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Allie Barry

One of the main themes within these two chapters was the overarching concept that income in itself is not a true indicator of the level of development within a country. There were two parts of the reading which peaked my interest most. First, had to do with the “missing women” in Asia. In my South Asia Economics class we recently read a paper by Emily Oster which examined this phenomenon in depth and sought after exactly what was causing this disparity. Just as Sen says, Oster found that in India the primary reason for “missing women” had to do with childhood neglect. She explained that 50% of the sex imbalance was explained by differences in vaccination, food intake and medical care between ages 1 and 5. She contrasted the sex imbalance in India with that of China, which on the other hand had a sex imbalance immediately from birth due to sex selective abortion and infanticide. Both cases support Sen’s point that certain areas of development such as mortality need to be looked at with various lenses and perspectives. It would be short sighted to say that higher mortality rates of children in a certain country are only due to income, because as we see in Oster’s paper there are also traditions and cultural perspectives (which may unfortunately include gender inequality) which contribute to these levels of mortality. For example, in Nepali tradition, it is common for the men to eat first and then for the women and children to eat once the men have had their filling of food. In a developing country when there is not as much food to go around, this leaves women and children at times not getting the food intake and nourishment necessary to survive.
This example leads into the second point of interest that Sen makes in the second chapter. His emphasis on the fact that traditions cannot be ruled out by “guardians” or “experts”, but rather should be left open to society makes perfect sense in theory, however the actual act of opening up this discussion and choosing to make these changes to long standing traditions is a totally different and difficult thing to do. While this idea goes along well with his arguments about freedom and development, my primary concern is that no matter how educated and healthy a country gets, that traditions are something that will continue to take prevalence for decades further. As Professor Silwal put it in our class, “having a Ph.D means nothing” when she explained that during family dinners she still serves the men first and then sits to eat after they have finished. This just goes to show how long standing traditions which may prevent freedom and development can be so deeply rooted that even education and empowerment of women cannot always change them.

Elizabeth Wolf

Of the most thought provoking aspects of the first two chapters of Sen’s “Development as Freedom” is what exactly constitutes freedom, and the engines of development. As an American, when I hear “freedom” I think of the vote, rights of expression, self-determination. But for much of the world, “freedom” is as simple as having the option to live through the day, to find enough food, to have access to clean water. For much of the developing world, what is considered a freedom is considered a basic human right in the developed world.

As outlined by Sen, the five distinct types of freedom are political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security (10). However, I would argue that social opportunities are the preeminent force behind development. A nation is made up of groups of individuals, and while there may be economic and government institutions in place to structure the other four types of freedom, if the population is unable to maintain or access these institutions then they serve no purpose, other than to further empower the wealthy minority.

I think the intersection of these two ideas – what freedom means and the importance of the individual as the engine for development – has important implications for the type of economic and political aid offered to developing countries. Often, aid programs will give money to governments or NGOs that provide access to clean water, food, and even education. But if the culture does not value, or understand the importance of, these resources there are little long-term benefits to continuing these programs.

The old saying, “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” is applicable to poverty as well – if programs target social change rather than physical and monetary inputs, individuals will improve their own condition because they now have to tools to do so. In the same way that workfare incentivizes development of skills, social programs targeting literacy and health education and the value of a human life and human capital I would argue would be much more effective than food-supply drops.

David Cohen

Reading the first two chapters of “Development as Freedom” by Amartya Sen, I could not help but relate the reading back to another one of my classes, “Introduction to American Indian Religions”. A few days ago, we watched a documentary on a native tribe in California called the Winnemum Wintu, who still live on Mount Shasta today. This tribe is very small, does not live on a reservation, and has been erased from the list of federally recognized tribes. I began to think about freedom and development with specific regards to the circumstances of the Winnemum Wintu, whom have successfully prevented the construction of a ski resort on their native land, but fight an ongoing battle against modernization and development on a daily basis.

The Winnemum Wintu have many sacred sites around which their religion is based, namely a specific fresh water spring that continuously experiences damage due to hikers, (etc.). Essentially, all they want is the small area in which they reside, including the spring, to be left alone. The US Park Service has a difficult job in this respect, as they can either allow everyone access to the land in question, or allow nobody access. It is unconstitutional, however, to allow only one religion (the Winnemum Wintu’s) into the spring.

I was curious as to how this might relate to Sen’s ideas discussed in the first two chapters. He does discuss the idea that development might be harmful to a nation, as it may lead to the loss of tradition and cultural heritage. Though he notes that many respond with the idea that it is “better to be happy and rich”, the Winnemum Wintu certainly do not see it this way. Their culture and religion is everything to them, as they do not concern themselves with contemporary technology or the modern marketplace. They live in tents, do not have plumbing, a public education, or western medicine, and have very limited capabilities to join the modern economy – yet they are completely content with this lifestyle (with the exception of their sacred spring being soiled).

Sen discusses at length that the people involved must collectively decide which traditions they must abandon and which development they want to embrace. For these people, they do not wish to embrace any development. He additionally describes “freedom as development” as the “ability to do things one values is significant for person’s freedom” and to have the opportunity to experience valuable outcomes. So despite living conditions which we most likely would describe as constituting absolute poverty, the Winnemum Wintu people have almost everything they want (except the sole right to publicly owned land). The question I am trying to ask is, considering that what they want is illegal under United States law, do the Winnemum Wintu people have this freedom, or unfreedom?

Matthew Jones

Sen's tendency to discuss the limitations of freedoms in not only developing countries, but also countries that are considered "Developed" stuck out as one of the most important topics in the first two chapters. In particular, Sen mentioned how African American males have lower life expectancies than males in China and Indians in Kerala. These differences are remarkable too considering that African American males are 15% less likely to live to 75 than their white counterparts in the United States. Sen discusses capabilities and how capabilities are vital to fueling development in impoverished countries around the world. However, this data regarding African Americans in the United States is absolutely appalling! Here we are in our own country, and it is evident that African Americans are experiencing a development disadvantage perhaps from a capability standpoint. We worry so much about helping other impoverished countries around the world that we sometimes neglecting helping these people that are our fellow Americans. I am not suggesting than any life is more valuable than another, but in terms of proximity, it would certainly be much easier to affect the lives of people who live in your own country, state, or city versus helping people that are a world away.

Many of the programs in Richmond that aim to alleviate poverty actually take this approach centered around capabilities that Sen discusses. For instance, on the Volunteer Venture trip I took as a first year to Richmond, we visited various community centers that aimed to improve quality of life through stressing education, providing healthcare, and teaching people about proper nutrition. These community centers a lot of times targeted the youth in order to have a significant effect on a child's development. In particular, they provided a place for children to study and receive tutoring, in addition to learning about how to properly fuel their bodies. Many of these kids live on fast food and junk food, while also neglecting their school work, often times because of bad situations at home or distractions elsewhere. By influencing their lives in education and nutrition, these centers are developing and improving their capabilities. They create better educated and more healthy kids that ultimately give them a chance to break the chain of poverty and crime that has been occurring for decades. These programs work because they give kids a chance of hope as well, improving their self-esteem with an increase in their capabilities. Sen's approach to improving capabilities in order to encourage economic equality simply makes sense. If you have better functioning people they will be more productive members of society, able to contribute, and able to come out of poverty.

Andy Kleinlein

In the first two chapters of Amartya Sen’s “Development of Freedom,” a common theme is brought up again. An emphasis of this class has been that income is not the only measurement of one’s economic freedom. These chapters have also shed light on a holistic view of freedom. In the United States, freedom is viewed as your right to speak your mind and be able to vote. Along with other things, this is what defines America. Sen shows that freedom is actually different. Freedom fundamentally is having equal opportunity to enjoy life and pursue one’s passions. He explains that the United States does not exactly have a perfectly free country. It is shown that African Americans are not as free as the rest of the country. It is appalling that a country based on freedom has such inequality. The life expectancy of black men in America is extremely low. From first hand experience, I have seen that African Americans are still to this day not treated equally and are not given the same opportunities. The most interesting part of this example is their life expectancy is similar to that of impoverished people in China and India, despite having way more money. This further shows that income is still a small measure of one’s freedom. As mentioned above, the United States acts as if there are no problems in our own country a lot of times. We are always trying to help other countries that are poorer, which is fine, but we tend to ignore the problems within our own country. In order to help other countries, we should look internally on fixing problems so we have the ability to learn from that and truly help the world.

Ololade Rachel Oguntola

I really like Sen’s definition of development as the expanding the freedoms that people enjoy. As a result, he definitely does well in approaching development from a freedom (or what he calls unfreedoms) perspective. In my last post, I talked about how increasing incomes is critical in the fight for poverty especially in poor and extremely poor countries. I still stand by that, however, reading chapters 1 and 2 helped better clarify for me the interconnectedness between income and other forms of freedoms for instance, say access to healthcare. One thing that helped me better understand Sen’s approach was the fact about African-American males in the US and their low rates of life expectancy. While they earn richer than many poor people in certain countries, their capabilities or freedoms are limited and this stems from issues such as male incarceration and limited opportunities to climb the socio-economic ladder among others. Now, what would be interesting to see is if the earnings that were contrasted between black males in the US and poor people in say, China was adjusted for purchasing power parity. It could just be that the black male in the US is just as poor. This is definitely not to disregard the unfreedoms they face that they could be better off without.

I agree with Sen that freedoms are related to one another in the race for development. For instance, of what good is income to a family if they cannot rightfully participate in the markets or what good is access to education if they cannot afford at least two square meals in a day. As much as it is important to look at the different kinds of freedoms that exist, it can be argued that in certain situations or at first glance, some freedoms are more important than other freedoms. I appreciate Sen’s approach on expanding the poverty discussion and taking it beyond the economic side of income. However, the discussion should not be done in such a way that income gets pushed to the back in advocating for other freedoms. This is why I think programs such as conditional transfers can be very instrumental in tackling poverty because such programs can be implemented in a way that addresses many of the unfreedoms that Sen mentioned with income still very much involved. To reiterate, the proverb Elizabeth brought up about teaching a man to fish is widely made in the talk on poverty. But if we do not feed a man with fish, where will he gather the strength to fish for himself? I believe on the onset, it is important for the man or woman to be fed and then he can learn.

Ella Rose

Sen discusses heavily the idea that freedom is not only a means for development, but an actual ends for development in itself. This really stuck me because I don’t think the average person would see freedom in that way. Yes, having more opportunities to do certain functioning can further one’s path towards living the life that they choose to live. But at the same time, most people would agree that one characteristic in this hypothetical type of life they would like to lead is one in which they have the freedom to choose this life. Therefore, freedom has an intrinsic value in itself. It does not need to be justified, like it so often is, by the functionings that freedom provides. I think this idea should really help governments and organizations refocus how they approach development. People are obsessed with results and looking for tangible evidence as to how some new freedom has affected their lives. Governments want concrete new functionings to justify their efforts to add freedoms and opportunities to their citizens. However, adding freedoms for the sake of freedoms is never really taken into account. I wonder what the world would look like if institutions valued freedoms for freedom itself and not for the “returns to freedom.”

I also loved the way Sen turns something as complicated as development into such a simple idea. He says that development, true development, is just increasing freedoms. He values the intrinsic value of freedom, as I have just discussed, but also notes that increasing freedom will lead to development – the kind of development that leads to a just society. Its not development as economists have thought of previously, but a development that leads to a fairer state for everyone to live the lives they choose to live. I think this is incredibly important because it demands institutions to think of growth/development differently. You cannot simply develop your country by growing GDP. That doesn't cut it anymore. In Sen's world governments are upheld to a higher standard that I believe will lead to a more just state.

Cara Hayes

In the first two chapters of "Development of Freedom" Sen finds an articulate way to define the vague concept of freedom. According to Sen, freedom involves political freedom, economic facilities, social oppurtunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. It also requires the removal of unfreedoms which arise from poverty, tyranny, poor economic opportunities, systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities, intolerance and an overactive repressive state. These unfreedoms seem very uncharacteristic of the United States, the "land of the free," yet Sen pulls the United States into his discussion. I was shocked to learn that, as a group, African Americans in the U.S. have lower chances of reaching advanced ages than people in the extremely poor countries of China, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Costa Rica even though African American's in the U.S. are much richer than the poor in those countries. This finding supports Sen's argument that income is not the only measurement of one's economic freedom. While most African Americans likely live on more than $2 a day, they do not have the equal ability to live whites, a major contradiction to Sen's holistic approach to freedom. The large gap between US white survival rates and US black survival rates in figure 1.1 on page 22 of nearly 20 years really caused this notion to sink in. One of the most important points Sen makes is that freedom can be a means and an end to development. While Americans may see their country as more free than other developing countries, the level of freedom the US has achieved so far has only been a means and is not yet the end. In light of the growing inequality in the US, I think it is very important that people realize that the freedoms they enjoy are "part and parcel of enriching the process of development" and that the "role of political freedom as means to development does not in any way reduce the evaluative importance of freedom as an end of development" (37).

Crosby Ellinger

In the first 2 chapters of Amarta Sen's book, "Development As Freedom", Sen discusses the ways in which we measure economic and social development. Sen argues that while most economists study poverty and development through factual information such as income, GDP, etc, measuring a country's development and economic growth is much more complex than simply economic figures such as these.

Sen articulates that wealth is not the actual good we are pursuing, but rather, a means to getting what we want. Sen uses this point to illustrate that a realistic view of development has to go beyond income statistics and variables, and focus more on enhancing the certain freedoms we receive. Additionally, development has to do with granting people with unfreedoms, such as inequality, denial of civil and political liberties, and economic insecurity, the opportunity to be able to participate and enjoy these values and freedoms.

One particular point that Sen used to exemplify how income-related statistics are not, alone, enough to explain development, stuck out to me in the text. Sen described, in the relationship between Income and Mortality, that although African Americans in the United States have significantly higher incomes-per-capita on average than people born in "immensely poorer" economies of China, Chinese men tend to live significantly longer than African American men. Sen illustrates that the causal influences of this include social arrangements, medical coverage, education, prevalence of violence etc. I believe that this example fully exemplifies the point that Sen is making in that income statistics, while important in measuring poverty, standards of living, and overall development, do not fully describe what is occurring. Rather, Sen argues that we, as economists, must "go beyond" these statistics and measure the relative freedoms and unfreedoms to get a better since of development.

Matthew Sgro

In the Introduction and first two chapters of "Development as Freedom" Amarta Sen portrays the idea that development is the process of allowing people to have more freedom. Whether that be greater political freedoms, economic freedoms, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, or protective securities. (pg. 10). One of the main points Sen illustrates which I find interesting is the idea that wealth in itself is not necessarily attractive to people, it is the opportunities (freedom) that the wealth gives them which they yearn for. As we spoke about in class this lack of freedom for the deeply impoverished comes from their inability to do much other than surviving day to day. When you are worried about what you are going to eat tomorrow do you think participating in the political environment of your country is on your mind ? Certainly not. It's not that these people do not want to more fully participate in opther opportunities that life has to offer. However, the position they are in simply doesn't allow them to as a Ugandian woman points out, "When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior" (Economic Development pg. 6).

I also believe the idea Sen brings up about Economic Development leading to loss of traditions/culture is an extremely thought-provoking question. My own personal belief is that as development and socioeconomic status increase it is inevitable certain traditions would change, because many of these traditions come about from the circumstances humans are in. As is the basis of the entire book so far - development means more freedom - so I question, could the same traditions someone had in a state of poverty withstand the lifestyle changes as wealth levels increase. However, I do believe most impoverished people would choose a "better life" over their traditions if faced with that dilemma.

Matt Parker

In Amartya Sen's Development of Freedom, Sen talks about the difference between culmination outcomes versus comprehension outcomes. Essentially it is that the results of an action are not as important as the processes used to achieve that outcome (in particular,a free market achieving the same economic results as a dictatorship is more favorable). What struck a chord with me there is that in my Global Politics class as well as the Env. and Natural Resources class, we have talked about what makes up "economic growth." We discussed how things such as paying a lot of money for medicine and health as well as things such as divorce represent growth and add to our GDP. That is why similar to Sen's point, we need to stop and wonder if consistent growth is as important as the means to achieving such growth.

The types of freedoms that Sen talks about as desirable outcomes are ends in themselves. What sticks out to me as an important contribution to unfreedoms especially in America are environmental issues that disproportionately affect the poor. For example, housing near oil refineries, waste plants, etc. are disproportionately occupied by minority groups. This is a particular type of unfreedom as these groups do not have the means to live elsewhere and are essentially forced to expose themselves and their families to the runoff, radiation, etc. that adversely. Freedom such as access to health and healthy living conditions is imperative in discussing how to help those that are impoverished. Reducing use of such facilities, while in the short-run might cause economic decline, will lead to long-run benefits of health (an end in itself) as well as the prospect of healthier and more productive workers. This change could very well lead to long-term economic growth at a higher rate than what we experience even now.

Alex Shields

I feel like Sen’s argument for a freedom based discussion on poverty in the world is a move in the right direction for the field of development economics. Sen’s view that poverty should be viewed as a “deprivation of elementary capabilities” and not merely through the lens of a person’s income is an important step in the right direction. While Sen would likely disagree, I believe this is especially important for addressing poverty in developing nations more so than for addressing poverty in established nations with strong conditions of guaranteed freedoms. Sen makes the critical point that expanding wealth in most developing nations does not always translate to expanding freedoms, whether it is through what Sen refers to as “inadequate processes” or “inadequate opportunities.” While not always the case, in the United States, an increase in income for a poor person could lead to improved living conditions and upward mobility more easily than in poorer nations. Suppose a poor person in America saw their income rise. This would mean they could potentially move to a new house in a better school district. By doing this, the children within the household would receive a stronger education, one that would lead them potentially to college, further allowing them to get a good job, moving the family out of poverty. A story like this is possible in the United States due to the strong institutions already in place. In a developing country, it may not be possible to go a better school because the public schools may be very poor, or maybe the child is a girl and therefore would be prevented from achieving higher education. There are many examples as to why an improvement in income would be even less helpful to the poor in developing nations than the poor in developed nations and in most cases it is due to a lack of developed institutions in that country, whether they be political, economic or social in nature. Therefore, much more freedom-focused poverty relief programs are necessary in developing nations and development economists should continue to move away from an income-focused approach. This is not to say that issues of unfreedom, as Sen would say, do not exist in the United States because they certainly do exist. Sen’s discussion of African American life expectancy discrepancy is a prime example. My argument is simply that it is even more important in developing countries than in developed countries.


One small fact I thought was very interesting was that North Korea and Sudan are leading the world in the amount of famine, and they are under dictatorial rule. I saw a video released by national geographic that showed the “highlights” of North Korea. In this video it showed bustling streets, colorful and lively night life, and all sorts of appealing things that one would love to experience in a city. It even showed people working as cross walk guards that stopped traffic to help walk people across the street. Yet this view is to be taken with a grain of salt and in my opinion is a complete misrepresentation of North Korea. I am sure that just outside the lens of the camera in that video one could start to see the areas struggling with famine. I thought it was very interesting in how Sen spoke about quantifying freedom in relation to development. Just like relating to measuring utility–something subjective and hard to scale–it is difficult to quantify the aggregate freedom of a nation in regards to its overall development. Sen discussed and provided evidence that measuring income and wealth is not enough to accurately determine a country’s development. But then again, this becomes a big problem because, how do we then measure an individual’s freedom? It will be different for every town, every region, every state, and every country. So then what tools do we have and what aspects of people’s lives can we measure so as to compile them together to get a full scale of one’s freedom? And then how do we take that and determine the overall economic development of a country?

Jack Miller

Pearce Embrey

Chapters 1 and 2 of Amartya Sen's "Development as Freedom" provides an interesting perspective on outcomes that goes beyond the realm of traditional development economics. Sen's whole point in these chapters is that members of developing countries would have better outcomes only if they were less oppressed, whether the oppression comes from the current reigning government, or from each individual's lack of economic resources. I think that this way of looking at economics is fascinating, because it attempts to explain factors not necessarily covered by contemporary economic models. The conversation between the husband and wife about wealth and immortality at the beginning of chapter 1 was of particular interest to me. The couple discuss whether if they had all of the wealth in the world, would they achieve immortality or not. Usually, I tend to think that an individual's preferences are generally monotonic, meaning that they would gain higher utility by simply consuming more of a given good. Sen, through the story of the husband and wife, promotes the idea of happiness and freedom as alternate ways to determine the well-being of individuals. I found the idea of freedom very compelling as a way to really determine the status of a country, especially developing ones. Perhaps economists should factor in freedom more in modeling than they do today.

Rachel Baer

After reading the first two chapters of Sen’s Development as Freedom”, I found myself questioning the true definition of “freedom”. It is interesting to consider how differently “freedom" is interpreted within different countries and societies. In these two chapters, Sen explores the many different meanings of “freedom” and how they impact a person’s quality of life. His argument, which I agree with, is that it is both important and necessary to think about poverty on a much deeper level than simply a measure of income.

It is crucial to consider the different aspects of a person’s life when formulating ideas on economic policy. While income levels do indicate an important statistic, they do not give any insight to the quality of life. I found it interesting how Sen focused on both developing countries and developed countries, further proving the point that poverty goes way beyond income levels.

One concept that Sen touches on in the first chapter is this idea that some economic changes could effect traditions and cultures. I think it is easy assume that growth in the economy and in levels of income is always the best solution. Because of this, I think the cultural and societal effects from changes in economic policy are often overlooked. Sen argues that certain individuals or families are sometimes forced to decide between being “rich and happy” or “impoverished and traditional” (78). This is not an easy decision to make, and I believe that it should be decided by the individuals impacted by these changes (rather than the government or whoever hold power who are making these changes). After reading this section of the chapter, I now have a better understanding of the importance of considering every aspect of society and culture before implementing political/economic policy in a country or region.

These two chapters are very relevant to our class discussion of poverty and freedom. Considering multiple different aspects of an individual’s ability to lead a life that they value is important when discussing ways to improve the living conditions in an impoverished country. Thinking about these different aspects of poverty and means of freedom allows us to better understand how quality of life can perhaps be improved.

Jillian Leigh

I found it very interesting how Sen defined freedom in the first to chapters of Development as Freedom. Similar to Elizabeth Wolf's post, when I hear the word freedom I also immediately think of the freedoms we have as American citizens, like the freedom to vote, freedom of speech and many more. Sen defines freedoms differently than the U.S. Constitution. Sen believes there are "Five distinct types of freedom… political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security," (pg. 10). Sen continues on to say that these freedoms help "to advance the general capability of a person," (pg. 10). While reading these chapters I had a difficult time reminding myself that the freedom people living in developing countries were far less complex that the freedoms I associate with the word freedom. For example, in order for these countries to develop the people deserve the freedom to live a full life and not pass prematurely. These basic freedoms are something that I have a hard time remembering because they are something I take completely for granted, like clean drinking water, sanitation, and enough food to eat. In addition to changing how I thought of freedoms, I also had to change my definition of poverty. Initially when I think of someone who is impoverished, the first thing that comes to mind is that they do not have a lot of money. Sen defines poverty as "a deprivation of basic capabilities, rather than merely low income," (pg. 20). I think focusing on this definition will help me a lot when I'm reading the later chapters in this book .


I hadn’t given much deeply intellectual thought to the Civil War until this year. Of course, I had studied it at length and always been interested in our nation’s history, but I had never really sat down and thought about the implications of those bloody four years outside of loss of life until this semester in a Civil War history class. What did the Civil War mean for other countries, for women, for the future – and now – for economic development across the globe? How does outlawing the ownership of another person impact access to freedom? In the first two chapters of Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen presents an interesting argument about the incredible turning point the Civil War represented in the realm of economic freedom and, particularly, access to markets. Though Sen presents two approaches to market access, I choose to address the first. According to Sen, “a denial of opportunities of transaction, through arbitrary controls, can be a source of unfreedom itself,” (25). When slaves were denied access to the open market to sell their labor at a cost, they were denied an invaluable economic freedom. This brings to mind last week’s article and the inability of many of the extremely poor to access reliable means of investment. But what sharply drew my attention was Sen’s analysis of Fogel and Engerman. The two held that slaves had “pecuniary income” unrivaled by life without their chains. Their life expectancy was at the same level as such developed nations as France and Holland and far longer than that of industrial workers in the U.S. and Europe. I would ask Fogel and Engermen why, then, did freed slaves deny the offer to work in the same conditions for pay? I would argue that newfound access to the market – regardless of how tumultuous it might have been in Reconstruction years – was a higher benefit than returning to paralyzing expulsion from labor markets. As Sen writes, “the interest of slaves was not well served by the system of slavery.” Access to a market on which to offer labor for pay was hypothetically more important to freed slaves than a steady job – their economic freedom had value. By rejecting the social arrangement of slavery, the United States eschewed economic unfreedoms. There is truth to Karl Marx’s statement that was the “one great event of contemporary history.” It set the standard for democratic countries’ economic freedom. In transitioning from bonded labor to free-contract labor, societies improve their own development in a general sense. A country with more economic freedom – by means of market access and the ability to change employers – is a more developed one.

Tanpreet Hunjan

One of the most interesting topics discussed by Sen was nutrition in England during the second world war. ‘’Even though per capita availability of food fell significantly in Britain cases of undernourishment also declined sharply, and extreme undernourishment almost entirely disappeared. Moreover, mortality rates also went down sharply.’’ During World War I and II economic growth was slow but development it shows was fast. This for me was an unexpected finding and interesting to see that in the case of WWII economic growth and development had an inverse correlation.

The interesting change in perspective that war brought about also intrigued me. Through shared social arrangements and supportive policies to the masses, public policy really came to the forefront and the creation of the national health service had such major implications for mortality rates and to England today. At a time of upheaval and uncertainty it’s great to see that the health of the countries citizens is on politician’s minds.

Another topic that Sen mentioned in his book is the social backwardness of India compared to china and the way in which that has stunted India’s potential growth. With such deep class divisions that exist even today it’s perplexing to me how class divisions haven’t dissolved when knowledge of collaboration in regards to social policy can improve the standard of living for the masses.

Something else that interested me from Sen is his discussion on ‘missing women’. This is an area covered in my South Asian economics class with Silwal in which we began to try to explain the reasoning’s behind this. From reading a paper by economist Oyster about the topic of sex imbalance, conclusions for the sex imbalance came from female babies having differences to males on vaccinations, nutrition and medical care. However, the most interesting finding from Oyster’s study on sex imbalance is that the reasoning’s she found only accounted for 50% of the missing women. Touching the surface of the issue of Sen’s ‘missing women’ intrigues me and leaves me asking questions about the other 50% of the women and what happened to them.

Charlotte Braverman

Sen’s mention of the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia, or human flourishing, caused me to think back on an ethics course I took last semester. We spent a few weeks comparing various ethical frameworks and ultimately, I was most strongly persuaded by Aristotle. Most compelling to me is Aristotle’s recognition of the humanness of individuals. When applied to the objective of development, this sort of framework honors the humanity of all people and strives towards a world that enables them to live their most fulfilling lives. Therefore, when thinking about the ends of development, a higher income is no longer the sole objective. Instead, in accordance with Sen’s freedoms-based approach, we must consider the different conditions that allow individuals to self-actualize. These things may include access to healthcare, quality education, or freedom from servitude- none of which directly relate to one’s income level.

However, one thing I find myself constantly struggling with when talking about issues of poverty and inequality is the degree to which income is a relevant factor. On the flip-side to the freedoms-based approach, is it sometimes important to recognize the degree to which low income may be a powerful factor holding people back? At some point, we must confront the unfortunate reality that development initiatives are costly. To completely ignore the fiscal constraints of poverty is perhaps as equally dangerous as forgetting about the issue of freedom. From a pragmatic and policy-based standpoint, it will be important to consider the financial side of things, feasibility and cost-benefit analysis.

I believe striking the balance between a freedoms-based approach and an income-based approach will be essential to alleviating poverty. I wholeheartedly agree with Sen’s argument that wealth for its own sake is not an end worth pursuing. Instead, the value lies in what one’s wealth enables them to actually do, the freedoms they are permitted to enjoy. The focus should not be just raising incomes but instead on developing a world that allows individuals to live more freely and humanely. However, it is important to grapple with the complex ways in which freedoms and income are interconnected and the plethora of other factors that are also at play. After all, this is something Sen himself points out.

The freedoms-based approach provides a solid framework from which to determine the standards of living, capabilities, and resources people ought to have. However, an appreciation for the fiscal constraint people are under is also an important thing to consider when crafting policy and initiatives.


Sen has revolutionized the field by forcing economists to start thinking of the non-monetary aspects of development, which I can’t imagine was an easy task. To think of development as a checklist of needs other than income and to include such qualitative aspects of the level of participation in society is a radical change in thinking.

I saw a link between Kinsey’s points about the Civil War and slavery with Cara’s about the livelihoods of African Americans today and think it is interesting that Sen brought up both of these aspects of American society. It is easy to connect the unfreedoms that occurred within the intuition of slavery with the struggles that African Americans face today. With the abolition of slavery, African Americans gained some freedoms, but still suffered from a lack of access to political freedoms and others. Without addressing the lack of many of these freedoms it is hard to bridge the gap between groups even within our own society, which we consider free. It is hard for rapid change to occur when the way of thinking is deeply ingrained in a society. This makes me think of the struggles of disadvantaged groups in developing countries, where the political system may be significantly less transparent, and the challenges that those groups must overcome to reach a higher level of freedom. This is an example of the needs to reconsider the definition of poverty and development, where we move away from strictly monetary measure and start to consider the freedoms of people in society.

Julia Mayol

Saying that Sen job’s is amazing is nothing new, knowing he is the winner of a Nobel prize. However there are a number of aspects and thoughts that completely captured my attention and helped me understand development through a different perspective. After reading the introduction, the two chapters, and the information provided in Todaro and Smith’s book about Sen’s “Capabilities” approach, I saw the story a friend once told me through someone else’s eyes. One of my friends spent two months in the summer in Belize with the Sheppard program. One night, when she was going back to the place where she was staying she found out that her door was open, and that the celling had an enormous hole; someone had clearly broken into her room. Nevertheless, her computer, GoPro and other electronic devices were still there. As time passed she realized that the things she considered small and insignificant were missing: her shampoo, razor, tooth paste, body lotions and, some t-shits had been stolen. I think this is somehow an example of what Sen calls functioning’s, that is, “what a person does with the commodities of given characteristics”. For those Belizeans, the computer and the GoPro were probably useless, while the small insignificant things were those they actually appreciated and did not have. Moreover, it is really interesting to see how Sen manages to go over a field of economics from a more humanistic side, leaving partially aside the graphs and formulas, and introducing the concept of freedom, which is not only a means of development, but also of the primary end.
Sen also transmits the importance of democracy, and of having a government that both cares about their citizens and is against corruption. Corruption and tyranny are ways of unfreedom that need to be avoided and eradicated in order to help the poorest. In Argentina, the last president used to give Argentinean citizenships to immigrants that came from Paraguay. These immigrants would vote for whom they were asked to and in return would receive pensions, or social benefits. The greatest problem associated with it, is that they are now finding that these Paraguayans do not even live in Argentina. Even more, it has recently been discovered that, in many cases, around 20 different citizens share the same address when, in fact, nobody lives there. Thus, all the money that is being used to buy votes, could have been used to help the poor people that actually live in Argentina, instead. I think Sen is presenting us with different examples of the same thing: the importance of democracy, and of governments who seek to eradicate corruption, poverty and inequality, in order to achieve development.
Finally, the fact that “the most speedy expansion of life expectancy occurred precisely during those two war decades” surprised me. During the war decades there was a much greater sharing of health care and limited food supply which, as a consequence, led to great improvements in life expectancy. If someone had asked me my opinion on life expectancy during the war decades I would have probably answered the opposite. However, as Sen shows, even though per capita availability of food decreased, the cases of undernourishment declined significantly. This shows evidence of the effectiveness of support oriented policies, social attitudes and public arrangements, which demonstrate that development is not only having a high GNP per capita.


In the "Tradition, Culture, and Democracy" section of the first chapter I was surprised when Amartya Sen said that development was essentially an option that people should be able to decide upon. To me that question seems to have an absolute answer of yes but once she started elaborating on how communities affected by development need to be able to have a voice in deciding if they want to end their traditions and proceed towards modernity something clicked inside me. I thought about how development itself isn't just a forward progression of technology and societal advancement but is instead expanding the freedoms that people have and enjoy.If progress is instead thrust upon a community then they truly aren't developing but are just being dragged along. it reminded me of my environmental science course that I took at W&L where we learned about amazonian tribes that were being forced into modernity by encroaching cities and governments who destroyed their traditions and sacred lands in an attempt to "help" make the native people modern. in actuality, the tribe's people ended up in abject poverty with little freedom to make decisions. Without the freedom to decide the situation essentially did nothing to help out the tribes and in the end there was no development. Therefore if development is expanding freedom it really does seem obvious to focus on trying to make it so people have access to as many freedoms as possible instead of focusing others ways to "develop" nations or areas.Because without participation, a central factor for development, nothing positive will be accomplished for the people who most need development.

Thomas Thagard

Amartya Sen provides us with a new prospective to view and understand economics in relation to general happiness. Instead of limiting our understanding of happiness to income per capita, he forces us to observe the other aspects of life that impact general happiness. The greatest example of this would be his comparison of African Americans with Individuals in more impoverished countries. The fact that African Americans have more money and shorter life expectancy is baffling. So, the real question is what do we value in life, and how can economics help us live a valuable life. It is in this same mannerism that we begin to question our understanding of poverty? Can a wealthier person be consider impoverished if they are more unhappy with their life? Sen highlights specifically the capabilities of being able to live a life that one values but what economics is not the only hindrance. He briefly touches on this in regards to culture and tradition. But I would like to ask the question: (assuming humans are social creatures) does a free market that encourages individualism and independence separate us from our own humanity and thus create an inherent unhappiness? If it does create this unhappiness but continues to extend life, is it a system worth perpetuating?

Tony Du

In Development as Freedom, Sen redefines the goals of economic development. Rather than approaching development from a purely economic perspective, Sen argues that we need to reframe the conversation around the freedom to live a fulfilling life. Sen mentions 'unfreedoms' that many people today continue to suffer from. What stuck out to me was the importance Sen placed on political rights as a freedom.

Tony Du

In Development as Freedom, Sen redefines the goals of economic development. Rather than approaching development from a purely economic perspective, Sen argues that we need to reframe the conversation around the freedom to live a fulfilling life. Sen mentions 'unfreedoms' that many people today continue to suffer from. What stuck out to me was the importance Sen placed on political rights as a freedom.

I took a seminar last year on The Ethics of Citizenship. One of the most important points of discussion was the intertwining of political rights and personal autonomy in society, particularly the marketplace. In most societies, individuals without power in the political sphere were unable to be economically independent. Even beyond the economic sphere, Sen argues that political rights transcend all other freedoms. The ability to participate in public affairs is of the utmost importance- it is the freedom that is most closely tied to the ability to live a fulfilling life through exercising our own volitions. Being denied this political liberty is an insurmountable unfreedom, even with a favorable economic circumstance.

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