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“Development as Freedom” by Amartya Sen Essay


According to Amartya Sen, the author of Development as Freedom, development is the appropriate metric for evaluating a country’s freedom, for it is impossible to make the right decisions regarding the subject without autonomy. He defines freedom as a co-dependent bunch of factors, which include human rights, social arrangements, political and economic freedom, protective security, and transparency guarantees (Sen 2).

Sen bypasses the value of judgment, which is conventionally used to define a developed country, and puts much emphasis on a country’s level of development, for this takes local decisions into consideration. This is a huge statement, and to put it into readers’ perspective, he provides a case where a local community contemplates abolishing its standard way of life for purposes of enhancing living standards.

The author emphasizes that regardless of the decision that the community comes up with, it will be a completely developed country as long as such determinations were arrived at the environment full of freedom. This demonstrates the interconnectivity of the five categories of freedom, as aforementioned. Political freedom is necessary when issues are to be weighed to come up with a determination that will be considered legitimate, with edification and social opportunities for parties engaging in such discussions (Sen 7).

Sen insists that the five categories of freedom are interrelated and should be implemented simultaneously, and he uses “Lee Thesis” to expound. In the case study, he argues that it is possible for a country to secure development before guaranteeing human, civil and political rights. Therefore, it is critical that countries that perceive Singapore as a model reevaluate their stand. A subject that requires critical analysis is whether dictatorship regimes have the ability to realize massive economic growth.

However, studies have shown the welfare of any society can be well addressed through democratic institutions, with security, healthcare, and education being the requisites. With such structures, members will willingly submit their views, whereby accountability and democracy will give leaders the necessary incentives to tackle issues. Sen believes that it is impossible for an accountable and democratic government to encounter issues such as famine because leaders always have the incentive to tackle such matters.

Further, he notes that a correlation exists between leadership and economic growth. Sen indicates that democratic regimes protect transparency and security, the mechanisms that are used in averting crisis. It is impossible to find an ideal democracy, and those that exist still face obstacles with respect to transparency. This demonstrates that democracy is indispensable in making the right decisions, although they may not be the perfect determinations (Sen 16).

Sen, in the Development as Freedom, addresses the issue of freedom, and opines that freedom cannot be deprived through community consensus for the tradition of curtaining communication between individual is non-existent.

He believes that it is not possible for the citizens of any state to deny the right to vote through democratic means. Although this issue is not dealt with explicitly in the text, it seems to be what drove people from the idea of communism since many believed that communists planned to set up a dictatorial communistic regime. The Development as Freedom does not in any way mention Islam religion, nor does it tackle issues in the context of development in the Middle East. Therefore, Sen does not wrestle with concerns regarding Islamic dynamics, such as the emergence of Sharia Law in Islamic countries, such as Somalia.

In the text, the author has failed to tackle the issue of the Internet, although technology is proving instrumental in the adoption of some of the five categories of freedom. Most importantly, the Internet is turning to be the mechanism for political liberty and freedom of speech, which some deep-rooted governments used to restrict. With the Internet, such rights can be guaranteed, and it indirectly engenders constructive improvements, such as accountability, transparency, and education.

Therefore, it is possible to raise issues affecting society, and these voices can certainly be heard and acted upon by concerned parties. To optimize the degree of freedom, Sen scrutinizes his preferred path to development throughout the Development as Freedom. However, he fails to tackle the subject regarding metrics of freedom and its progress. According to Sen, access to education and health care, as well as longevity, are some of the pertinent factors that call for consideration, although it is imperative that other factors, such as security, transparency, accountability, and freedom of speech are included.

One thing that was notable is the measurement of factors, such as corruption and transparency are massively difficult to determine, although Sen strongly opposes the notion that tradition can permit the deprival of some of the aforementioned rights. He recommends two approaches of perceiving democracy: economic aid always goes to submissive recipients, and that wealth accumulation is among the key drivers of developments. He seems to have huge respect for subjective valuation, for it concerns the decision-making process that is characterized by personal responsibility and autonomy (Sen 21).

Scholars consider the text as a step towards a humane society providing the benchmark for economics and ethics with regards to development. The thesis of the text is quite straightforward. Freedom is not only a fundamental end but also a key means of development. Economists have keenly analyzed metrics of development, such as the GDP, household incomes, advances in technology, social modernization, or industrialization, and yet disregard freedom.

The text presents some troubling thoughts through Sen’s basic assumption regarding human nature and the lack of premeditated strategies in arriving at a targeted goal. He believes that freedom is the principal element of growth, human progress can solely be evaluated through the enhancement of freedom, and that development correlates with the free agency of citizens. Many are in agreement with these affirmations as long as the designation of freedom is broadened to include both religious and material desires. However, agency freedom of the citizen is a subject that continues to attract controversy within the economic circles.

To tackle this issue, Sen provides proof that higher income does not necessarily improve welfare with respect to life expectancy. He points out that welfare expenditure can be the means of spurring economic growth, considering that they are labor-intensive (Sen 11)..

Sen is utterly opposed to the “Lee Thesis” that argues that it is correct to deprive civil rights as long as they espouse growth and wealth accumulation. Sen’s thoughts are that civil rights and political freedom should not be approached via means of ultimately attaining them and goes further to say that freedom is similarly good for the promotion of economic growth. He argues that freedom is the primary determinant of social effectiveness and personal initiative.

Further, Sen is opposed to market regulations, which are purposely designed to curtail the freedom of what to buy and sell. To support his argument regarding economic freedom, he uses the term “free labor,” popularly associated with Karl Marx. He believes that Marx was a true agitator of capitalist freedom, while his idea of democracy was restricted to pluralism (Sen 24).

The capability approach is the central vision of Sen’s ideologies, which dictates that human capability takes preference to factors, such as economic growth. He puts his focus on judgment and agency of individuals, as well as their responsibly, capability, and opportunities. The most recommendable way of fostering growth is raising human capability, and this is because it streamlines decision making and improves wellbeing, as well as production.

Sen scrupulously makes a distinction between human capital and capability. Human capital is a key in realizing economic possibilities, and on the other hand, human capability enhances the possibility of people to lead lives they consider valuable with the freedom to make choices. For instance, education is a key beyond its traditional role in the production, for it equally increases human capability, and thus, enhances the freedom of choice (Sen 25).

In Sen’s thesis, the progressive facets are overshadowed by a number of problems, such as eccentricity and localism. Adam Smith is apparently the key source of Sen’s inspiration and motivation. On the subject of freedom of engaging in the transaction and exchange as a fundamental liberty, Adams thought is highlighted. Aristotle, a strong supporter of freedom, is also quoted for his works in capacity and flourishing. The text depicts Sen as a champion of a capitalist economy with exceptional values, such as accountability and transparency, which promote trust and ethical behavior. Sen’s capability and entitlement approaches are individualistic in the context of methodology and results from microeconomic theories (Sen 19).

It is rational to think that in spite of a country’s economic state of affairs, a democratic regime should be able to avert suffering on its populace. Although Sen remains skeptical with regard to the ability of poverty-stricken nations, such as India, in improving the welfare of its people, he appreciates their efforts. In Sen’s writings on famines and poverty, he sees democracy as the most appropriate means of addressing problems, for it involves a free press in articulating concerns to the concerned leaders.

He asserts that India can confirm this since it had used these avenues in the past to address the issues of poverty and famine, and their outcomes have been commendable. Partially, his points of view are from experiential studies and, in one way or another, rely on suppositions on the subject of human motivation. The economist believes that a free press is one of the reasons why leaders are able to make sound decisions, which ultimately get rid of suffering and anguish.

However, the freedom of speech has not been successful in spurring development in many developed countries. On the contrary, it is the material means, such as healthcare services, education and land redistribution, which have proved instrumental in boosting economic growth. Despite the freedom of speech being important for instrumental values, care should be taken while drawing conclusion regarding factor that is key in spurring economic development (Sen 23).

Works Cited

Sen, Amartya. Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

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