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Development as Freedom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2006

    A Holistic Approach Towards Development

    Development as Freedom is a popular summary of economist Amartya Sen's work on development. In it he explores the relationship between freedom and development, the ways in which freedom is both a basic constituent of development in itself and an enabling key to other aspects. No knowledge of economics is assumed ¿ there is no mathematics at all, not a single equation ¿ and the more philosophically complex material is concentrated into a few places. And, while there's the occasional historical analysis, most of the examples are recent or even current. Sen's prose does have a tendency to the wordy, lacking concision, but the result is nevertheless broadly accessible. Covering a diverse range of topics, it should have something for anyone involved with development. Rather than the common focus on income and wealth, or on mental satisfaction (by utilitarians) or processes (by libertarians), Sen suggests a focus on what he calls capabilities ¿ substantive human freedoms. And he argues for a broad view of freedom, one that encompasses both processes and opportunities, and for recognition of 'the heterogeneity of distinct components of freedom'. 'An adequately broad view of development is sought in order to focus the evaluative scrutiny on things that really matter, and in particular to avoid the neglect of crucially important subjects.' Though of course it is ¿ and must be ¿ a matter of debate as to what is important. Freedom is both constitutive of development and instrumental to it: instrumental freedoms include political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency, and security, which are all different but inter-connected. Sen ranges widely in illustrating this, considering the contrast between China and India, education and basic health care as drivers of growth, and mortality reduction in 20th century Britain. Chapter three is more theoretical, with Sen himself suggesting some readers may want to skip sections. In it he explores different informational bases for evaluating justice ¿ utilitarian, libertarian, and Rawlsian ¿ and argues for a focus on the capabilities of people to do and be what they value - more on the lines of Martha Nussbaum and Kashif Hasnie's work at Chicago. He stresses that this is not an 'all or none' choice ¿ that even if an approach has limited application, answers to some questions may be useful. Further chapters apply these ideas to specific issues. Sen argues that capability deprivation is a better measure of poverty than low income, because it can capture aspects of poverty hidden by income measures. Illustrative examples include differences between the United States and Europe in healthcare and mortality, comparisons between sub-Saharan African and India in literacy and infant mortality, and gender inequality and 'missing women'. In chapter five Sen ventures into some of the most contested areas of economics. He surveys the role of markets, their efficiency, their ability to provide public goods, and their relationship with the state. And he considers the targeting and means-testing of welfare, suggesting that capability-directed provisioning may create less distortion of market incentives. Economic needs are considered by some to be more important than political freedoms, but the opposition is, Sen argues, mostly illusory. He also reminds us that democracy, as well as being an end in itself, plays an instrumental role in giving people a voice and a constructive role in shaping values and norms. 'Political rights, including freedom of expression and discussion, are not only pivotal in inducing social responses to economic needs, they are also central to the conceptualization of economic needs themselves.' It is also important to support the effective functioning of democracy: formal rules are not enough without good democratic practice. In chapter seven Sen summarises some of his best-known work, on famines. These are usually caused by a

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2014


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    Posted June 26, 2014


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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    Must adopt this framework

    To get the negative comment out of the way: This book repeats itself. Quite a bit. So be prepared to scan.

    Other than that, it's a good summary of Sen's work in developmentalism. It's a more theoretical book on the framework for understanding development than it is a step-by-step guide to getting developed, which is actually probably more useful at this stage in the game.

    The short version is that freedom is the end goal of development, and all processes towards development and all results of development should be judged against it. It supplants paternalistic development schemes (the West tells you to do X and then you'll be rich, when that doesn't happen it's your fault) and short-circuits may discussions on the topic in a constructive way.

    Sen approaches the topic with not just a conscience (as the sleeve says) but also a certain zen towards messiness and complexity. You can't help but feel that the world would be better off if everyone in power on the global stage read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2005

    I can say that Amartya Sen is the father of Development philosophies.

    I really like the part that poor countries need not to wait until they are rich in order to invest in basic social services which essentially help the in need to realize their freedoms-substantive capabilies- to lead a life they really value.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2000

    Yes, Virginia, capitalism can help people

    This book is about economics, mostly. The author is a Nobel prize-winning economist, so that shouldn't surprise us a whole lot. However, this book takes a different tack than any economics book I have read up to this time, which admittedly is mainly collegiate textbooks. As is evident by the title, this book is about the relationships between the concepts of 'freedom,' and the concepts of 'development.' The author tackles the question of whether economic development or political and sociologic 'freedoms' are more important. The main line of reasoning is that they are both important, though Mr. Sen, through his arguments, implies that freedom is more important. This is a very complex book, which tackles a number of issues ranging from 'women's rights' (Mr. Sen is a strong proponent of economic rights for women) to the causation of famines and how they never seem to happen in representative democracies with a free press, but happen fairly consistently in authoritarian regimes. He also tackles the 'asian values' issue, and nicely shreds it by using the arguments of proponents against them. He also goes somewhat into depth on the writings of Adam Smith, and he certainly helped increase my knowledge of Adam Smith's main ideas, which are much wider than we are sometimes led to believe. This book is highly recommended for anyone who feels knowledgeable enough to tackle the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed my graduate-level economics class, so I felt well-prepared for the discussion in this book. Mr. Sen does a good job of writing at the layman's level, but some background in economic theory will prove very useful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2000

    must reading for any intrested in the world we live in

    To every President of every country- PLEASE read this book! To any one intrested in how to help make the word better- read this book! One of the best books i have ever read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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