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Economic Theorists, Reasoning Villagers

Amartya Sen, 18 August 1983

Palanpur: The Economy of an Indian Village 
by C.J. Bliss and N.H. Stern.
Oxford, 340 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 19 828419 5
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... How can you hide a book that makes a substantial contribution to economic theory? Well, you can call it Palanpur, which is the name of a tiny Indian village. (I look forward to picking up my economic theory in the future from books with such titles as Eynsham and Leamington Spa.) But, in fact, the title is no mystery. This book, which contributes so much to economic theory, is also about the remote Indian village called Palanpur ...

Famine and Fraternity

Amartya Sen, 3 July 1986

Is that it? 
by Bob Geldof and Paul Vallely.
Sidgwick, 352 pp., £10.95, May 1986, 0 283 99362 6
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... The death of somebody one loves is unbearable not only because of its devastating impact on one’s life, but also because it is excruciatingly difficult for one to accept the victim’s own loss of everything he or she had. If one feels lacerated and burnt, this partly reflects the primitive agony of seeing the victim’s incomparable tragedy. The ‘self-regarding’ element in one’s grief at the death of a loved person is thus supplemented by an ‘other-regarding’ element concerning that loved person, even though the two elements may be extremely hard to disentangle ...

Why We Should Preserve the Spotted Owl

Amartya Sen: Sustainability, 5 February 2004

... We all recognise, these days, that our environment is easily ravaged. We routinely damage the ozone layer, heat up the globe, foul up the air and the rivers, destroy the forests, deplete mineral resources, drive many species to extinction, and impose other devastations. The current interest in ‘sustainability’ springs from this understanding. The need for concerted action was powerfully outlined in 1987 in the pioneering manifesto Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development, led by Gro Brundtland ...

On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

... It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin has radically altered the way we think about ourselves and the world in which we live. There are very few events in the history of ideas that can be compared in terms of power, reach and impact with the emergence of the Darwinian analysis of progress through evolution ...

Did we pass?

Robert Cassen, 23 May 1985

Resources, Values and Development 
by Amartya Sen.
Blackwell, 584 pp., £25, October 1984, 0 631 13342 9
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... the others and asked: ‘Did we pass?’ A reviewer confronted with this collection of papers by Amartya Sen is likely to feel much the same. The author has a mind like a search-light, illuminating his material with an intense lucidity; he has a gift for looking at assumptions his colleagues have long taken for granted, and finding them ...

What’s wrong with poverty

John Broome, 19 May 1988

On Ethics and Economics 
by Amartya Sen.
Blackwell, 131 pp., £14.95, May 1987, 0 631 15494 9
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The Standard of Living 
by Amartya Sen, edited by Geoffrey Hawthorn.
Cambridge, 125 pp., £15, September 1987, 0 521 32101 8
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... to say anything about this injustice. A leader in the return to responsibility and good sense is Amartya Sen. Sen’s ultimate motivation, I am sure, is a practical one. He is moved by a deep concern for India, for the poor of India, the women of India, and all the world’s poor. A great deal of his work is in ...

Freer than others

Bernard Williams, 18 November 1993

Inequality Examined 
by Amartya Sen.
Oxford, 207 pp., £19.95, September 1992, 0 19 828334 2
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... Every modern state and every modern political philosophy believes in equality of something. As Amartya Sen points out in this book, even libertarians, who think that there should be no politically imposed limits on what people may retain of what they gain without force or fraud, believe in the equal right to exert oneself in the market and not to be taxed ...

Bendy Rulers

Glen Newey: Amartya Sen, 28 January 2010

The Idea of Justice 
by Amartya Sen.
Allen Lane, 468 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 1 84614 147 8
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... gap between her actual earnings and, say, half the national average, or some other benchmark. As Amartya Sen has shown elsewhere, it’s not what you have that counts, so much as what you can do with it. So the currency of justice should be capabilities. But it is far from obvious how to distribute capabilities justly. But why should one have bothered ...

Human Welfare

Paul Seabright, 18 August 1983

Utilitarianism and Beyond 
edited by Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams.
Cambridge, 290 pp., £20, June 1982, 0 521 24296 7
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... cannot be too far off when we hear no more of it,’ has bowed to the inevitable and edited, with Amartya Sen, this substantial collection of essays by philosophers and economists. And although the title and the balance of the contributors’ sympathies might lead one to suspect a last psychotic attempt to kill the theory off for good, its overall effect ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: The Open Left Project, 27 August 2009

... from equality of opportunity to ‘equality of capability’, a phrase nicked from the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. Except that, not having the Aristotle, he doesn’t mean it quite the way they do. The Open Left project is sponsored and overseen by Demos, one of those nifty think-tanks where besuited young people talk about the emerging ...

What’s Missing

Katrina Navickas: Tawney, Polanyi, Thompson, 11 October 2018

The Moral Economists: R.H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E.P. Thompson and the Critique of Capitalism 
by Tim Rogan.
Princeton, 263 pp., £30, December 2017, 978 0 691 17300 9
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... of social reciprocity. Rogan sees social choice theory, as expounded by Kenneth Arrow in 1951 and Amartya Sen from the 1970s onwards, as a successor to the moral economy. Social choice theory rejects the free-market presumption that the economy is governed by rational choice and abstract rules. Both Arrow and Sen began ...

If Oxfam ran the world

Martha Nussbaum, 4 September 1997

Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence 
by Peter Unger.
Oxford, 187 pp., £35, October 1996, 0 19 507584 6
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... liberty. Moreover, it is by now clear that hunger is negatively correlated with political liberty: Amartya Sen has shown that freedoms of speech and of the press have a big role in averting the inequalities in entitlement that are at the root of disastrous famines. So Unger’s proposal, insofar as it would undermine democracy and create a world ...

How do they see you?

Elizabeth Spelman: Martha Nussbaum, 16 November 2000

Sex and Social Justice 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Oxford, 476 pp., £25, July 1999, 0 19 511032 3
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Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Cambridge, 312 pp., £17.95, May 2000, 0 521 66086 6
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... human capabilities’. This student of Aristotle and of Marx, and sometime collaborator with Amartya Sen, insists that a truly human life is characterised at the very minimum by the possibility of functioning in certain ways. We can judge whether this bare minimum is met by asking not about how satisfied people are with their lives, nor even about ...

How to Write It

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: India after Independence, 20 September 2007

India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy 
by Ramachandra Guha.
Macmillan, 900 pp., £25, April 2007, 978 0 230 01654 5
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The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Belknap, 403 pp., £19.95, June 2007, 978 0 674 02482 3
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... as the alleged transformation of peasants into programmers are what Guha has in mind when he cites Amartya Sen, who worries that one half of India will come to look and live like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa. This could just as easily be said of growth in China in the age of globalisation. Just as significant is the fact that such ...

Enough to eat

Vijay Joshi, 19 November 1981

Poverty and Famines 
by Amartya Sen.
Oxford, 257 pp., £8.95, October 1981, 0 19 828426 8
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... like drought, flood or blight, which reduce the supply of food sharply, causing widespread death. Amartya Sen’s view is different. ‘Starvation,’ he says in the opening paragraph of this book, ‘is a characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not a characteristic of there being not enough food to eat. While the latter is a ...

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