Amartya Sen sees development from a holistic and humanistic perspective. It encompasses things well beyond economic growth and material development to include personal, social, political and environmental factors, as part of development paradigm.
Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen is an Indian economist cum philosopher. His ideas of “what is real development” are being vigorously debated since 1998 when he received the Nobel Prize. His Capability Approach (CA) evolved and took shape in the eighties; it is now providing theoretical foundation for alternative models of “development.” What is unique about the capability approach is that it put people at the focus of development; not economy. Since it revolves around expanding people’s capabilities, it recognizes all factors – personal, psychological, social, political, environmental etc – that can possibly affect people’s capability to function effectively.
There is more to “Development” than Economic Growth
Unfortunately, today mere economic growth (GDP) has become synonymous with development. However, now experts around the world are seeing the dangers of obsession with GDP growth. If left to market forces, growth predominantly works in favor of the richest few while the vast masses remain largely in deprivations. The expected trickle down process is highly inefficient. Therefore, governments have to redistribute wealth through welfare programs. The economic growth model sees people as mere tools to achieve its end, ignoring all important but non-economic factors of human well being such as social and cultural life, community participation, income and social security, etc.
This brand of “development” has also created a peculiar and highly unjust world-order – few “most developed” nations can exploit any small country, particularly if it has oil or natural wealth. The endless superpower meddling in the Middle East and so-called ‘war on terror’ are ugly examples of how to prop up GDP economies through unhealthy means.
Amartya Sen’s Capability Development Approach
Amartya Sen’s capability development model is simple, yet comprehensive. It revolves around the people and postulates that development must mean expansion of people’s capabilities. Sen accepts the important role of economic growth and technology but also considers the role of non-economic and non-material factors in shaping people’s capabilities. Therefore, Sen’s development model sees human life in totality, rather than limiting to economic factors alone.
The core of Sen’s thesis is simple: expansion of freedom leads to expansion of people’s capabilities which is development, and vice versa. Therefore, anything that restricts people’s freedom goes against development. For example, absence of economic infrastructure; social discrimination in any form – gender, racial, religious or regional; inability to access public services of say, healthcare, educational or banking, for whatever reason; hunger and poverty; inability to participate in economic, social and political activities and processes for whatever reasons. All such factors restrict people’s capabilities, and hence hinder the process of development.
Impact of Sen’s Capability Theory
Sen’s approach is relevant not just for the poor or “less developed” countries but also for the rich nations which are still afflicted by numerous maladies – racial and religious discriminations, high crime rates, drug or alcohol abuse, high level of stress among people, and so on. Application of the capability approach helps to diagnose the root of such problems. It has been applied to solve a range of issues – inequality, social exclusion, poverty, social justice, and human rights among a plethora of others.
Professor Sen’s influence is clearly seen in the UNDP’s programs and reports. Its Human Development Index (HDI) started in 1990 was the first major step towards measuring human well-being with parameters other than purely economic. In the mid nineties, it came up with the Human Poverty Index (HPI). It supplemented the HDI until 2010 when it was replaced by the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which assesses poverty through 10 indicators, probing lack of well-being, health and education. The HDI and MPI are enjoying world wide acceptance.
The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences praised Sen “for his contributions to welfare economics” and for restoring “an ethical dimension” to the discussion of vital issues of economics. The former UN Chief, Kofi Annan has remarked, “the world’s poor and dispossessed could have no more articulate or insightful a champion.” With his lifelong interest in people of poor economies and ethical form of development centering on the well being of people, he sure deserves such remarks.
Development, in true sense, is all about human well-being and allowing people to realize their true potentials to lead happy, satisfied and stress-free life – economic growth is just an important tool to achieve this end.
You may like to explore Amartya Sen’s capability theory of Development and Well being