Courtesy Reuters

The Road From Serfdom: Amartya Sen Argues that Growth Is Not Enough

In This Review

Development as Freedom

By Amartya Sen
Alfred A. Knopf, 1999
366 pp. $27.50

A perusal of professional economics journals today would make it difficult to appreciate the long and rich connection between economic discourse and moral philosophy. Adam Smith is usually credited with founding the discipline of economics in his remarkable Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The book persuasively sketched the general equilibrium characteristics of a market economy, showing that pursuit of private gain can be socially productive under conditions of competition. But Smith was also a professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University whose publications included The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In fact, most of the celebrated nineteenth-century economists, from Thomas Malthus through John Stuart Mill to Francis Edgeworth and Alfred Marshall, took moral considerations seriously and made important contributions to the subject.

Most economists these days eschew moral philosophy -- namely, the consideration of social justice -- because they consider it too "soft" for rigorous analytical treatment. But Amartya Sen harks back to the older and richer tradition of evaluating the considerations of economic efficiency -- which dominate most modern economic analyses -- with respect to their general social consequences. Such judgments require an ethical framework.

Sen was born in 1933 in Bengal, then part of British India, and studied there until he went to Cambridge University for postgraduate work. After teaching in India, he held various posts at Cambridge, the London School of Economics, and Oxford University. He went to Harvard University in 1989, where he held joint appointments in economics and philosophy before heading back to Cambridge in 1998 to become Master of Trinity College. That same year he won the Nobel Prize for his cumulative contributions to welfare economics -- especially his technical work on aggregating individual preferences into collective choices and assessing theoretically appropriate measures of poverty -- as well as his empirical work on the causes of famines, especially in South Asia and Africa.

Development as Freedom attempts to map out Sen's thoughts on economic development for a broad, nonspecialist audience, drawing extensively on his more technical work as well

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