development is not freedom, it is development. Being "free" to have something may indeed be a good thing, but it remains an entitlement, not a freedom. The term is only honestly used when it is used in the negative sense.

    Arguments may be made for any number of Sen's points. Certainly freedom in a political sense enhances the possibility of advancement in wealth and health. And there is a vaguely defined but nevertheless certain truth that people who have advanced economies will have a tendancy toward general freedom- these points are as obvious as they are important to understanding development. The problem is freedom is not a number of dollars on one's pocket. One does not describe a man with enough money to buy a limousine with a driver as a man with an important freedom. People can be poor and free or rich and not free.

    Development as freedom rests on a linguistic trick of the word "freedom" arising from the need of a political left not to be on the recieving end of the political rights attacks. Whatever one thinks of the actual issues involved, Sen and his cohorts in political thinking (Isiah Berlin) have created a false sense of a basic political word, an Orwellian attempt to deform language for simple political ends. No one is "fifty dollars freer" than they were before payday.

    Freedom is freedom. Development is development. They are interrelated subjects the same way economics and politics are related, but they are also different in the same way politics and economics are words with seperate meanings. This book is a clear attempt to benefit from the good will that comes from a valued word and deposit the good feelings on to certain political ends.

    This is an excellent book. I highly suggest it to everyone. It is, however, a consciously produced intellectual lie by a superb sophist. This book would have been much better had it not decided to explain development as freedom. The book could have stood well on its own by discussing the relationship developed economies have with freedom. It IS interesting and relevant that political freedom aids development and that development aids in freedom. Had Sen merely noted the relationship as coinciding together, he could have made one of the best arguments the left has in rational choice philosophical modelling. As it is, Sen has besmirched one of the few good works of the left by wrapping his politics in the glory of a word. Lies do not deserve credit.

    This book has in it the workings of a dozen good conversations. That makes the dissapointment worse. Word tricks do not add to debate....more info

  • Best book to start reading Amartya Sen
    If you are from an India or a developing country, I will strongly recommend this book as your first book into Amartya Sen/Developmental Economics.

    I found this book fascinating in terms of its explanation of different types of freedoms and their importance in development. Though the first two chapters are fairly easy, it gets really hi-fi in terms of using economic concepts after that. If you do not have an MBA or a degree in economics, it kind of gets tricky.

    But if you are from India, you will get answers for many questions that bothered me:

    1) Why did China progress a lot faster than India ?
    2) How come Kerala has a high life expectancy and yet poor development (the answer is not given directly)
    3) What should be the key priorities for public policy in India (the answer is not direct)
    4) Why are free markets important in India... And what is the role of institutional structures in this new capitalist environment of post-1991 ?

    Have fun......more info

  • Progressive Economics to Address Poverty
    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....more info

  • A.K. Sen is a genius, some of his critics are not
    This is an excellent book that should put to rest the idea that coercion is somehow more effective than free choice. Looking at the Chinese and Indian cases of over-population, Sen convincingly argues that education is more effective than naked threat to curb population growth. Moreover, an educated population is more likely to provide stimulus to an economy than one that is not.

    His capabilities approach to equality is perhaps the most helpful of all the current egalitarian approaches. What it provides is a helpful way to thematize the various dimensions in which one might be unequal. There's still a lot to be done in clarifying this type of approach, but that's true of many theoretical innovations which are nonethless fruitful in their sometime lack of clarity. Josh Cohen's review article on Sen's Inequality Re-examined provides excellent criticisms of Sen's approach. Regardless, following Adam Smith (surely one of the most selectively read authors by economists and philosophers), the ability to enter public spaces with out shame is surely a crucial feature of equality. Consider the plight of many women in third world nations. It seems obvious that this is in fact a crucial "positive" freedom. ......more info

  • Excellent
    This book is in reality an argument against relying solely on the market to produce the best outcomes. In the fifties Keynsian thought was triumphant and it was thought that an unrestrained market system would lead to problems. As a result governments had to intervene to ensure demand management and to also deal with problems of structural inequality. In more recent times such an approach has been rejected and any interference with the market is seen as likely to lead to poor outcomes.

    Sen suggests that there are a number of reasons for not abdicating completely to the market although acknowledging its importance as the most efficient way of determining the overall use of resources. Sen is an economist who has been concerned with Developing countries for many years. One of his specialities is the phenomena of famines, why they occur and how to prevent them.

    This book is really a collection of essays that have a common theme. Sen argues strongly that the provision of certain services in developing nations not just as a means of achieving equity but of achieving development.

    The first issue that he canvasses is the importance of democracy. He says that no democratic country has ever had a famine. Even in a country as poor as India it has been possible for governments to prevent famines. To explain the way famines are prevented Sen explains in some detail how they are caused. In 1943 British India suffered a famine in which 3 million people starved to death in Bengal. Oddly enough this was not brought about by a fall in the availability of food but rather by a fall in wages for some groups which led them to not being able to buy food. Sen explains that very modest employment programs have been used by successive Indian governments to prevent this happening again.

    Sen then goes on to argue for the importance of the provision of medical services and education in providing freedom and the potential for development. To illustrate this he discusses the death rates and the death rates by sex in various Indian states. The difference between progressive Kerala and Rajastan are instructive.

    The book is easy to read and is very interesting ....more info

  • Balanced perspective, but problematic thesis
    This is one of the more balanced books on the subject. It is basically pro-capitalist with welfare statism mixed in. His most convincing point was that Democracy is necessary in a developing country in order to give the state incentives to alleviate poverty.

    His most unconvincing argument is that economic freedom leads to development, which is both dubious and idealistic. It is dubious because most countries develop with help of state intervention into the economy (think the railroad system, computers, advertising, airplanes, pharmaceuticals, and the internet: all developed with state support). That is how most dynamic sectors of any economy develop, and is certainly the case in American and Japan. There are few exceptions to that. Sometimes the support is direct, as it is in socialist economies and Japan (the Automobile industry in Japan developed through direct state subsidy). Sometimes it is indirect, like in the United States through the military budget. Nevertheless, free markets in the classical sense have never led to development anywhere. It also is idealistic to assume that free markets lead to development since the trend in all countries is towards oligopoly and corporatism. This is also true in the so-called "developed nations".

    His second least convincing argument is that an advanced welfare state brings (or helps along) development. I think this is a fallacy of causation. Yes it is true that there is a strong correlation between economic development and the advancement of the welfare state, but that does not imply causation. More likely the cause is the increase in state spending in vital sectors of the economy. The military budget (and military spending), for instance, rescued the United States out of the Great Depression. The same thing happened in Germany under Adolph Hitler.

    Despite the problems with his thesis, I think that Mr. Sen does have a humane perspective of the problem. But freedom has little to do with economic development. The Soviet Union is probably the best example of the fallacy of his point: high levels of economic development, very little freedom. How can freedom explain how that Soviet Union developed into a world superpower in a single generation?...more info
  • Distinguishing means and ends
    "Development" is usually thought of in terms of poor and agricultural nations becoming wealthier and more industrial. This view of the world has many implications. Helping these developing countries becomes a matter of charity and we wonder what is so wrong with these places that they cannot achieve economic growth and prosperity. And we must consider the question of whether increasing per capita incomes can really make people better off. What if services such as health care and education are sacrificed? If women are discriminated against, and if the citizens cannot vote? It is not adequate to discuss the goals of development in terms of per capita GNP.

    Amartya Sen would ask us to view development in the frame of freedoms. The ends of development, he argues, are not wealth or productivity, though these can be instruments to achieve certain freedoms. To see the increase of the well being of others comprehensively, we must understand how "well being" is achieved and focus on increasing the freedoms of people. These freedoms include political, social, and economic freedoms and they tend to reinforce each other. Making people better off requires that policy makers keep these goals in mind.

    Sen's book is an articulate, fully developed argument. It is a mixture of economics and philosophy and it is written for a layman, without condescension. That is, it may still be a little difficult to read if you aren't used to academic writing. Those who finish this book, however, may end up seeing development, freedom, and social justice in a fresh and hopeful way....more info

  • sen has mien
    I had no idea after reading some pretty depressing developing country scenarios in "Development as Freedom" last year, that they would affect my country (Kenya) so powerfully. Famine, one of those degrading human disasters, once again stalks my country to the extent that the President had to appeal for international food aid,how regrettable after 40 years of so-called independence.
    As the author candidly points out, famine doesn't occur in countries where citizens have consistent income streams because even if rains fail, food can be imported and purchased. But as usual, in our case, the weather, rather than lack of leadership in economically empowering Kenyans(for instance through food-for-work programmes) was blamed for the famine. Condorcet, a French mathematician, is quoted in the book as saying ..."If they have a duty towards those who are not yet born, that duty is not to give them existence, but to give them happiness."
    I would recommend the book to the next occupant of State House and his (or her) administration, because the current administration is too busy figuring out how to contain Raila Odinga rather than efficiently running the country.
    PS. I'm aware that "Development as Freedom" is more than just about famine, but I'm too 'hungry' to outline the rest of his ideas,I beg your pardon. ...more info
  • Sensible Economics for Everyone
    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....more info

  • Do you have trouble sleeping at night? If yes buy this book!
    Great concepts and ideas, just not very interesting to read. I could only read a page at a time before my mind began to wander off.

    ...more info
  • valuable contribution to the dialogue on development
    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--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....more info

  • Such good ideas... such poor writing
    Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen strikes a beautiful balance here between socialists, who have their hearts in the right place but refuse to accept that the market is the best way to help people, and libertarians who believe in freedom but don't acknowledge that being poor limits your freedom as well. Hailing from India, Sen's focus is on development economics with a view on helping the world's poorest.

    At the centerpiece of Sen's philosophy is freedom: He believe that freedom of action and life is the most fundamental human right. His philosophy comes very close to the "Four Freedoms" articulation of FDR in that he believes both in active freedoms (of labor and exchange, for example) as well as freedom from want, which can be brought about by state assistance. In addition, he also believes that giving people freedom is the best way to bring about progress: hence the title, development as freedom.

    Some sections of the book read as economics, some read as political philosophy, and some read as a modern history. Sen explains why there has never been a famine in any functioning democracy, even though some of them have been among the poorest nations on Earth. He also advocates convincingly for the education and emancipation of women.

    So far I have only good things to say about this book, but I didn't really enjoy reading it and only got through it because I was on a transatlantic flight. Why? Simply put, the writing in the book is painful. Not second-language painful: Sen clearly masters the English language, has an extensive vocabulary and is comfortable with his subject matter. The problem is that the writing is too obtuse: adverbs and obscure words abound, phrases drag on and it's sometimes difficult even for an absorbed reader to figure out what exactly is being said. One simple example: "But while the causal relation is indeed significant, the vindication of freedoms and rights provided by the causal linkage is over and above the directly constitutive role of these freedoms in development." Such sentences abound.

    No argumentative book is perfect, and I sometime disagreed with Sen's arguments such as when he attacked utilitarianism. Overall, however, Sen has put together a coherent economic philosophy that focuses on results and seems to be in line with what works in the real world. If you can get through the heavy, opaque writing, then there are great insights to be gleaned from this book.
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