Development as Freedom

Development as Freedom

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by Amartya Kumar Sen

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Sen, an Indian-born Cambridge economist, won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economic Science, he was praised by the Nobel Committee for bringing an "ethical dimension" to a field recently dominated by technical specialists. Sen here argues that open dialogue, civil freedoms and political liberties are prerequisites for sustainable development. He tests his theory with examples ranging from the former Soviet bloc to Africa, but he puts special emphasis on China and India. How does one explain the recent gulf in economic progress between authoritarian yet fast-growing China and democratic, economically laggard India? For Sen, the answer is clear: India, with its massive neglect of public education, basic health care and literacy, was poorly prepared for a widely shared economic expansion; China, on the other hand, having made substantial advances in those areas, was able to capitalize on its market reforms. Yet Sen demolishes the notion that a specific set of "Asian values" exists that might provide a justification for authoritarian regimes. He observes that China's coercive system has contributed to massive famine and that Beijing's compulsory birth control policy--only one child per family--has led to fatal neglect of female children. Though not always easy reading for the layperson, Sen's book is an admirable and persuasive effort to define development not in terms of GDP but in terms of "the real freedoms that people enjoy." (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Expanding upon the ideas which led to the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics, Sen (Cambridge) analyzes the nature of modern economic development to diminish the "capability deprivation" of poverty from the perspective of human freedom as the ultimate goal of, and most efficient means of optimizing, economic life. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Avishai Margalit
Amartya Sen has written a noble book on freedom—real freedom, and it's relation to economic development. Sen does much to rehabilitate the idea of real freedom from its debased history.
New Republic
James North
Sen's work is indispensableto understanding how to confront the number-one problem in the world today: glaring, and increasing, global inequality. Development as Freedom is Sen's first extended effort to reach a general of the most important thinkers of our time.
The Independent
This is economics that should be read: not merely for the elegance of its arguments or the wisdom of its judgements, but for the deep and burnished humanity that animates it.
Kirkus Reviews
Economics meets philosophy in this wide-ranging manifesto that identifies freedom as the agent of universal development as well as its goal.

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We live in a world of unprecedented opulence of a kind that would have been hard even to imagine a century or two ago. There have also been remarkable changes beyond the economic sphere. The twentieth century has established democratic and participatory governance as the preeminent model of political organization. Concepts of human rights and political liberty are now very much a part of the prevailing rhetoric. People live much longer, on an average, than ever before. Also, the different regions of the globe are now more closely linked than they have ever been. This is so not only in the fields of trade, commerce and communication, but also in terms of interactive ideas and ideals.

And yet we also live in a world with remarkable deprivation, destitution and oppression. There are many new problems as well as old ones, including persistence of poverty and unfulfilled elementary needs, occurrence of famines and widespread hunger, violation of elementary political freedoms as well as of basic liberties, extensive neglect of the interests and agency of women and worsening threats to our environment and to the sustainability of our economic and social lives. Many of these deprivations can be observed, in one form or another, in rich countries as well as poor ones.

Overcoming these problems is a central part of the exercise of development. We have to recognize, it is argued here, the role of freedoms of different kinds in countering these afflictions. Indeed, individual agency is, ultimately, central to addressing these deprivations. On the other hand, the freedom of agency that we have individually is inescapably qualified and constrained by the social, political andeconomic opportunities that are available to us. There is a deep complementarity between individual agency and social arrangements. It is important to give simultaneous recognition to the centrality of individual freedom and to the force of social influences on the extent and reach of individual freedom. To counter the problems that we face, we have to see individual freedom as a social commitment. This is the basic approach that this work tries to explore and examine.

Expansion of freedom is viewed, in this approach, both as the primary end and as the principal means of development. Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development. However, for a fuller understanding of the connection between development and freedom we have to go beyond that basic recognition (crucial as it is). The intrinsic importance of human freedom, in general, as the preeminent objective of development has to be distinguished from the instrumental effectiveness of freedoms of particular kinds to promote freedoms of other kinds.

The linkages between different types of freedoms are empirical and causal, rather than constitutive and compositional. For example, there is strong evidence that economic and political freedoms help to reinforce one another, rather than being hostile to one another (as they are sometimes taken to be). Similarly, social opportunities of education and health care, which may require public action, complement individual opportunities of economic and political participation and also help to foster our own initiatives in overcoming our respective deprivations. If the point of departure of the approach lies in the identification of freedom as the main object of development, the reach of the policy analysis lies in establishing the empirical linkages that make the viewpoint of freedom coherent and cogent as the guiding perspective of the process of development.

This work outlines the need for an integrated analysis of economic, social and political activities, involving a variety of institutions and many interactive agencies. It concentrates particularly on the roles and interconnections between certain crucial instrumental freedoms, including economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. Societal arrangements, involving many institutions (the state, the market, the legal system, political parties, the media, public interest groups and public discussion forums, among others) are investigated in terms of their contribution to enhancing and guaranteeing the substantive freedoms of individuals, seen as active agents of change, rather than as passive recipients of dispensed benefits.

The book is based on five lectures I gave as a Presidential Fellow at the World Bank during the fall of 1996. There was also one follow-up lecture in November 1997 dealing with the overall approach and its implications. I appreciated the opportunity and the challenge involved in this task, and I was particularly happy that this happened at the invitation of President James Wolfensohn, whose vision, skill and humanity I much admire. I was privileged to work closely with him earlier as a Trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and more recently, I have also watched with great interest the constructive impact of Wolfensohn's leadership on the Bank.

The World Bank has not invariably been my favorite organization. The power to do good goes almost always with the possibility to do the opposite, and as a professional economist, I have had occasions in the past to wonder whether the Bank could not have done very much better. These reservations and criticisms are in print, so I need not make a "confession" of harboring skeptical thoughts. All this made it particularly welcome to have the opportunity to present at the Bank my own views on development and on the making of public policy.

This book, however, is not intended primarily for people working at or for the Bank, or other international organizations. Nor is it just for policy makers and planners of national governments.
Rather, it is a general work on development and the practical reasons underlying it, aimed particularly at public discussion. I have rearranged the six lectures into twelve chapters, both for clarity and to make the written version more accessible to nonspecialist readers. Indeed, I have tried to make the discussion as nontechnical as possible, and have referred to the more formal literature--for those inclined in that direction--only in endnotes. I have also commented on recent economic experiences that occurred after my lectures were given (in 1996), such as the Asian economic crisis (which confirmed some of the worst fears I had expressed in those lectures).

In line with the importance I attach to the role of public discussion as a vehicle of social change and economic progress (as the text will make clear), this work is presented mainly for open deliberation and critical scrutiny. I have, throughout my life, avoided giving advice to the "authorities." Indeed, I have never counseled any government, preferring to place my suggestions and critiques--for what they are worth--in the public domain. Since I have been fortunate in living in three democracies with largely unimpeded media (India, Britain, and the United States), I have not had reason to complain about any lack of opportunity of public presentation. If my presentation here arouses any interest, and leads to more public discussion of these vital issues, I would have reason to feel well rewarded.

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What People are saying about this

[Sen] shows how development, broadly and properly conceived, cannot be antagonistic to liberty but consists precisely in its increase.
—Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Laureate and Emeritus Professor of Economic, Stanford University

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Development as Freedom 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
willyvan More than 1 year ago
In this classic work, leading political economist Amartya Sen writes, "Despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers - perhaps even the majority of people." "It is hard to understand how a compassionate world order can include so many people afflicted by acute misery, persistent hunger and deprived and desperate lives, and why millions of innocent children have to die each year from lack of food or medical attention or social care." He points out that female literacy and employment have the only proven, statistically significant effect on cutting fertility. He notes, "we would expect the Chinese fertility rate to be much lower than the Indian average, given China's significantly greater achievement in education, health care, female job opportunities and other ingredients of social development." He also observes, "the Maoist policies of land reform, expansion of literacy, enlargement of public health care and so on had a very favourable effect on economic growth in post-reform China. The extent to which post-reform China draws on the results achieved in pre-reform China needs greater recognition." Sen writes, "in terms of life expectancies, the communist countries often did quite well, relatively speaking . several of the ex-communist countries now are in a significantly worse position than they were under communist rule." When there are 20 million unemployed in the EU, he asserts that 'policy in Europe has to give real priority to eliminating the capability deprivation that severe unemployment entails'. He argues against the dogmatic prioritising of deficit reduction. He consistently stresses that people are active agents of change, not passive recipients of aid or benefits. He points out, "The acknowledgement of the role of human qualities in promoting and sustaining economic growth - momentous as it is - tells us nothing about why economic growth is sought in the first place. If, instead, the focus is, ultimately, on the expansion of human freedom to live the kind of lives that people have reason to value, then the role of economic growth in expanding these opportunities has to be integrated into that more foundational understanding of the process of development as the expansion of human capability to lead more worthwhile and more free lives." In particular, female literacy and employment are vital to development and freedom. He concludes, "the big challenges that capitalism now faces in the contemporary world include issues of inequality (especially that of grinding poverty in a world of unprecedented prosperity) and of 'public goods' (that is, goods that people share together, such as the environment). The solution to these problems will almost certainly call for institutions that take us beyond the capitalist market economy."
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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KANewYork More than 1 year ago
I ordered this book and 11 other books for a relative. My relative never got the books. Also B&N could not even track the books, telling me that even though I had a tracking number, the books somehow disappeared. I am very upset. B&N ordered replacements and I am waiting to see if my relative would receive them. I will not use B&N to send books anymore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amartya Sen presents a more human face of Marxism by invoking ideas of freedom and multiculturism. But his recipe is more state control and that has already been tried in places like Bengal and Kerala with disastrous effects. This book is failed economics sugar-coated in politically correct language.