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Amartya Sen

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Amartya Kumar Sen

November 3, 1933 (age 75)


Birth
Santiniketan, West Bengal, British India
Nationality India
Harvard University
Cornell University
Delhi School of Economics
Cambridge University
Institution
Oxford University
London School of Economics
Princeton University
Jadavpur University
Field Welfare economics
Trinity College, Cambridge (Ph.D.)(B.A.)
Presidency College, Kolkata (B.A.)
Alma mater
Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan
(matriculation)
Influences John Rawls
Contributions Human development theory
Awards Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
(1998)
Bharat Ratna (1999)
Information at IDEAS/RePEc

Amartya Kumar Sen CH (Hon) (Bengali : অমততয কুমার েেন, Ômorto Kumar Shen) (born 3
November 1933), is an Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Thomas W. Lamont
University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University.
He is also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge [1]. He is known "for his contributions
to welfare economics" for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare
economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political
liberalism. He is a distinguished economist-philosopher who won the Nobel Memorial
Prize in Economic Sciences in the year 1998 for his work on welfare economics.

From 1998 to 2004 he was Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, becoming
the first Indian academic to head an Oxbridge college. He is also a former honorary
president of Oxfam. Amartya Sen's books have been translated into more than thirty
languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. As of 2009 he has
received over 80 honorary doctorates from several world renowned universities
worldwide.

Contents
[hide]

• 1 Biography
o 1.1 Personal life
o 1.2 Education and career
o 1.3 Research
• 2 Criticism
• 3 Honours and awards
• 4 Publications
• 5 References

• 6 External links

[edit] Biography
[edit] Personal life

Sen hails from a distinguished landed family from East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh).
His maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen was a renowned scholar of medieval Indian
literature, an authority on the philosophy of Hinduism. He was a close associate of
Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan. He became the second Vice Chancellor of Visva-
Bharati University, Santiniketan. His maternal grandfather was an uncle of the first Chief
Election Commissioner of India, Sukumar Sen and the Law Minister of India, Ashoke
Kumar Sen. Sen's father was Ashutosh Sen and his mother was Amita Sen, who were
born at Manikganj, Dhaka. His father taught chemistry at Dhaka University (now in
Bangladesh) and later became Chairman of the West Bengal Public Services
Commission. Sen's first wife was Nabaneeta Dev Sen, a well known Indian writer and
scholar, with whom he had two children: Antara and Nandana. Their marriage broke up
shortly after they moved to London in 1971. In 1973, he married his second wife, Eva
Colorni, who died from stomach cancer quite suddenly in 1985. They had two children,
Indrani and Kabir. His present wife Emma Georgina Rothschild, is an economic
historian, an expert on Adam Smith and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.

Sen brought up his youngest children on his own. Indrani is a journalist in New York, and
Kabir teaches music at Shady Hill School in Cambridge and has produced 3 of his own
hip-hop Albums. His eldest daughter Antara Dev Sen is an Indian journalist who, along
with her husband Pratik Kanjilal, publishes The Little Magazine. Nandana Sen is a
Bollywood actor.

Sen usually spends winter holidays at his home in Shantiniketanin West Bengal, India,
where he likes to go on long bike rides, and maintains a house in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, where he and Emma spend the spring and long vacations. Asked how he
relaxes, he replies: "I read a lot and like arguing with people."

[edit] Education and career

Sen was born in Santiniketan, West Bengal, the University town established by the poet
Rabindranath Tagore, another Indian Nobel Prize winner. His ancestral home was in
Wari, Dhaka in modern-day Bangladesh. Rabindranath Tagore is said to have given
Amartya Sen his name ("Amartya" meaning "immortal").

Sen began his high-school education at St Gregory's School in Dhaka in 1941, in modern-
day Bangladesh. His family migrated to India following partition in 1947. Sen studied in
India at the Visva-Bharati University school and Presidency College, Kolkata before
moving to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he earned a First Class First
(Congratulatory First) BA (Honours) in 1956 and then a Ph.D. in 1959. To Sen, then
Cambridge was like a battlefield. There were major debates between supporters of
Keynesian economics and the diverse contributions of Keynes’ followers, on the one
hand, and the “neo-classical” economists skeptical of Keynes, on the other. Sen was
lucky to have close relations with economists on both sides of the divide. Meanwhile,
thanks to its good “practice” of democratic and tolerant social choice, Sen’s own college,
Trinity College, was an oasis very much removed from the discord. However, because of
a lack of enthusiasm for social choice theory whether in Trinity or Cambridge, Sen had to
choose a quite different subject for his Ph.D. thesis, after completing his B.A. He
submitted his thesis on “the choice of techniques” in 1959 under the supervision of the
totally brilliant but vigorously intolerant Joan Robinson.[2][3]
While an undergraduate student of Trinity College he met Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis
in Cambridge. Mahalanobis, after returning to Calcutta, recommended Sen to Triguna
Sen, then the Education Minister of West Bengal. When Sen arrived in India on a two
year leave from Cambridge during his second year of doctoral research,Triguna Sen
appointed him as Professor and Head of Department of Economics at Jadavpur
University, Calcutta, his very first appointment, at the age of 23. Between 1960–1961, he
taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a visiting professor.[4]

During his tenure at Jadavpur University, he had the good fortune of having the great
economic methodologist, A. K. Dasgupta, who was then teaching in Benares, as his
supervisor. Subsequently, Sen won a Prize Fellowship at Trinity College, which gave him
four years of freedom to do anything he liked, during which he took the radical decision
of studying philosophy. That proved to be of immense help to his later research. Sen
related the importance of studying philosophy thus: “The broadening of my studies into
philosophy was important for me not just because some of my main areas of interest in
economics relate quite closely to philosophical disciplines (for example, social choice
theory makes intense use of mathematical logic and also draws on moral philosophy, and
so does the study of inequality and deprivation), but also because I found philosophical
studies very rewarding on their own.”[5]

He has taught economics at Calcutta, Jadavpur University, Delhi School of


Economics(where he completed his magnum opus Collective Choice and Social Welfare
in 1970)[6], Oxford (where he was first a Professor of Economics at Nuffield College and
then the Drummond Professor of Political Economy and a Fellow of All Souls College),
London School of Economics, Harvard and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge,
between 1998 and 2004.[7] In January 2004 Sen returned to Harvard. He is also a
contributor to the Eva Colorni Trust at the former London Guildhall University.

In May 2007, he was appointed as chairman of Nalanda Mentor Group to steer the
execution of Nalanda University Project, which seeks to revive the ancient seat of
learning at Nalanda, Bihar, India into an international university.

[edit] Research

Sen's papers in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped develop the theory of social choice,
which first came to prominence in the work by the American economist Kenneth Arrow,
who, while working at the RAND Corporation, famously proved that all voting rules, be
they majority rule or two thirds-majority or status quo, must inevitably conflict with some
basic democratic norm. Sen's contribution to the literature was to show under what
conditions Arrow's impossibility theorem would indeed come to pass as well as to extend
and enrich the theory of social choice, informed by his interests in history of economic
thought and philosophy.

In 1981, Sen published Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation
(1981), a book in which he demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food,
but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. Sen's interest in famine
stemmed from personal experience. As a nine-year-old boy, he witnessed the Bengal
famine of 1943, in which three million people perished. This staggering loss of life was
unnecessary, Sen later concluded. He presents data that there was an adequate food
supply in Bengal at the time, but particular groups of people including rural landless
labourers and urban service providers like haircutters did not have the monetary means to
acquire food as its price rose rapidly due to factors that include British military
acquisition, panic buying, hoarding, and price gouging, all connected to the war in the
region. In Poverty and Famines, Sen revealed that in many cases of famine, food supplies
were not significantly reduced. In Bengal, for example, food production, while down on
the previous year, was higher than in previous non-famine years. Thus, Sen points to a
number of social and economic factors, such as declining wages, unemployment, rising
food prices, and poor food-distribution systems. These issues led to starvation among
certain groups in society. His capabilities approach focuses on positive freedom, a
person's actual ability to be or do something, rather than on negative freedom approaches,
which are common in economics and simply focuses on non-interference. In the Bengal
famine, rural laborers' negative freedom to buy food was not affected. However, they still
starved because they were not positively free to do anything, they did not have the
functioning of nourishment, nor the capability to escape morbidity.

In addition to his important work on the causes of famines, Sen's work in the field of
development economics has had considerable influence in the formulation of the Human
Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme. This
annual publication that ranks countries on a variety of economic and social indicators
owes much to the contributions by Sen among other social choice theorists in the area of
economic measurement of poverty and inequality.

Sen's revolutionary contribution to development economics and social indicators is the


concept of 'capability' developed in his article "Equality of What." He argues that
governments should be measured against the concrete capabilities of their citizens. This is
because top-down development will always trump human rights as long as the definition
of terms remains in doubt (is a 'right' something that must be provided or something that
simply cannot be taken away?). For instance, in the United States citizens have a
hypothetical "right" to vote. To Sen, this concept is fairly empty. In order for citizens to
have a capacity to vote, they first must have "functionings." These "functionings" can
range from the very broad, such as the availability of education, to the very specific, such
as transportation to the polls. Only when such barriers are removed can the citizen truly
be said to act out of personal choice. It is up to the individual society to make the list of
minimum capabilities guaranteed by that society. For an example of the "capabilities
approach" in practice, see Martha Nussbaum's Women and Human Development.

He wrote a controversial article in The New York Review of Books entitled "More Than
100 Million Women Are Missing" (see Missing women of Asia), analyzing the mortality
impact of unequal rights between the genders in the developing world, particularly Asia.
Other studies, such as one by Emily Oster, have argued that this is an overestimation,
though Oster has recanted some of her conclusions.[8]
Sen was seen as a ground-breaker among late twentieth-century economists for his
insistence on discussing issues seen as marginal by most economists. He mounted one of
the few major challenges to the economic model that posited self-interest as the prime
motivating factor of human activity. While his line of thinking remains peripheral, there
is no question that his work helped to re-prioritize a significant sector of economists and
development workers, even the policies of the United Nations.

Welfare economics seeks to evaluate economic policies in terms of their effects on the
well-being of the community. Sen, who devoted his career to such issues, was called the
"conscience of his profession." His influential monograph Collective Choice and Social
Welfare (1970), which addressed problems related to individual rights (including
formulation of the liberal paradox), justice and equity, majority rule, and the availability
of information about individual conditions, inspired researchers to turn their attention to
issues of basic welfare. Sen devised methods of measuring poverty that yielded useful
information for improving economic conditions for the poor. For instance, his theoretical
work on inequality provided an explanation for why there are fewer women than men in
India and China despite the fact that in the West and in poor but medically unbiased
countries, women have lower mortality rates at all ages, live longer, and make a slight
majority of the population. Sen claimed that this skewed ratio results from the better
health treatment and childhood opportunities afforded boys in those countries, as well as
sex-specific abortion.

Governments and international organizations handling food crises were influenced by


Sen's work. His views encouraged policy makers to pay attention not only to alleviating
immediate suffering but also to finding ways to replace the lost income of the poor, as,
for example, through public-works projects, and to maintain stable prices for food. A
vigorous defender of political freedom, Sen believed that famines do not occur in
functioning democracies because their leaders must be more responsive to the demands
of the citizens. In order for economic growth to be achieved, he argued, social reforms,
such as improvements in education and public health, must precede economic reform.

Although Sen is a self-proclaimed atheist, he claims that this can be associated with
Hinduism as a political entity.[9][10][11][12]

Sen is criticized as anti-market proponent by some economists, and as uncritical of


globalization by others.[13] Sen cites Peter Bauer as a major influence on his thinking.

[edit] Criticism
Amartya Sen has been criticized for his writings outside of economics, especially for his
views on the history of Islam and Jihad, by Fouad Ajami in The Washington Post.[14] See
also "A Philosophical Conversation between Professor Sen & Dr Roy" [2] first published
in The Statesman "Eighth Day" www.thestatesman.net 14 May 2006
Historian Mark Tauger disagrees with Sen that food availability was not the predominant
problem in 1940s Bengal and argues that the famine was mainly the result of a natural
disaster.[15]

The 'new famines' school headed by Stephen Devereux criticises Sen for prolonging the
dominant view of famines as events rather than processes.[citation needed] He has been praised
for his humanitarian understanding of poor people.

The book Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry


published first in Routlege's International Library of Philosophy in 1989 (now available
at http://independentindian.com/introduction-and-some-biography/philosophy-of-
economics-on-the-scope-of-reason-in-economic-inquiry-1989/) contains a critique of
social choice theory including Sen's "paretian liberal" analysis.

[edit] Honours and awards


• He received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in welfare
economics in 1998.
• He received the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India in 1999.
• In 1999 he received honorary citizenship of Bangladesh from Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina in recognition of his achievements in winning the Nobel Prize, and
given that his family origins were in what has become the modern state of
Bangladesh
• He received the 2000 Leontief Prize for his outstanding contribution to economic
theory from the Global Development and Environment Institute.
• In 2002 he received the International Humanist Award from the International
Humanist and Ethical Union.
• Eisenhower Medal, for Leadership and Service USA, 2000;
• Companion of Honour, UK, 2000.
• In 2003, he was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian
Chamber of Commerce.
• Life Time Achievement award by Bangkok-based United Nations Economic and
Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)

[edit] Publications
• The Idea of Justice London: Allen Lane, July 2009.
• Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time), New York,
W. W. Norton, 2006.
• The Argumentative Indian, 2005.
• Rationality and Freedom, 2004.
• Inequality Reexamined, 2004.
• Development as Freedom, 1999.
• Freedom, Rationality, and Social Choice: The Arrow Lectures and Other essays,
2000.
• Reason Before Identity, 1999.
• Choice of Techniques, 1960.
• Collective Choice and Social Welfare, 1970, Holden-Day, 1984, Elsevier.
Description.
• On Economic Inequality, 1973.
• Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, 1981.
• Hunger and Public Action, jointly edited with Jean Drèze, 1989
• India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity, with Jean Drèze, 1995.
• Commodities and Capabilities, 1999.
• Sen, Amartya, On Economic Inequality, New York, Norton, 1973. (Expanded
edition with a substantial annexe by James E. Foster and A. Sen, 1997).
• Sen, Amartya, Poverty and Famines : An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation,
Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1982.
• Sen, Amartya, Choice, Welfare and Measurement, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1982.
• Sen, Amartya, Food Economics and Entitlements, Helsinki, Wider Working Paper
1, 1986.
• Sen, Amartya, On Ethics and Economics, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1987.
• Drèze, Jean and Sen, Amartya, Hunger and Public Action. Oxford: Clarendon
Press. 1989.
• Sen, Amartya, "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing". New York Review
of Books, 1990. ([3])
• Sen, Amartya, Inequality Reexamined, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.
• Nussbaum, Martha, and Sen, Amartya. The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1993.
• Sen, Amartya, Reason Before Identity (The Romanes Lecture for 1998), Oxford,
Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-951389-9
• Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.
(Review by the Asia Times)
• Sen, Amartya, Rationality and Freedom, Harvard, Harvard Belknap Press, 2002.
• Sen, Amartya, The Argumentative Indian, London: Allen Lane, 2005. (Review by
the Guardian, Review by the Washington Post)
• Sen, Amartya, An Aspect of Indian Agriculture, Economic Weekly, Vol. 14, 1962.
• Other Publications on Google Scholar

[edit] References
1. ^ http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/index.php?pageid=321
2. ^ http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1998/sen-autobio.html
3. ^ [1]
4. ^ http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1998/sen-autobio.html.
5. ^ http://www.beijingforum.org/en/ShowArticle.asp?ArticleID=452
6. ^ http://econdse.org/
7. ^ The Master of Trinity
8. ^ http://papers.nber.org/papers/w13971
9. ^ Reported lecture http://www.facinghistory.org/node/246
10. ^ Self-proclaimed
http://www.chowk.com/show_article.cgi?aid=00005503&channel=gulberg
11. ^ World Bank
http://info.worldbank.org/etools/BSPAN/PresentationView.asp?EID=354&PID=688
12. ^ Press meeting http://www.rediff.com/business/1998/dec/28sen.htm
13. ^
http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,,465963,00
.html
14. ^ Fouad Ajami: “Enemies, a Love Story.A Nobel laureate argues that civilizations are not
clashing. The Washington Post. Sunday, April 2, 2006
15. ^ Mark Tauger faculty information at West Virginia University

[edit] External links


This article's external links may not follow Wikipedia's content policies or
guidelines. Please improve this article by removing excessive or inappropriate external
links. (August 2009)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Amartya Sen

• Curriculum Vitae
• Autobiography
• Encyclopaedia Britannica's Biography - Amartya Sen
• IDEAS/RePEc
• Amartya Sen's articles at the New York review of books
• Amartya Sen: The Possibility of Social Choice (Nobel lecture)
• Indian Personalities - Amartya Sen
• Amartya Sen: Democracy as a Universal Value
• Amartya Sen: Population: Delusion and Reality (1994)
• Amartya Sen: Delusion and Reality (Asian Affairs 2002)
• Amartya Sen: The Standard of Living, PDF at Tanner Lectures
• Amartya Sen: Equality of what?, PDF at Tanner Lectures
• Amartya Sen: Global Justice: Beyond International Equity
• Amartya Sen: Satyajit Ray and the art of Universalism: Our Culture, Their
Culture
• Jabberwock: Amartya Sen on identity and choice
• Amartya Sen: India through its Calendars
• A Kerala experience
• Frontline issue on Amartya Sen
• S. P. J. Batterbury and J. L. Fernando: Amartya Sen
• Profile in The Guardian
• Vamsicharan Vakulabharanam, Sripad Motiram: Progressive, but Problematic An
Appreciation and Critique of Amartya Sen (Ghadar; May 1, 2000)
• Guido Traversa:The violence of the unique identity A Critical Review of Amartya
Sen's 'Identity and Violence'
• Human Development and Capability Association
• International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE)
• Journal of Feminist Economics
• Small Is Bountiful
• Report on Sen's lecture on "comparative justice" at Harvard Law School in the
Harvard Law Record

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