Amartya Sen

… famine do not occur in democracies. Indeed, no substantial famine has ever occurred in a democratic country – no matter how poor. This is because famines are extremely easy to prevent if the government tries to prevent them, and a government in a multiparty democracy with elections and free media has strong political incentives to undertake famine prevention. This would indicate that political freedom in the form of democratic arrangements helps to safeguard economic freedom (especially from extreme starvation) and the freedom to survive (against famine mortality).
The so-called Great Leap Forward initiated in the late 1950s was a massive failure, but the Chinese government continued to pursue dogmatically much the same disastrous policies for three more years. It is hard to imagine that anything like this could have happened in a country that goes to the polls regularly and that has an independent press. During that terrible calamity the government faced no pressure from newspapers, which were controlled, and none from opposition parties, which were absent.

2 thoughts on “Amartya Sen

  1. shinichi Post author

    Development as Freedo

    by Amartya Sen

    In Development as Freedom Amartya Sen explains how in a world of unprecedented increase in overall opulence millions of people living in the Third World are still unfree. Even if they are not technically slaves, they are denied elementary freedoms and remain imprisoned in one way or another by economic poverty, social deprivation, political tyranny or cultural authoritarianism. The main purpose of development is to spread freedom and its ‘thousand charms’ to the unfree citizens. Freedom, Sen persuasively argues, is at once the ultimate goal of social and economic arrangements and the most efficient means of realizing general welfare. Social institutions like markets, political parties, legislatures, the judiciary, and the media contribute to development by enhancing individual freedom and are in turn sustained by social values. Values, institutions, development, and freedom are all closely interrelated, and Sen links them together in an elegant analytical framework. By asking ‘What is the relation between our collective economic wealth and our individual ability to live as we would like?’ and by incorporating individual freedom as a social commitment into his analysis Sen allows economics once again, as it did in the time of Adam Smith, to address the social basis of individual well-being and freedom.

  2. shinichi Post author

    Great Chinese Famine


    The Great Chinese Famine (三年大饥荒) was a period between 1959 and 1961 in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) characterized by widespread famine. Some scholars have also included the years 1958 or 1962. It is widely regarded as the deadliest famine and one of the greatest man-made disasters in human history, with an estimated death toll due to starvation that ranges in the tens of millions (15 to 55 million). The most stricken provinces were Anhui (18% dead), Chongqing (15%), Sichuan (13%), Guizhou (11%) and Hunan (8%).

    The major contributing factors in the famine were the policies of the Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1962) and people’s communes, launched by CCP chairman Mao Zedong, such as inefficient distribution of food within the nation’s planned economy; requiring the use of poor agricultural techniques; the Four Pests Campaign that reduced bird populations (which disrupted the ecosystem); over-reporting of grain production; and ordering millions of farmers to switch to iron and steel production. During the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference in early 1962, Liu Shaoqi, then President of China, formally attributed 30% of the famine to natural disasters and 70% to man-made errors (“三分天灾, 七分人祸”). After the launch of Reforms and Opening Up, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officially stated in June 1981 that the famine was mainly due to the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward as well as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, in addition to some natural disasters and the Sino-Soviet split.


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