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Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Development as Freedom (original 1999; edition 2001)

by Amartya Sen

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1,224119,909 (3.92)14
Title:Development as Freedom
Authors:Amartya Sen
Info:Oxford: Oxford University Press (2001), Paperback, 384 pages
Tags:#MADevPractice, international development, economics, Spring09Reads, DONE

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Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (1999)


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The book is written in 1999, so some data and examples are outdated. The impact of the book is slightly dampened by the fact that his ideas have become less controversial than they were in 1999, and are more or less incorporated in the mainstream now.

I'm not convinced by some of his points that trend a little into political theory (he paints broad strokes over libertarianism, utilitarianism and Rawlsism), in particular I find his delinking of rights with corresponding duties more of a semantical exercise than substantive. Again, this book isn't meant to be political philosophy, so those criticisms might be nitpicky, I know he tackles alot of these issues in a fuller sense in his "Idea of Justice". I find his capabilities approach, (can also be thought of as positive rights approach) idealistic, something to aspire to, even if in some senses it's more vague to pursue.

Two points I found really fascinating was his discussion on famines and interpretations of Ken Arrow's impossibility theorem. His point that modern famines are actually due to loss of entitlements to food rather than actual fall in food output is really revolutionary, and made me think of the issue in a completely new way. I also find his interpretation of the impossibility theorem, (we don't actually need complete and transitive social preferences, an idea explored in Idea of Justice), the enlargement of the informational base as a way out of the impossibility, and partial preferences extremely original and comforting. Overall I recommend this book, it's got a ton of original ideas along with more accepted ideas and is certainly an aspirational outlook for what our society could become. ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
這是一本能夠改變觀念的書,而非僅僅傳達知識的書,由印度學者​Amartya Sen發表的Development as Freedom,認為讓人民享有基本的自由,是經濟發展的要素;更進一步衍申,經濟發展本身並非我們努力的目標,而是為了​ 亞理斯多德曾說道:「財富並非我們追求的善,它僅止於有用、且是為了別的緣故而已」。經濟、發展、財富本身​並非目的,它們的用途在於讓我們達到實質的自由,包括平等、人權、弱者得到照顧,讓每個人都有能力去作他認​為有價值的事情,不受壓迫與剝削等等。​Amartya Sen透過實證與人文精神,精闢地闡述自由的重要性。​ 這本書改變我看事情的視野,也深化我去看問題的本質,不會讓​101大樓或火箭昇空去誤導我們的觀念,因為我們該評價的不是財富,而是分享、慈悲、為他人著想。(中譯本由商周​ ( )
  maoozilla | Apr 2, 2019 |
This book formed the inspiration for my master's thesis, and will always hold a special place in my heart. ( )
  abergsman | Mar 20, 2018 |
This is a treatise on the importance of individual freedom, both as an end in itself and as the best means of economic development. It is based on a series of lectures Sen gave in 1996-7, which netted him a Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Nearly two decades later, all of his points seem obvious, but I bet they were revolutionary at the time. His writing is an odd mixture of turgid institutional-ese with occasional hilarious sarcastic asides or brilliantly lucid and forthright sentences. Here's an example of the prose you get upon opening this book: "[To base our choices on reason] we need an appropriate evaluative framework; we also need institutions that work to promote our goals and valuational commitments, and furthermore we need behavioral norms and reasoning that allow us to achieve what we try to achieve."

Sen credits the "fast economic progress" of East Asian and Southeast Asian economies to social reforms; he claims that in addition to social reforms having positive economic consequences, "lack of social development can quite severely hold up the reach of economic development." He references studies done in India which showed increased economic growth and overall life expectancy and decreased infant mortality and fertility rate after initiatives to improve female literacy and out-of-the-home employment. Additionally, contrasting states within India, or India vs China, show that providing agency and education to women is more effective at reducing fertility and infant mortality than coercive birth control methods. All of this is a delight to read--it's like being told one can have one's cake and eat it too.

Increased freedom and individual agency also prevents some disasters. Sen notes that expending less than 3% of the GNP, or 4-5% of national food consumption, will end a famine, so long as the arrangements are made "in good time." They can be prevented entirely through countervailing government expenditure, particularly in (temporary) job creation. He goes on to say that "Famines are, in fact, so easy to prevent that it is amazing that they are allowed to occur at all. The sens of distance between the ruler and the ruled--between 'us' and 'them'--is a crucial feature of famines."

By far my least favorite section was entitled "Social Choice and Individual Behavior," which consists of dismantling several strawmen (It is impossible to rationally derive social choices from individual preferences! All actions have unintended consequences, so trying to do good will lead to evil, while self-interested behavior will lead to good unintended results!) and a tangled mess of Adam Smith quotes to prove that capitalism does too have ethics. Basically, Sen claims that because capitalism requires mutual trust and norms in order to function, institutional structures and common behavioral codes are created and maintained. This in turn means "the developing countries have to pay attention not only to the virtues of prudential behavior, but also to the role of complementary values, such as the making and sustaining of trust, avoiding the temptations of pervasive corruption, and making assurance a workable substitute for punitive legal enforcement." Personally, I don't understand what makes capitalism so special in this regard--people have to trust each other and set up methods by which they can keep each other in check for *any* system to work. But Sen seems convinced.

The basic message I took away from this was that instead of measuring development through gains in output, income, or consumption, we should focus on how decisions are made within the society, and what opportunities and freedoms people have. Even if development organizations are only concerned with economic growth, they should keep in mind that if people lack rights (such as the right to education or reproductive control of one's own body) and freedom, economic growth will be stalled. ( )
1 vote wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
This was the first book I bought after returning home from two years overseas in 2004. It has traveled with us until now. It's probably best that I didn't read it until recently since I have a much better appreciation of the arguments.

Sen is a Nobel prize winning economist (1998), and one of my grad school teacher's teacher's teacher. He combines economic analysis with moral philosophy. His point (I think) is that freedom is both and ends and a means of development, and we should analyze policies' effects on freedom.

He delves into the philosophical problems of development. For example, material well-being can't be the best measure of economic development because American slaves had higher incomes and life expectancy than certain people in the third world today-- yet they had no freedom. We need a measure of freedom, which requires its own understandings and definitions.

Sen compares the thinking of the Scottish Enlightenment to libertarianism to Rawlsian thinking. So, there are some deep philosophical weeds to wade through. Chapter 4 is the best, dealing with issues of statism vs. markets.

Sen bases his thinking mostly on Adam Smith, and he fleshes out many of the lesser-known aspects of Smith's writings. But he also brings Eastern thought to the table in an attempt to humble Western assumptions of moral/philosophical tolerance. He debunks the idea of "Asian values" being culpable for Chinese statism but roundly points out the progress of the Chinese economically while dealing with their restrictions on freedom.

It's not a book for the non-philosophically or economically inclined. But it was good to read at this stage in my career. I'm more interested in some of his other thinking and works on development.

2.5 stars out of 5. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
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Sen eschews two common ways of thinking about development: 1) that aid goes to passive recipients and 2) that increasing wealth is the primary means by which development occurs. His motivation seems to come from a deep respect for subjective valuation: the individual’s autonomy and responsibility in decision making.
added by mikeg2 | editHarvard Law, Victoria Stodden (Mar 18, 2008)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385720270, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:19 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Amartya Sen is the most respected and well-known economist of his time. This book is a synthesis of his thought, viewing economic development as a means to extending freedoms rather than an end in itself. By widening his outlook to include poverty, tyranny, lack of opportunity, individual rights, and political structures, Professor Sen gives a stimulating and enlightening overview of the development process. His compassionate yet rigorous analysis will appeal to all those interested in the fate of the developing world, from general reader to specialist.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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