Poverty And Famines An Essay On Entitlement

Poverty And Famines An Essay On Entitlement-86
I sometimes get the feeling, when I read Sen, that he’s working within a framework unable to accommodate his own insights.This is, perhaps, one definition of a great economist.

I sometimes get the feeling, when I read Sen, that he’s working within a framework unable to accommodate his own insights.This is, perhaps, one definition of a great economist.

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But his approach necessarily ignores the extent which ‘law and order’ can be an active method of resource appropriation.

‘Law and order’ is here implicitly seen as nothing more than the framework within which distribution takes place.

This isn’t to criticise Sen’s perspective – which is a powerful corrective to the official line on the famine’s causes.

(“The Famine Commission’s view that the primary cause of the famine was ‘a serious shortage in the total supply of rice available for consumption in Bengal’ provides the standard explanation of the famine.” (pgs 57-8.) Sen definitively refutes this idea.) Nonetheless, I think Sen’s approach can provide only one aspect of a more comprehensive analysis of the causes of famine and deprivation.

Harvest failures, reductions in food imports, droughts, etc, are often contributing factors – but far more important are the social systems that determine how a society’s food is distributed.

Absolute scarcity – insufficient food to feed everyone – is extraordinarily rare.

Far from being the product of general impoverishment, “the 1943 famine can…

be described as a ‘boom famine’ related to powerful inflationary pressures initiated by public expenditure expansion.” (p.

This is dubious in any context – but especially given the case studies that form the bulk of Sen’s book.

‘Poverty and Famine’s longest chapter concerns the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 – which, Sen tells us in his Nobel autobiography, was one of the formative experiences of his life.

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