Amartya Sen

An Indian economist, philosopher, and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, “for his contributions to welfare economics” for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, and political liberalism.

Sen’s seminal papers in the late sixties and early seventies helped develop the theory of social choice. In 1981, Sen published Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, a book in which he demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. Sen’s interest in famine stemmed from personal experience. Sen points to a number of social and economic factors, such as declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food-distribution systems. These issues led to starvation among certain groups in society.

Sen’s work in the field of development economics has had considerable influence in the formulation of the Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme. This annual publication that ranks countries on a variety of economic and social indicators owes much to the contributions by Sen among other social choice theorists in the area of economic measurement of poverty and inequality.
Sen’s revolutionary contribution to development economics and social indicators is the concept of ‘capability’ developed in his article “Equality of What.” He argues that governments should be measured against the concrete capabilities of their citizens. In order for citizens to have a capacity to vote, they first must have “functionings.” These “functionings” can range from the very broad, such as the availability of education, to the very specific, such as transportation to the polls. Only when such barriers are removed can the citizen truly be said to act out of personal choice. It is up to the individual society to make the list of minimum capabilities guaranteed by that society.

Sen was seen as a ground-breaker among late twentieth-century economists for his insistence on discussing issues seen as marginal by most economists. He mounted one of the few major challenges to the economic model that posited self-interest as the prime motivating factor of human activity. While his line of thinking remains peripheral, there is no question that his work helped to re-prioritize a significant sector of economists and development workers, even the policies of the United Nations.

All the above information was compiled from Wikipedia.

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