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However, maximising the condition of the least well off in purely economic terms is close enough for corporate work in a society that makes power - and indeed human worth - coterminous with economic wealth.

There are two different but mutually reinforcing projects in play here: The first is to emancipate the powerless, if you'll permit the high-flying expression. The second is to alter the way society allocates power to make it less dependent upon economic considerations.

You're talking about the second of those projects. This diary deals with the first. The second is dealt with here.

These two projects are intimately connected, because you work in the society you have, not the one you might like. Railing against an excessively narrow view of the basis for the allocation of power in society does not diminish one's duty to remedy the observed deficiencies in the allocation on the basis of the institutions that actually exist. Nor should remedying the plight of the afflicted in the present be construed as an excuse for failing to reform the underlying institutions.

Political movements that ignore the institutional basis for the problems they identify rapidly peter out into irrelevance after the first generation of activists. On the other hand, political movements that ignore the plight of the present in favour of building a more glorious future after the revolution tend to obtain poor results - I note in passing the IMF's structural adjustment programmes and the idea of bombing Iraq to democracy, and leave the rest of the laundry list of examples as an exercise to the reader.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Oct 4th, 2010 at 05:44:52 AM EST
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The common issue is accepting that in a sane society limiting the freedom of action of a tiny minority who deem themselves worthy of absolute, monarchic freedom to order and interfere in the lives of others can only create wider freedoms, more thoughtful participation, better planning and better decision making for everyone.

Effectively it's an argument against pseudo-monarchy. Which is different to the Anglo concept of freedom and choice which promises that individuals can become pseudo-monarchs through financial acquisition, and as their wealth increases their accountability and the limits on their personal power decrease.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 4th, 2010 at 06:37:29 AM EST
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This isn't a new concept at all. The points you raise were those first thought through by Atkinson and his work on how to measure poverty in the 1970's that led to Sen's development of the human poverty index that the World Bank now uses.  But it turns out that even when you look at just the standard economic dimensions of well being, correcting for equality in one dimension causes pretty wide disparities in others - such as how women or other minorities are experience life, for example. How one defines poverty is actually a pretty big exercise of power in itself.  

That's why Sen developed the capacity approach.  Focusing on equality of capacities to achieve and capacities to be is really the only way to achieve a semblance of equality in even the standard economic measures of well being.

by santiago on Mon Oct 4th, 2010 at 09:13:22 AM EST
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