A. Sen


 This is a very early summary, so is rather less methodical than the others…


  • Development is the process of expanding real freedoms vs. narrower version e.g. expanding GDP.
    • This perspective bridges the gap between a focus solely on economic wealth and the focus on the lives we can lead.
    • Wealth is not the good we are seeking it is only useful for the sake of something else (Aristotle) it is useful in helping us achieve other freedoms. This may seem like an obvious point but it might be a good place to start the discussion as the repercussions are pretty drastic. I.e. if we imagine a country where many people are unlimitedly wealthy but prisoners of the state, then what good is their wealth?
    • DAF goes beyond wealth accumulation and growth
    • Development should focus on enhancing lives and freedoms

 Put another way development is the process of reducing “unfreedoms”.

    • What are these? Lack of opportunities of health care, education, economic participation etc.
    • E.g. liberty denial + lack of civil rights: Whilst some argue in favour of harsher political systems as a means of promoting development, Sen argues that inter country comparisons do not confirm the Lee thesis, Rather econ growth is a matter of friendly econ climate no a harsher political agenda.
      • Famines do not occur in democracies
      • Political freedom is important on its own and does not have to be justified in relation to GDP growth or other variable, such that that question “do political freedoms increase development” becomes non-sensicle as political freedom is a constituent part of development.

 There are two main components of freedom

  1. Processes – institutional and social framework that allows freedom of action/decision
  2. Opportunities – the opportunities that actually accrue to people of different parts of society.
  • DAF says both 1 and 2 are important.
    • o Liberals are only concerned with 1 i.e. it is the theoretical framework of freedoms that is important and thus if all the processes of freedom are fair or in place, then it is unimportant if some people are actually denied the opportunities afforded others. Here inequality is a natural component of the market/capitalist system, and it is justified as necessary to maintain the freedoms of market we enjoy. Lord Turner made the point last night in his speech that wealth creation is necessarily unequal due to the fact that absolute wealth is valueless; it is only relative wealth that is important.
    • o Consequentialists including the utilitarians, and presumably Marxist/Socialist thinkers are only concerned with 2 i.e. as long as the outcomes are fair then the processes are unimportant. Sen is as interested in that which makes us different as humans as that which makes us the same and thus any focus solely on outcomes (especially aggregate utility) is against his thought. “Maximizing the sum of utilities is supremely unconcerned with the interpersonal distribution of that sum”.
    • o DAF says both are important and its stance is thus anti liberal and anti-utilitarian His argument seems to pave the way for a strong state and potentially market regulation – a libertarian may stop his enquiry once he learns that the market is free and liberalized whereas DAF looks at the consequences of that market as well and will seek to improve the outcome distribution amongst the population.

 Freedom is central to development in two ways:

 The Evaluative Reason

  • The success of society is evaluated primarily by the substantive freedoms that society enjoys.
    • Thus distinguished from purely economic determinants of success/ from the utilitarian focus on aggregate mental satisfaction (including vehement rejection of the idea that some poor people take pride in their poverty or hardship and are thus maximizing utility)/ from the liberal preoccupation with progress.
    • Not denying the link between lack of capabilities and low income, but low income can cause poor health/illiteracy and poor health/illiteracy can be a cause of low income. We need to look further than the obvious correlations. I.e. the role of low income has to be integrated into a broader picture.
    • In this view poverty becomes a deprivation of capabilities not just a wealth index, and thus analysis needs to be tailored.
      • E.g. high unemployment in Europe is missed on income p.c. analysis but captured by DAF. The inequality is not improved by social security transfers as DAF recognizes that employment is something that cannot be made up for by state transfers as employment is empowerment in the home, social inclusion, self-reliance etc.
      • E.g. African Americans much richer that developing world counterparts but have lower life expectancy. This inequality is highlighted by DAF and the causes can be seen to be the social arrangements and community relations as they pertain to AA.
      • Markets:
        • Denials of freedom to transact are an unfreedom as free exchange has value above and beyond the power of the market to produce economic development. This is in no way an argument relating to efficiency.
        • E.g. imagine two countries that achieve the same GDP and efficiency but one is authoritarian. Take one individual that exists in both societies and imagine they have the same job, same pay, same consumption bundles etc. except in the authoritarian country all that is dictated. Are they of equal worth? Sen argues that person would still prefer the scenario of freedom of choice. Therefore markets are no good only for their capacity to generate more efficient outcomes. Do we agree with this? Is it inconceivable that someone would choose a life under the latter regime, let’s assume it is a benign state/dictatorship focused on e.g. equality among communities Syndicalist etc?
        • E.g. freedom to sell one’s labour. Slaves:
          • Life expectancy relatively high + goods consumed were competitive with free labourers yet they ran away and did not return to work post abolition for greater wages. This is because freedom to work is a +ve freedom which is a measure of how well society is doing.
          • FAD sees this freedom as separate from having to show that a free workforce increased agricultural productivity.
          • E.g. Tradition: Some argue that development destroys tradition/culture.
            • If tradition has to be sacrificed it is the individual who must decide not the “guardians of culture”. The people decide which traditions to following and this can include freedom restricting traditions if the people have information about those that do not wish to follow that tradition/access to education etc. They should not choose in ignorance. The burka in France.


“The process of development is the not essentially different form the history of overcoming these unfreedoms.” – there is no precise criterion of development. DAF is not a method for ranking countries absolutely.

 The Effectiveness Reason

  • DAF is against the idea that democracy, social safety nets etc. are a “luxury” that only developed countries can afford and are thus started as social programs after the process of development has begun. This is because freedom is
  1. A.     The primary goal of development. This is the constitutive argument i.e. development consists of freedom, and relates to the evaluative reason (above) i.e. how do we know whether or not a country is developed.
  2. B.     The principal means of development. This is the instrumental argument i.e. freedom brings about development and this is the effectiveness reason. Freedom inspires freedoms, as freedoms interrelate.

 Sen focuses on five freedoms;

  1. 1.      Political freedoms – who governs and under what principles.
  2. 2.      Economic facilities – opportunities to utilize economic resources
  3. 3.      Social opportunities – health, education etc. (this aids in participation of 1 and 2)
  4. 4.      Transparency guarantees – openness, anti-corruption etc.
  5. 5.      Protective security – social safety nets.
  •  These freedoms enhance people’s capabilities and reinforce each other.
    • E.g. econ growth allows increased protective security
    • E.g. education enhances econ growth – human development is not a “luxury”.
    • E.g. China vs. India
      • Social freedoms influenced by social safeguarding of tolerance etc. but also by public support in provision.
      • China: more success in trade liberalization than India. Why? Social preparedness.

                                            i.            More literate

                                         ii.            Better educated

                                       iii.            Healthier

  • All three of the above due to state provision, meant that China was better placed to seize the opportunities that market liberalization gave. Thus health and education were related directly to GDP
    • Not all rosy: China had famine due to lack of political freedoms argues Sen.
    • E.g. Life Expectancy
      • Observed to increase with income, but we need to go beyond this as the income effect operate through a) the rise in income specifically of the poor and b) public expenditure on health.
      • Life expectancy and inequality removal can happen in two ways

                                            i.            Growth mediated – result of fast and broad economic growth

                                         ii.            Support led – result of state provision of health care education etc.

  • The support led methods do not wait for growth e.g.??? has low GNP but high life whereas Gabon has high GNP but low Life (see book).

“The people have to be seen in this perspective as being actually involved – given the opportunity – in shaping their own destiny and not just as passive recipients of the fruits of cunning development programs.”

 Chapter 8 Women’s Agency

  • No longer focused solely on “well-being” of women. Women are seen as agents of change. Agent/Patient distinction nice talking point despite the overlap between welfare and agency. Rather agency creates welfare etc.
  • Limited role of female agency affects the lives of all people.
    • Increased agency in turn removed inequalities that depress well-being e.g. independent income enhances social standing of women and their standing in the household. Outside employment has educational benefits. The income gives more power and thus household agreements can be made that redistribute the common benefits shared in the family.

 Perception of contributions plays a part in a family’s benefit distribution

    • Independent female agency can correct iniquities vis-a-vis men.
    • Can also reduce child mortality
    • Lower fertility rates
    • Sharing in the family in part based on cultural heritage but also related to the standing of women especially in times of shortage (famine) as they are not seen as contributing financially to the family.
    • Freedom in one area (work) has knock on effects for other freedoms (from hunger, illness, relative deprivation). As it expands vision it can also reduce fertility rates (education is another factor).

 Child Mortality Rates

  • When empowered, women can have more influence on family decisions and they naturally tend toward child welfare. However, if saddled with double burden or housework and wage work the effect on mortality can be ambiguous. Literacy however, is statistically significant in reducing infant mortality even when given male reluctance to share the household duties.
    • Labour force and literacy freedom have the effect of reducing gender specific child mortality rates and that rate is unaffected by general development/modernization rates. (Sen: missing women).

 Fertility Reduction

  • High birth rates reduce freedoms not sure all women would agree. Religious duty etc.
  • Educated women less likely to be shackled to continuous child rearing. Wider horizons + family planning etc.

 Economic Activity

  • Women have a relative lack of access to economic resources but given the opportunity they are no less successful than men in utilizing opportunities.
  • This generates independent income + social benefits (reduced fertility, mortality). They are a “major influence for social change”.
  • E.g. Bangladesh – BRAC lending to women.


  • On what grounds do these freedoms rest? Is it obvious that there is something inherent in human beings that means we have a universal right to exchange goods? What does it mean to be free to live to a certain age? And what age should that be? Perhaps we should disregard such problems as ivory tower nonsense. We can all agree that a person should be able to live as long as possible, so who cares on what philosophical basis the notion of a freedom is based? Perhaps the argument would be better couched in terms of abilities?
  • Not a complete theorem. i.e. no concrete mechanisms for change.
  • Not clear that authoritarianism is not conducive to development. Perhaps what really matters in the quality of governance, not the mode of government? What role of the state does Sen’s argument envision, and does a strong perhaps even dictatorial state become a necessary part of his method?

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