Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen
First Indian Economist to be Nobel Laureate
If for the Pokharan Test May 11, 1998 was a red letter day in the history of national security of India so was October 14 the same year when Amartya Sen became the sixth Indian and first Indian economist to be a Nobel Laureate. The chain started with Tagore, the poet in 1913 followed by physicist C.V. Raman in 1930. Hargobind Khorana came next in 1968 with his work on genes followed by Mother Teresa in 1979 for peace. Amartya was preceded by Subramanian Chandrasekhar the great physicist in 1983. The earlier prizes were given for literature, Science and peace. An Indian securing it in Economics was rather a rare occasion for it was not for producing technical solutions for obscure problems relating to the functioning of the financial markets but for his dealing "with issues of democracy, the assessment of poverty and poverty reduction and human welfare not in terms of goods and services but of widening choice for people through empowerment." Rathin Roy of London University is of the view "The prize is long overdue..., and hopefully by giving it to an economic philosopher it also recognizes that economics is about more than second-rate math and second-rate physics." Roli Asthana gave went to her fury when she said "the prize has over the years been trivialised by being awarded to people who have produced technical solutions for some obscure problem relating to the functioning of the financial markets." They were actually not concerned with the human and welfare factor. She might have been thinking of the two Americans Myron Scholes and Robert Merton who won the 1997 prize for developing the formula which laid the foundation for the explosive growth in markets in financial derivatives over the past 10 years, a vital tool for speculative trading by banks and other institutions. According to a national daily 'Sen, in fact has a well known contempt for the narrow view of economics... Sen's economic vision is intrinsically bound up with his social vision, which in turn enshrines three basic dimensions: Development, Freedom, Opportunities'. Nobel laureate Robert Solon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Amartya Sen as the "conscience-keeper of the economics profession" Shekhar Gupta, Chief Editor of Indian Express exhorts people to 'listen to Amartya Sens of the world and forget the Jagdish-Bhagwatis for the moment'.
Born at Santiniketan, the ideal institution started by Tagore, the first poet laureate of India Sen wanted to become a Sanskrit scholar in his early years. By the time he was in school his ambition changed and he would long to be a mathematician. A few years later he was set on becoming a physicist. It was when he was in Calcutta's Presidency College that he settled for Economics. Even today he combines the essence of all these disciplines dressed with the Bengali tradition of literature and the fine-arts. The seeds of his vision were sown in the year 1943 when he came to Calcutta with his grand parents and at the age of 10 saw "the streets full of emaciated looking faces and people dying in large numbers." The Bengal famine affected even the surroundings of Santiniketan. Only after a couple of years again he saw the communal riots that preceded the independence of India. Sen Once recalled these as his most vivid memories. They moulded his mind, so did Santiniketan. Tagore's ashram, away from the city, nurtured his love and reverence for the Indian tradition of studying the scriptures. 'Even to-day' an ashramite recalls, 'when the professor is in India he spends some time at Santiniketan' as he feels much at home there. 'No', he continues, "here he is not the famous professor the world knows. Here he moves about as any other old boy, the Santiniketani cloth-bag slung down his shoulder, wearing leather sandals and merrily joining the adda at Kalo's tea shop under the tree". Visiting his mother at Santiniketan, who lives there, is an additional attraction for Amartya who wished her to be at his side when he was given the Nobel Prize and the citation. Having been inspired by his maternal grand father Kshitish Mohan Sen, a reputed Sanskrit scholar Amartya drew deeply on the works of great writers. Among the English he had a fascination for Shakespeare the romantic and Shaw the anti-romantic. He studied, the Greek classics too. But the Indian epics and the literature of native Bengal left a permanent impression on the young Amartya's mind.
Comparison of Kautilya with Adam Smith
Amartya Sen has so profound a study of the ancient Indian writers that when he delivered the first Baffi memorial lecture of the Bank of Italy in Rome, attended even by the President, he drew at length on Kautilya's Ar-thashastra and compared Adam Smith with him. Sen has written more than 200 research articles and 18 books. He has been the Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford and Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics. He then came back to India to set up the economics department at Jadavpur University and moved to Delhi School of Economics where he worked for seven years. Then he joined the prestigious job as Lamont Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard that he left only in 1997 to take over as Master of Trinity College at Cambridge, 'a singularly prestigious position that no Indian has ever occupied so far'. Just a coincidence that Amartya had won the undergraduate Adam Smith prize at Trinity, where he was a student, for his first publication The Choice of Techniques. Even earlier when he was a school boy he helped his grand father Kshitish Mohan Sen who wrote a book on Hinduism. Actually it was Amartya who made a connection between Economics and Philosophy—a rare phenomenon in the contemporary field of Economics. It was most probably because he was brought up as a 'Renaissance Man' in the Santiniketan, which till his youth bore the impress of Gurudev who was the first Indian to be a Nobel Laureate for his poetry that was full of Indian philosophical heights, and who had given him the name Amartya.
Amartya Sen was a reverred teacher even in his earlier stags as a lecturer at Cambridge. Being the youngest one at 28 he was given the 9 a.m. slot. If one had to attend his lecturer one had to reach his class in the dark—shivering all along. Most 9 a.m. lecturers addressed half empty classes. It was only Sen whose classes were full even during the winter fog. Mani Shanker Aiyar who happened to be his student refers to his lectures as 'his crystal clear articulation, like a wind piercing through the winter fog that made him the most popular lecturer on the circuit' 'He taught his students', says Aiyar 'most others mumbled to themselves.'
When a scholar or a poet reaches certain heights he is appreciated by some—criticized vehemently by others. Keats, the master of Odes and Shelley' known for his personal sensitivity in his works fell to the axe of their critics. The romantic renaissance had to face a fatal blow. But here is Amartya Sen who was derisively referred to as the professor of Hunger by his critics came to be known as the Renaissance Man in the field of modern Economics that he dressed with philosophy. Economics was considered rather a boring— uninteresting subject. Sen gave it a human touch by bringing it to the sphere of the problems of hunger, elementary education, primary health and gender equality. Economics, with Amartya Sen 'can never again be accused of being the dismal science. While by now, economics was confused with some sort of mysterious business-oriented science and Nobel Prizes were given for statistical techniques like input-output analysis 'Sen's passionate concerns have been more sociological and philosophical'. His Nobel Prize citation asserts that "by combining tools from economics and philosophy, he has restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems". His findings do not follow the statistical wizardry but the grassroot realities that the society experiences in day to day life. His work has relevance for ordinary people too. His philosophy is easy to understand and can be related to our everyday experiences.
Poverty and Mass Deprivation
A great Vedic Scholar once told his adversary, a great authority in the realms of a well known religious fraternity, that his philosophy begins from the point where the latter one's ends. So is the case with Apiartya. His work begins at the failure of conventional economics and of market forces in tackling with problems of the masses—poverty and mass deprivation. Earlier Sen had jointly worked with Jean Dreze. They jointly propounded the theory of empowerment that forms the basis of his treatise. He puts forth a different type of solution for famines, population and inequality. He, in his works, established that there may be a famine in spite of high food availability. He explains why Indian women in certain regions in the country are more malnourished than even those who live in some infamous African countries. These, according to him, are not because of market forces or techniques but are determined by social factors. It is from these infirmities that his doctrine of empowerment comes. His solutions are simple, convincing but unconventional. For famine struck area his solution is not direct distribution of food but to work on a plan that creates more jobs *which empowers the potential famine victims to command food. The wages enable people to buy food from the market and then inspire them to grow their own food. It was because of India's food-for-work programme that' India has been successful in avoiding famines. In the same way he propounds the theory that there may be lower GDP in a particular region. But if higher education levels are higher poverty levels may be and are far lower than those in states that are relatively richer. He cites the example of Kerala. It is because of higher education levels again among women in Kerala that have resulted in lower birth rates and lesser inequality. Sen's concepts link the theory of social choice, definitions of welfare and poverty the studies of famine with an interest in how resources are distributed, and how all this affects the poorest in society. For all this Sen has been seen in this light by great academicians and economists. Geoffrey Harcourt of Cambridge University considers Sen's works as (a wonderful signal'.—'Amartya works on the sorts of issues that economists should work on', he says. He adds, Sen 'is in the same league as people like Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and Kalecki...' Lord Desai, Professor at the London School of Economics adds that the prize recognised Sen's contribution "to make economics serve some human purpose in a unique manner... His work has spanned social choice, economic development, famine and poverty; he has contributed to human philosophy and rigorous economics with the aim of bettering the lot of the people". In his self effacing style Amartya Sen said himself from New York. "I am happy that the subject chosen (in the citation) is one that I think makes needed emphasis.... A lot of very good work has been done this is also a recognition of the subject than just of me". Although Sen has lived for most of his career in the States or England he is still an Indian citizen. He emphasized that the Nobel Prize was just one of many recognitions and that these were Indians from different fields who had received other forms of recognition.
By recognizing Sen's brand of welfare Economics the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (that conferred the honor on him) also recognized the limits of neo-liberal economics in the age of globalization. Sen, of course is not against economic reform but, India giving too much of emphasis on liberalization since 1991 has let him conclude that "reform without simultaneously effecting radical changes in social policy, including those governing basic education, ownership patterns, elementary health care and the status of women could be a self-defeating exercise. Sen sees economic development in terms of expansion of opportunities that the individual in society enjoys. For Sen what is important is not whether there is equality but what type of equality—not more or less governance but what type of governance. His association with Sukhamoy Chakravarty in the '60s and K.N. Raj in the 70s were decisive in taking up India as a laboratory, a great sounding board on which to test some of his greatest ideas. India's heterogeneous character and wide disparities excites him. It was quite justified to choose a povertarian for the Prize when even Jeffery Sachs in The Economist has written a special article on 'what is wrong with global capitalism'. India's economic growth is checked by the human factor which most of the industrialists treat with contempt. 'Sen's basic theory, as Shekhar says 'is that it is the quality of population that determines country's growth and its sustainability'. Thus the State should invest in the quality of its population. Better educated and healthier people have a better quality of life and consume more. That is what the industries need. The protection of industries in the countries should be stopped.
Decentralization of elementary Education
A few years back Sen While delivering a lecture in Delhi drew attention to the paradox that although India produced six times as many graduates as China there were six times fewer children in primary schools in the country. Thus, as Aiyar has said, decentralization of elementary education and funding it by the government will bring about a revolution of empowerment of the weakest segment in our nation building that Sen has hinted at. Education at lower levels works miracles in economic progress in the developing countries. That is how Hong Kong, South Korea and China have made progress by making massive investments in the quality of their population. Literacy level in Korea in 1980 rose to 93 from 71 of 1960 while India moved to mere 36 from 28 of 60s. While we may he proud of 50% literacy (with many false reports) India has achieved the level of 80. Among the younger Chinese it is almost universal. It is rather sad that our national literacy rate is four points lower than even the 'darkest region in the dark continent'. It has resulted in infant mortality in Orissa 124 per thousand while it is 104 in sub-Saharan Africa. Life expectancy at birth too is a mirror, of the economic achievement because of social conditions. In 1990 it was only 59 in India while in Thailand 66, Malaysia 70, Philippines 64, Indonesia it was 62. That is why the ASEAN countries are much ahead of India in economic posture.
Sen has expressed satisfaction that development economics has been recognised as a discipline. The world has at last awakened to the concerns of the majority of the global population. Najma Heptulla, Dy. Chairman of Rajya Sabha says that there was growth but "So far it has been a jobless growth, a voiceless growth not accompanied by an extension of democracy. It is a future-less growth with unsustainable and reckless exploitation of natural resources, and a ruthless growth which has caused ever-widening disparities." It is rather startling that two percent people usurp 86 per cent of world consumption. The remaining 98 per cent have to do with 14 per cent of consumable resources. Heptulla stresses that $ 40 billion are needed for human-development infrastructure in developing countries as 60 per cent people in these countries have no basic sanitation, a third lack access to clean water, a quarter lack adequate housing, twenty per cent have no modern health facilities while developed countries spend more than $ 50 billion on cosmetics, perfumes and other luxury items. The richest 20 per cent consume 60 per cent of total global energy whereas the poorest 20 per cent are left with 4 per cent. Three fourths of Telecom lines go to the richest 20 per cent while the poorest 20 per cent have to be satisfied with 2 per cent. Expressing the postulates propounded by Sen Heptulla writes, "The new paradigm would require people to be educated and informed, driven by human values and not by dictates of the market, and enlarged opportunities to participate in key decisions on freedom and democracy". Sen has stressed the structure and quality of growth and has also accepted that India's successful experiment in democracy during the 5 decades could form basis for efforts towards comprehensive human development. Mani Shankar Aiyar has shown how a national Mid-day Meal Scheme in Tamil Nadu pattern by attaching a Kitchen to every school Tamil Nadu literacy rates have soared in under a generation from UP levels to Kerala levels and gender equality in the younger generation has surged beyond our wildest expectations. As Aiyar stresses A pledge arid a practical package to achieve universal elementary education within The life of the Ninth Plan is the only sincere tribute we can pay India's latest Nobel Laureate'. But we must remember that Amartya Sen is not only a national figure he stands for the international new postures among the have-nots for the real economic growth in the world. His new thinking is the golden midway between socialist planning and privatization. The debacle of both these ideologies necessitated a new thinking whose concerns were investment in human development and social welfare. Amartya Sen gave a pragmatic shape to it. Although Sen belongs to the world today the national turf has rather honored itself by presenting him the highest award of Bharat Ratna.
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