An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution / Edition 1

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How should economic and social theory accommodate empirical facts about physical destitution, and how should governments respond to famines and hunger? This interdisciplinary book focuses on these and other questions about physical being. Dasgupta's aim here is to offer a description of destitution as it occurs among rural populations of the poor countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; to give an account of the forces at work which perpetuate destitution, and to offer prescriptions for both the public and private spheres of life.

A central concern of the author has been to reconcile theoretical considerations with the empirical evidence that has been obtained in the several disciplines this work encompasses, including anthropology, demography, ecology, geography, and philosophy. The entire discussion is designed to provide a philosophy for human well-being that can guide public policy in poor countries. Therefore, the role of the State, of communities, of households, and of individuals is studied in considerable detail.

The author reveals an empirical link between greater political and civil liberties and improvements in life expectancy at birth, national income per capita, and infant survival rates. He identifies patterns of asset redistribution that promote economic growth by raising labor productivity, and argues that democratic participation in the design of public policies is not only intrinsically valuable, but has strong instrumental virtues: it allows privately held information to be put into effective use. Dasgupta presents evidence to show that significant reductions in military budgets would free the resources needed for the satisfaction of citizens' basic economic needs, and he provides guidance for the motivation and necessary focus of governments. He also looks at the allocation of food, work, health care, education, and income across genders, age groups, and orders of birth. He explores the findings of nutritionists on the link between food needs and work capacity, and develops a language to allow the environment to be included in social policies and calculations. By covering an unprecedented range of material, An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution becomes required reading for all those concerned with the human situation and the plight of the destitute.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A work of encyclopedic learning and matching unusual combination of boldness and subtlety....His passing remarks on how many recalcitrant facts a theory can decently leave unexplained would provoke a class in the philosophy of science. His discussion of recent ideas about the duties one generation owes to the next would provoke another. I suspect that there are more economists who can appreciate Dasgupta's moral philosophy than philosophers who can appreciate his economics, but both will surely benefit from reading his arguments. In spite of the grimness of much of his subject matter, the book yields the pleasure that only a very clever thinker can give his readers."—New York Review of Books

"There is much in the book that readers from different disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and political science, will find informative, insightful, and instructive....Dasgupta's excursion into moral philosophy is illuminating and informative."—Journal of Economic Literature

"The book is of considerable value for anyone involved in research on economics and public policy, theoretical or empirical. The more theoretical sections are applicable to a much wider range of issues, and the presentations in general are sufficiently compartmentalized that the work can be treated almost as a kind of encyclopedia of philosophical, statistical, economic and policy issues....The book is perhaps even more important, however, from the perspective of political theory and political science, for what it offers by way of philosophical foundations for making the elimination of destitution a priority, and how such a concern translates into policy recommendations for reducing the incidence of destitution in the world."—American Political Science Review

"An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution is in many ways as impressive as Hume, Smith and Marx themselves."—London Review of Books

"What makes this book of special interest to physicians with broad social concerns is the meticulous and penetrating examination of the economic consequences and costs of malnutrition and ill health and of the obligations of society, and government, in the face of such costs....A serious and important book."—New England Journal of Medicine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198288350
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/24/1995
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 680
  • Lexile: 1310L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.19 (w) x 6.13 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Partha Dasgupta is Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St. John's College. He was also Professor of Economics, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Program in Ethics in Society at Stanford University from 1989-1992. He is Research Advisor to the United Nations University's World Institute for Development Economics Research, Chairman of the Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, and Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for Policy Reform.

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Table of Contents

Part I Well-Being: Theory and Realisation
The Commodity basis of well-being
Part II Allocation of Resources Among Households: The Standard Theory
Resource allocation mechanisms
Part III The Household and its Setting: Extensions of Standard Theory
Land, labour, savings and credit; Households and credit restraints (Appendix)
Part IV Undernourishment and destitution
Food needs and work capacity
Author and Subject Indexes

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    Exceptional Book!

    I consider this book to be the finest piece I have read, transcending the lines between technical economics and philosophy with ease. Professor Dasgupta traces his study of poverty first to philosophical implications and concepts of poverty, and then uses that to empirically understand destitution. His analysis here is unparalleled in its exhaustive nature. My only regret is that the book is so long and requires so much pondering and prior knowledge in this area that it may receive a smaller audience than it deserves.

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