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Amartya Sen on economic inequality: the need for an explicit critique of opulence

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Abstract

Amartya Sen has sought to maintain a dialogue with mainstream economics on inequality-a continuing theme in his writing. This paper suggests this dialogue has involved costs. The first and second sections outline where Sen has located himself in the epistemological range that defines acceptable knowledge in the general economics discourse and takes Sen's epistemological principles into the analysis of economic inequality. The third section links Sen's work on causes of famine with his work on inequality and shows how this has given a particular slant to the development of capabilities theory with a focus on the lower end of the inter-personal inequality distribution. The fourth section focuses on the need also for development ethics at the top end of the inequality distribution and economic opulence. The conclusion makes the case for further critical reflection on the top end of the inter-personal distribution and opulence as vital elements in the capabilities approach to improving the human condition, even if this means a greater distancing from mainstream economics than Amartya Sen has found acceptable in the past. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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... Jednakże naszym zdaniem największym niepowodzeniem współczesnych badań, a zwłaszcza tych publikowanych w prestiżowych wydawnictwach naukowych i przez to zyskujących uznanie szerokiego gremium ekonomistów, jest zbyt restrykcyjne trzymanie się neoliberalnej ideologii, którą można traktować jako filozoficzną podstawę ekonomii głównego nurtu. Warto podkreślić, że na takiej płaszczyźnie poznawczej współczesnej ekonomii trudno jest podważyć prawdziwość fundamentalnego założenia ekonomistów liberalnych i neoliberalnych, zgodnie z którym "nic nie można powiedzieć w sposób naukowy i nic nie można powiedzieć w ogóle na temat nierówności (dochodowych), jeśli wynikają one z działania wolnego rynku" [Cameron, 2000[Cameron, , s. 1034. ...
... Wniosek ten wynika z licznych prac systematyzujących badania nad nierównościami. Zob.[Cameron, 2000;Jenkin, 2011].9 Dyskusję wyników badań empirycznych dotyczących nierówności i wzrostu gospodarczego można znaleźć w m.in.:[Woźniak, ...
... M.in.[Cameron, 2000], także[Woźniak, 2005b]. 11 Interesującą dyskusję swego rodzaju awersji wielu ekonomistów do wyciągania wniosków wykraczających poza neoliberalne i matematyczno-formalistyczne ramy analizy ze szkodą dla poznania istoty nierówności i ich konotacji z realnymi procesami ekonomicznymi zaprezentował[Jenkin, 2011]. ...
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... Sen's system is an influential tool in the world, not a genre of chess puzzle. In the absence of strong attention to people's interdependencies in emotions and identity and to similar matters, the capability approach's language of increased options for attainment by individuals can lend itself to neo-liberal and consumerist uses (John Cameron 2000). ...
... In examining Ledra Palace's multiple investments, I want to offer a 'critique of the behaviour of the opulent . . . used to advocate a more revolutionary global redistribution of resources' (Cameron 2000(Cameron : 1043. In parallel, I also point to possible critiques of spatialized official narratives of heritage making and the 'spatial restructuring of capitalism' (Landzelius 2003: 215). ...
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This article investigates the processes through which a site, thought to encapsulate the history of the Cyprus conflict, has been militarized in multiple ways. Defined as a site of negotiation since its opening, Ledra Palace Hotel has instead been a place where conflict has diachronically persisted. The masculinization and militarization of this environment is addressed within a gender-focused analysis that emphasizes the normalization of violence. This approach reveals the political potential of acknowledging conflict dynamics hitherto obfuscated by hegemonic conceptualizations of ‘the conflict’.
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The new institutionalism in Western economic thought was developed within the neoclassical economic framework, although it incorporated the modification of a number of neoclassical assumptions, including those regarding information, transaction costs, and, most importantly, rationality. Douglass North argued for the notion of bounded rationality first proposed by Herbert Simon who had noted that a critical assumption of utility theory in neoclassical economics was based on the improbable— that a rational individual is capable of large, elaborate, and, often, instantaneous calculations before making decisions. This assumption is needed to justify a further assumption that individuals, asconsumers or as producers, behave in a manner so as to maximize satisfaction and profits, respectively. Simon argued instead that, in reality, individuals operate within a “zone” of rationality rather than full rationality because of constraints. Consequently, both the power and the scope of rationality are bounded. As a result, rational individuals do not aim to maximizes atisfaction, but to find a limited-scope-zone of operation within which the individual turns over part of the required immense calculation to habits, rules, social norms, and customs, namely, institutions. Thus the individual aims to “satisfy” rather than to maximize utility. The assumption of bounded rationality allows individual behavior to be influenced by cultural values, norms and rules of behavior.1
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It is argued that the radical implications of the capabilities approach have been widely overlooked, primarily because of a tendency for the approach to be combined with inadequate theories of society, particularly regarding the external conditions enabling or limiting capabilities. While the approach is accepted in principle, by turning to the theory of contributive justice, which focuses on what people are allowed or expected to contribute in terms of work, paid or unpaid, we can see that job shortages and unequal divisions of labour are a major cause of capability inequalities and deficiencies. In so doing the theory helps us to appreciate the radical implications of the capabilities approach.
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The aim of this article is to examine the capability approach of Amartya Sen and mainstream economic theory in terms of their epistemological, methodological and philosophical/cultural aspects. The reason for undertaking this analysis is the belief that Sen’s capability approach, contrary to some economists’ claim, is uncongenial to mainstream economic views on epistemology and methodology (not on ontologically). However, while some social scientists regard that Sen, on the whole, is a mainstream economist, his own approach strongly criticizes both the theory and practice of mainstream economics.
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Nolan's [1993] present ‘critique’, like his two previous ‘critiques’ of my work [Nolan, 1991; Nolan and Sender, 1992], draw liberally on misconstruction of what I have said. The distortions cover a vast field, including the concept of entitlements, the nature of famines in general (and of the Chinese famine in particular), the roles of food production, transport, and wars, and so on. In my reply I have tried to identify the misrepresentations in some detail. What Nolan calls ‘Sen's approach’ is his own creation, and the criticisms that Nolan makes of that approach should be addressed by its author, to wit, Nolan. I have tried to spell out the respects in which the analyses I have presented on famines differ from the views, conjectures and slogans cheerfully attributed to me by Peter Nolan.
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A.K. Sen has dominated discussion of famines for the past decade. Hardly anyone analyses famine without reference to his ‘entitlement theory’. The rise to dominance of Sen's approach towards famine is an important example of the way in which ‘knowledge’ and language gain ascendancy in an area of social thought. This article analyses why this has happened. It evaluates the usefulness of Sen's contribution to the construction of policies to prevent famine. It summarises the major features of Sen's approach; presents some general problems with it, then looks in detail at the demand side, the supply side, and the marketing system. It concludes by arguing that the correct approach towards avoiding famine is to consider more carefully then Sen does the wide range of possible causes, among which food output, transport inadequacy and warfare play much more important roles than one is led to believe from Sen's analysis.
Book
'Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure.' In The Theory of the Leisure Class Thorstein Veblen sets out 'to discuss the place and value of the leisure class as an economic factor in modern life'. In so doing he produced a landmark study of affluent American society that exposes, with brilliant ruthlessness, the habits of production and waste that link invidious business tactics and barbaric social behaviour. Veblen's analysis of the evolutionary process sees greed as the overriding motive in the modern economy; with an impartial gaze he examines the human cost paid when social institutions exploit the consumption of unessential goods for the sake of personal profit. Fashion, beauty, animals, sports, the home, the clergy, scholars - all are assessed for their true usefulness and found wanting. The targets of Veblen's coruscating satire are as evident today as they were a century ago, and his book still has the power to shock and enlighten. Veblen's uncompromising arguments and the influential literary force of his writing are assessed in Martha Banta's Introduction.
Book
Available in OSO: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/content/economicsfinance/0198281935/toc.html
Book
Commodities and Capabilities presents a set of inter-related theses concerning the foundations of welfare economics, and in particular about the assessment of personal well-being and advantage. The argument presented focuses on the capability to function, i.e. what a person can do or can be, questioning in the process the more standard emphasis on opulence or on utility. In fact, a person's motivation behind choice is treated here as a parametric variable which may or may not coincide with the pursuit of self-interest. Given the large number of practical problems arising from the roles and limitations of different concepts of interest and the judgement of advantage and well-being, this scholarly investigation is both of theoretical interest and practical import.
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Paperback repr Bibliogr. s. 281-357
Article
This book, which was first published in 1973, presents a systematic treatment of the conceptual framework as well as the practical problems of the measurement of economic inequality. Alternative approaches are evaluated in terms of their philosophical assumptions, economic content, and statistical requirements. In a new annexe added in 1997, which is as large as the original book, Amartya Sen, jointly with James Foster, critically surveys the literature that followed the publication of the first edition of the book, and evaluates the main analytical issues in the appraisal of economic inequality and poverty. The technical and non‐technical sections of the book are not presented separately, but it is possible to skip or skim through the formal sections and go directly from the intuitive presentation of the axioms to the intuitive explanation of the results.