Sunday, June 12, 2011

Development as Freedom

When people hear the word “development”, 99% of them might think of something related to economic growth. That may, however, be too short sighted and perhaps missing the most important aspect of development. Take mortality rate for example. Mortality rate of black men in US is higher than that of Kerala, an Indian state. It may be dubious to see development only as the economic growth.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize laureate, brought about broader view on development. He argues that the purpose of development is to achieve freedom. According to him, Poverty is a problem in that it deprives people of liberty.

Sen sets out his view on development in the book “Development as Freedom”. In this book, Sen said that freedom composes of five aspects:

  • Political freedom: liberty of political participation. Rights of expression.
  • Social opportunities: opportunities to receive basic education and health care. Social rights.
  • Economic facilities: infrastructure, access to finance. Economic rights.
  • Protective securities: unemployment insurance and the other safety nets.
  • Transparency guarantees: openness to build the trust. Rights to know.

These ideas may have originated from Sen’s personal experience. He lived in an Indian village, which has experienced no famine even though the village was poor. There also was Indian belief that money is not everything – one cannot carry money into heaven. He also studied philosophy, especially libertarianism as the alternative to utilities theory, which has some limitations (the theory often assumes uniformity of personal tastes).

Sen argues that freedom is also the most effective way to achieve it. He strongly believes in the power of people to whom opportunities are given. He says:

“With adequate social opportunities, individuals can effectively shape their own destiny and help each other.”

Freedom empowers people to develop their capability and thus augments human capital. Their collective abilities and decision based on the free market economy would lead to faster growth.

Long before, most of the people thought that freedom such as freedom to have education is the “luxury” that only well-being countries can achieve. The view often justifies “development dictatorship”, the economic model in which an authoritarian government leads the economic growth whose process is sometimes fierce. Sen strongly challenges this view. He quotes some example that even in economically poor countries, prioritizing human development was possible. One example was Japan. In Japan, human development with higher education and well-made health care system came first, and the human capital made the economic growth faster.

His contribution to development studies is huge. The concept of human securities got the theoretical background thanks to Sen’s theory.

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