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Amartya Sen: Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press 1999

Amartya Sen: Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press 1999


A true thinker as opposed to a mere scholar, Sen combines superb command of economics with philosophy and with social science, forming an accessible and attractive synthesis. The key point is to argue for "development as freedom" in line with what he calls the "capability approach". The point is to argue for "the process of development as the expansion of human capability to lead more worthwhile and more free lives" (p. 295). This calls for an understanding of the value base of ecnomic activity - and that is wider and more humanly-tuned than is often perceived. In an era that emphasizes a narrow and hard valuebase as the one relevant for economic thinking, it is uplifting and reassuring to find a Nobel laureate in economics stressing quite the opposite. Indeed, Sen goes back to the origins of capitalist thinking, to Adam Smith, and argues that the "massive confidence in the improvability of human capabilities" (p. 294) was very much the key idea in Adam Smith's "remarkably rich analysis of human behavior" (p. 272). Placing "humanity at the center of attention" (p. 293), Sen's capabilities approach amounts to a rationalistic, humansitic and economics-based defence for the dignity of man. Sen argues forcefully against "the discipline of systematic choice based exclusively on personal advantage" (p. 270). He suggests that "we have to drop the presumption that only personal profits move people, and values and norms simply do not count" (p. 278). "Nor is it correct to conclude that the success of capitalism as an economic system depends only on self-interested behavior, rather than on a complex and sophisticated value sysetm that has many other ingredients, including reliability, trust, and business honesty (in the face of contrary temptations)." (p. 279) - I think that particularly chapter 1 (Social Choice and Individual Behavor) of this book should be required reading for all students of economics.

Kirjoitti Esa Saarinen, 25.06.2008

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