Wonk Reading List: Development As Freedom

I’m currently slogging through Development As Freedom, a fascinating book by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. From the synopsis (emphasis mine):

Freedom, Sen argues, is both the end and most efficient means of sustaining economic life and the key to securing the general welfare of the world’s entire population. Releasing the idea of individual freedom from association with any particular historical, intellectual, political, or religious tradition, Sen clearly demonstrates its current applicability and possibilities. In the new global economy, where, despite unprecedented increases in overall opulence, the contemporary world denies elementary freedoms to vast numbers–perhaps even the majority of people–he concludes, it is still possible to practically and optimistically retain a sense of social accountability. 

My brother gave me a copy of this book for Christmas, and even though I’ve been busy, I try to read it whenever I can. Sen makes the point that, contrary to traditional economic thought, free markets don’t create free men; free men create free markets (that’s a vastly reductive oversimplification, but I like the think Mr. Sen would allow it). He writes:

Political freedoms (in the form of free speech and elections) help to promote economic security. Social opportunities (in the form of education and health facilities) facilitate economic participation. Economic facilities (in the form of opportunities for participation in trade and production) can help to generate personal abundance as well as public resources for social facilities. Freedoms of different kinds can strengthen one another.

Sen agrees with the essential libertarian principle that men desire and deserve freedom, but diverges in his assertion that the State has a role to play in ensuring that these freedoms are preserved. I’ve long considered something similar, but to see someone so much smarter than me articulate it is exhilarating. When I finish it, I’ll be sure to give a more substantive review.



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