Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review (#5 of 2010)

Development as Freedom, by Amartya Sen.
This was the first book I bought after returning home from two years overseas in 2004. It has traveled with us until now. It's probably best that I didn't read it until recently since I have a much better appreciation of the arguments.

Sen is a Nobel prize winning economist (1998), and one of my grad school teacher's teacher's teacher. He combines economic analysis with moral philosophy. His point (I think) is that freedom is both and ends and a means of development, and we should analyze policies' effects on freedom.

He delves into the philosophical problems of development. For example, material well-being can't be the best measure of economic development because American slaves had higher incomes and life expectancy than certain people in the third world today-- yet they had no freedom. We need a measure of freedom, which requires its own understandings and definitions.

Sen compares the thinking of the Scottish Enlightenment to libertarianism to Rawlsian thinking. So, there are some deep philosophical weeds to wade through. Chapter 4 is the best, dealing with issues of statism vs. markets.

Sen bases his thinking mostly on Adam Smith, and he fleshes out many of the lesser-known aspects of Smith's writings. But he also brings Eastern thought to the table in an attempt to humble Western assumptions of moral/philosophical tolerance. He debunks the idea of "Asian values" being culpable for Chinese statism but roundly points out the progress of the Chinese economically while dealing with their restrictions on freedom.

It's not a book for the non-philosophically or economically inclined. But it was good to read at this stage in my career. I'm more interested in some of his other thinking and works on development.

2.5 stars out of 5.

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