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Corey Guen

In Chapter 1 of Amartya Sen's "Development as Freedom", he argues that the general focus on income poverty must be expanded to account for a broader concept of capability deprivation. My classmates above have addressed similar points, so I wanted to bring in a perspective from my time in Belize with the Shepherd program. I lived and worked on Ambergris Caye, an island that has become extremely popular with tourists and expats alike. The community of Belizeans is poor, in particular a neighborhood to the north built on mangrove swamp, but the concept of capability deprivation got me thinking about another major aspect I noticed while working in the community. As an expat destination and booming tourist locale, on the surface Ambergris Caye appeared to be a model of economic development. New restaurants, hotels and tour companies open frequently, evidence of economic growth and job creation. Upon closer examination however, I found that the Belizeans for whom Ambergris is home were experiencing a unique sort of capability deprivation, in that their economic autonomy was being slowly siphoned away.
Expats who move to Ambergris often open businesses and buy land to provide income, and they also feel good about providing jobs for poor locals, who face a high unemployment rate. The adverse effect of this however is that Belizeans are not the ones in control of the capital, and in turn they cannot direct their own development. Rich investors and expats have created a ceiling, denying local entrepreneurs from competing due to a relative lack of resources, and trapping many others in low paying, unstable jobs. Instead of focusing on education, the vast majority of children drop out to work for expat-owned companies to provide income to their struggling families, preventing anyone from gaining skills necessary for the expansion of social and political freedoms, as Sen might put it. This struck me as a good example of Sen’s argument for expanding our view of capability deprivation, as statistics might tell a positive story that is revealed to be more complicated and to omit other important factors than at first glance. Though this particular scenario may be uncommon, others like it are bound to exist all over the world.


The point Sen makes that struck me most strongly was her argument that income is not the only measure of ones freedom. Many people believe that developing a country and giving the people economic freedom starts with having more money. While it is a component, it is not everything. Her example was African Americans in the United States. While most of them do make more than two dollars a day, they still are not what Sen defines as free. They dont have the same opportunities as other people in their own country. Their mortality rates are higher. Income has not liberated the population. As Sen states, income does not solely give people freedom in developed countries.

Walker Tiller

One thought I kept returning to while reading the first two chapters of Development as Freedom is that within the human pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of development the underlying goal is longing for a certain level of control. This control could be within an individual's personal life or control as a citizen of a nation but the idea is the same, by achieving wealth and freedom through development it satisfies the human need to have control (or the illusion of control) over their own life.

This idea that a individual's pursuit of control over their property, money, country(in a democratic sense) and family is a interesting one to say the least. As the citizen gains more control over their life, in theory they become happier and more free. It is the same idea that the American Dream is built on, even though many American citizens would disagree that the people still are in control of this nation. Which brings me to my next point, at what level within the endless pursuit of more wealth, and control does an individual pass into the group that limits others from controlling their own life?

There are many examples of this within the political elites of individuals that have continued to pursue wealth and development that benefit their own needs while hurting people below them. Even within our own nation, it seems our Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have passed a level of personal wealth and development that allowed them to control their own lives into an new bracket that could be considered an oligarchy of America, restricting citizens with laws and regulations that limit the citizens' development and ability to easily pursue wealth. Even if this is not 100% true in America, it is true in places like Russia with Putin and during Castro's Cuba. It seems that the underlying human desire to control their own lives through pursuit of wealth and development is very close if not the same human desire that leads individuals to control nations and limit the country and its people from reaching their potential.

Michael Hegar

In Chapter 2 of Development as Freedom, Sen talks about "freedom being a means" as opposed to an end. That is something that I had to reread to make sure i fully understood what he was talking about. Freedom of any kind helps all freedom. Developing freedoms for people or reducing unfreedoms. One example of a freedom creating more freedoms is found on pages 40-41. Amartya Sen gives the example of reducing mortality rates leads to lower birth rates. This allows for more focus to be put on education and literacy rates rise among children and women. All this from policy that allowed for better health care. I remember learning about Thomas Malthus model for population birth and death rates in macro and was reminded of that model when I read this. The theory can show what should happen but only policy can make a lasting difference and cause change.

Lilly Grella

The ideas Sen puts forward regarding development is obviously one that resonates with economic academia as his revolutionary contribution to development economics is unmatched, even almost 20 years after receiving the Nobel Prize and publishing this book. In the first two chapters and the introduction of Development as Freedom, one of the most important concepts he puts forward is the constant endogeneity problem between variables at play. Especially in the second chapter he recognizes that these freedoms are both ways to further development but also something that comes about because of advancement. He says, “freedoms directly enhance the capabilities of people, but they also supplement one another and can furthermore reinforce one another”(40). In my econometrics class, endogeneity was seen as an assumption violation and a problem for the regression that needed to be fixed or addressed at least (even though it was oftentimes unavoidable). However, I, along with Sen and many others, do not see this as a bad thing, especially when talking about development economics. This loop of simultaneous causality provides more methods of advancement and more entrance points for addressing unfreedoms. The fact that they are interconnected does nothing but reinforce his approach that expansion of freedom is both the end and the means of development. After reading just the few pages assigned, it became clear the extent to which the institutional freedoms he mentions (political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security) are linked together as both a method to achieve development and as a goal to judge development upon. Even further it is necessary to acknowledge the interconnectedness between the specific freedoms and each other. The variables are linked in so many ways, and it ultimately reinforces the importance of freedoms as a method of achieving agency and a method to understanding development.

Spencer Payne

I must admit, before reading Sen, I had a fairly skeptical take on those in poverty. Frankly, thoughts that very poor people could do more to improve their financial standing and their quality of life often entered my head. After all, as an economics major, I have been taught that the free market is supposed to lead to the most efficient outcomes for years. But Sen’s introduction illuminated a fact that I had never considered: access to the free market — whether it be a labor, goods, or services market — is often not granted to those in poverty. That shocked me. I simply cannot imagine such a place where I would be unable to buy what I please because I have either been isolated from or blocked from entering the free market.

As Sen put it, “the freedom to participate in economic exchange has a basic role in social living,” and I could not agree more. The story of Kader Mia really drove home this point for me. Because he was unable to enter the “normal” labor market, he had to search for work in an unsafe area because he and his family had nothing to eat. He had no choice. But in doing so, he was badly injured one day, costing him his life. So for me, what I take away from this reading is that steps must be taken to ensure that everyone has access to the marketplace. For the free market could never yield the socially optimal outcome if only some are able to enter it. Of course, this likely is not the solution to eliminating poverty but, in my opinion, it would be a good place to start.

Jim Grant

Sen presents a great argument about how the root of poverty is embedded in poverty. I found these chapters’ eye opening and thought provoking. Her argument reminds me of our class discussions in which we talked about the difference between income and quality of life. As we have affirmed fairly frequently in class, low income is an aspect of poverty, if when we refer to poverty we mean a below average quality of life rather than the mere quantifiable income. Sen argues that the root of this is a lack of freedom. Whether it manifests in slavery, imperialism/colonialism, or some kind of racial or cultural oppression.
Sen made a really interesting point that famine essentially only occurs in places that were either colonies or dictatorships. Recognizing that the ones in power wouldn’t being experiencing the famine first hand and wouldn’t feel the need to do anything about it. A more democratic country would elect the people that represent them and make sure the ones that would represent their interests would solve the issue. Not to say that any democratic government fixes all problems and is perfect, but it guarantees a base level of freedom in that aspect thereby increasing the quality of life for its constituents.
The other example that Sen used that I liked a lot was her argument about African Americans mortality rates. Her book being written in the late 1990s was on the back end of a period of intense gang violence within African American communities in urban areas. The violence is representative of the larger issue of a lack of public services and effort to support the lower class of these communities. While the deaths caused by gang violence was unfortunately high the numbers from Sen’s graph seem to indicate more of a problem of an overall lower quality of life caused most likely by a lack of healthcare, higher education and assets of that nature that statistically improve longevity. While her book was published in 1999 this issue of racial oppression is still persistent and has become a more sensitive issue in the last couple of years and is very much relevant to news today which is why it resonated so strongly with me.

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