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Development as Freedom: Intro

by Colman Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 11:44:39 AM EST

I finished my reading for 2006 by reading through Sen's Development as Freedom, in which he puts forward the thesis that we should think of development as something that increases the real freedoms and capabilities of people.

It's a book with lots of things to interest us here - a view of poverty as capability deprivation, the role of markets, the value of improving women's education and economic freedoms and the relationship between culture and human rights. I'm going to work through it over the next little while in order to sort it out in my own head, so I'll extract a few posts out of it

In Sen's view, economic development is important and useful only because it allows new opportunities and freedoms to people and political and  development is important in and of itself rather than a luxury to be purchased when a country is "rich enough" to afford it. So, democratic reforms are important and necessary in and of themselves - that they're generally an aid to economic development is a nice side effect. Sen is very impressed by the proposition that there has never been a famine in a democratically ruled state, because it's  generally embarrassing for a government to explain to voters why people are starving to death.

The point of economic development for him is not average GNP growth: it's freeing people from starvation, early death and illness and freeing them to live lives more as they would choose.

to further instalments from Précisville...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 01:01:16 PM EST
I might even try to riff off his stuff rather than give a  précis. I'm not sure whether that's a promise or a threat ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 03:11:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is an excellent book, I read it a couple of years ago and it impressed me greatly.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 03:20:41 PM EST
Sen focuses on an important concept, but I'm concerned that this use of "freedom" may undermine another important concept, that of "freedom" as the opposite of servitude, that is, the opposite of the rule of man by man through commands enforced by punishment.

Of course, the term "freedom" has already been stretched in so many directions as to be of limited value, so this may not be a strong objection. I'd like to see more use made of the term "liberty", in the sense of freedom to do that which the law does not forbid, a principle which forbids arbitrary command and punishment. The concept of "liberty" thus roughly corresponds to a figure-ground reversal of "rule of law". Liberty is compatible with both narrow and broad ranges of freedom, whether one takes "freedom" to mean "range of permitted actions" or "range of actual capabilities".

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Jan 2nd, 2007 at 11:22:53 PM EST
When I first learned of the book, I felt a similar malalaise with this use of the word "freedom" for the reason you describe.  But this comment by ThatBritGuy in In Wales' Social construction of poverty diary not only rang very true to my own sense of "poverty" but it also succintly expressed how the notion of freedom could be tied to development:

I have a very simple definition of poverty, which is that it's the opposite of freedom. The US cant about individual freedom is exactly that, and confuses potential freedom of a rich minority with the much more limited freedom of the 99% of the population.

Freedom includes freedom from starvation, thirst, and so on. But it also includes freedom to educate yourself, and contribute socially.

Having to scramble for cash is not freedom. You could argue that from this point of view, poverty is much more widespread than is usually accepted.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Wed Jan 3rd, 2007 at 09:45:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Freedom includes freedom from starvation, thirst, and so on."

This sense of "freedom" has no fundamental connection with "freedom" as liberty. If one happens to be lost in a desert, ones choices will be limited and perhaps horrible, but not because of oppression. "Freedom-from" isn't at all the same thing as "freedom-to" (and "freedom-to" has a limited connection with "ability-to").

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Wed Jan 3rd, 2007 at 04:19:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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