Prof. Amartya Kumar Sen is one of the greatest intellectuals and economists of modern India. Amartya Sen is a philosopher, economist and a social thinker. At a time when the world was talking of globalization, liberalization and free market economy, Prof. Sen dared to differ. No wonder, he was awarded the Noble prize for welfare economics in the face of market oriented economics. Instead of the growth oriented economic path to prosperity, Amartya Sen has emphasized the need for giving a human face to development.
It was a day of rejoicing at Shantiniketan. A baby was born to the daughter of the secretary of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. And the poet, himself the first Asian Nobel Laureate in literature, was asked to name the new born baby. The poet named it ‘Amartya’ – the ‘immortal’. The poet blessed the child saying, ‘I can see that the boy will grow into an outstanding person.’ How prophetic were the poet’s words !
Amartya Sen was born into a scholastic tradition. His maternal grandfather Acharya Kshitimohan Sen was a venerable Sanskrit scholar. He used to assist the poet in his office work at Shantiniketan. His father Ashutosh was an agro-scientist, heading the public service commission of the state. Sen was hardly ten, when he saw the ravages of the great Bengal Famine from the safety of his ancestral home in Dhaka, now in Bangladesh.
The ugly sights of thousands perishing in the jaws of death moved the young boy and set him thinking as to what causes a famine. Is it God-made or man-made ? Sen reminisced, in an interview in 1986, of dying beggars clamoring for a few drops of rice starch. Such a terrible childhood experience might have stayed on, like an ulcer on his memory and driven him on a lifelong quest for an answer to problems of poverty and deprivation.
Sen had his schooling at Shantiniketan. As a young boy he dreamt of becoming a Sanskrit scholar, but his scientific temper and inquisitive mind unfolded visions of a physicist before him. He topped the intermediate examination, which he took at the Presidency College, Calcutta, and then there was a call. A call from ‘Economics’ to which he responded.
Tapas Majmudar who was then teaching at Presidency College, and who later became a professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has this to say about Amartya Sen as a college student: ‘What struck us all in those days was Amartya’s unusual ability to enter into serious academic debates.’ He recalls that during the discussion on the ‘Malthusian Theory of Population’ in an economics class, 18- year old Amartya stood up and asked if nature had a ‘bias’ against food because, unlike the animal kingdom, agricultural crop couldn’t independently replicate itself.
It looked as if the query was not from an ordinary teenager, but from an inquisitive mind.
Amartya Sen was a sympathizer of the Left, when he was a student doing his Economics Honors at the Presidency College. Later at the Cambridge, the collaboration between Sen ‘the pupil’ and tutor Joan Robinson – a pronounced leftist, became effective and the first seminal work, Choice of Techniques’ saw the light of the day ! The theme of appropriate technology came out distinctly as an original and outstanding contribution of Sen.
Amartya Sen, the youngest ever professor at Jadavpur University, took fancy to Nabneeta Dev, a 20-year old first year student of Comparative Literature in the University in 1956. The relationship grew and they got engaged in Cambridge, UK in 1959. They settled for a life of togetherness in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had a fellowship at Harvard and Sen was an Assistant Professor at MIT. Their first child Antara was born in 1963. Dr. V. K. R. V. Rao, who set up the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) this time around, persuaded Sen to serve his country and the couple moved to Delhi. The next year they went to Berkeley with an associate professorship for Sen and post doctoral fellowship for Nabneeta. A year later they returned to Delhi, where Sen took over as Director of DSE. It was then that the Sens became a two-daughter family. During 1968–73, Amartya Sen worked at DSE, Harvard and LSE (London School of Economics), and his wife Nabneeta followed him, keeping his house for him and taking care of the two kids.
A moment comes in the affairs of men (and women too) which alters the entire course of life. And this moment came in the lives of the Sens. Nabneeta came to Jadavpur, to start her career as a working woman, a single mother. She is now one of the major writers in Bengali Literature. Sen’s personal life was unsettled. He went through a painful divorce from Nabneeta, and later married Eva Colorni, the former wife of a faculty in DSE. Unfortunately Eva died and Sen married Ema Rothschild. Ema belongs to the eminent Rothschild clan, one of the richest in the world, and teaches Philosophy at Cambridge.
Amartya has two daughters by Nabneeta, Antara and Nandana, the former married to a German and the latter to a Bengali. Antara Dev Sen is presently in Oxford with a Reuter Foundation Fellowship. The younger one, Nandana is a film artist of high repute. Sen is a father of four cross–cultural children, Antara, Nandana, Indrani and Kabir, all carrying Indian names.
They say every successful man has a woman behind him. In Sen’s case there are three. But the part played by Nabneeta Dev, who helped Sen climb up the stiff ladder, can scarcely be overemphasized. Sen’s mother Amita Sen, 89, lives at Shantiniketan, the place he visits reverentially every winter. He has a sister, Suparna. A correspondent once asked Nabneeta Dev what the common threads were there between them, apart from their sense of humor and flair for reasoning. The reply was : ‘Our sense of values. Our political, ethical judgements were similar like our interest in human values. We both were members in the Students’ Federation at Calcutta, and we both loved a cup of good coffee and a good long drive’.
In the academic world, Sen became a celebrity with the publication in 1970 of his work Collective Choice and Social Welfare. He was a cult figure among students, academics and public policy planners. However, the summit was scaled when he became the first non-American President of the American Economic Association in 1996. In January 1998, Sen returned to his alma mater Trinity College, as Master, a coveted post never before held by a nonwhite or even a non-Briton.
The Nobel Prize and the Bharat Ratna are the shining jewels that Sen wears in his crown. He has brought credit to that branch of economics, which he loves so much – welfare economics and also to his country India, whose citizenship he has not given up in exchange for American or British citizenship.
Sen has founded two trusts from the Nobel Prize money. The first one is the ‘Pratichi India Trust’ and the other is the ‘Pratichi Bangladesh Trust’. The activities of both the trusts are directed towards specific problems of illiteracy, lack of basic health care and gender inequality – especially at the level of children. The ‘Pratichi India Trust’ would concentrate more on illiteracy issue at present, whereas the ‘Pratichi Bangladesh Trust’ would do more for the gender inequality issue.
Amartya Sen, the 1998-Nobel Laureate in Economics, was born on November 3, 1933 at Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India. He is the sixth Indian to get the Nobel and the first Asian winner of the Economics Prize. He became the youngest chairman of the Department of Economics, Jadavpur University, at the age of 23. He has been the President of the Econometric Society (1984), the International Economic Association (1986-89), the Indian Economic Association (1989) and the American Economic Association (1994). He has taught at Calcutta, Delhi, Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics, and Harvard. He has been honored with Honorary D.Litt degrees and fellowships of a large number of Indian and Foreign Universities and Institutes of repute. Sen was awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India.
Sen was awarded the Nobel, known as the Bank of Sweden Prize, worth $ 978,000. The honor went to him for his contributions to welfare economics, which help explain mechanisms underlying famines and poverty. His emphasis on welfare economics and definition of poverty in relation to development have at once offered a new philosophy and an alternative way to solid economic development. Sen has written extensively on such diverse topics as objectivity, liberalism and agency.
Professor Sen is currently Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, U.K. Robert Solow, an MIT Nobel Laureate, called Sen the ‘Conscience of Economics’.
Born November 3, 1933 Shantiniketan, Calcutta, India.
Address Master, Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ, UK
Education Presidency College, Calcutta (B.A. 1953)
Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1955, M.A. 1959, Ph.D. 1959)
Cambridge University prizes and awards :
Adam Smith Prize 1954
Wrenbury Scholarship 1955
Stevenson Prize 1956
Trinity College prize and awards :
Senior Scholarship 1954
Research Scholarship 1955
Prize Fellowship 1957
Member of the editorial boards of Economics and Philosophy, Ethics, Feminist Economics, Gender and Development, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Indian Journal of Quantitative Economics, Journal of Peasant Studies, Pakistan Development Review, Pakistan Journal of Applied Economics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Social Choice and Welfare, Common Knowledge, Critic & Review, Theory and Decision, Business and the Contemporary World.
Lamont professor of economics and philosophy, Harvard, 1987-98.
Drummond Professor of Political Economy, Oxford University, and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 1980-87.
Professor of Economics, Oxford University, and Fellow of Nuffield College, 1977-80.
Professor of Economics, London School of Economics, University of London, 1971-77.
Professor of Economics, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, 1963-71.
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1957-63.
Professor of Economics, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, 1956-57.
Andrew D. White Professor at Large, Cornell University, 1978-84.
Visiting Professor, Harvard University, 1968-69.
Visiting Professor, University of California at Berkeley, 1964-65.
Visiting Associate Professor, Stanford University, Summer Term, 1961.
Visiting Assistant Professor, M.I.T., 1960-61
Amartya Sen has authored more than twenty high quality books. Most of these books have been translated into other languages such as Swedish, Spanish, French, Japanese and Italian. Almost all his works deal with development economics. They are mainly concerned with the welfare of the poorest people in society. Sen has spent his career spanning over four decades, on studying poverty, famine and the distribution of wealth in society. No other economist working in this field has ever won the prestigious Nobel Prize.
Apart from his earliest work on Choice of Techniques wherein his main search was for an appropriate technology that would take into account the time factor for fruition of investment and the generation of surplus, Sen’s works are generally centered on five basic areas : 1. Poverty and Famines, 2. Ethics and Economics, 3. Welfare Indices, 4. Social Choice and 5. Social Opportunity.
Poverty and Famines
Poverty and Famines : An essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981), is a major work dealing with several issues related to food supply, population, poverty, deprivation and entitlements as the key factors. Satyajit Ray, a legend among filmmakers in India had made a film during the early eighties dealing with the great Bengal Famine of 1943, which depicted human misery and painful deaths as consequences of war hysteria and hoarding of food-grains by traders, rather than shortfall in the production of food-grains.
It was around this time that Sen came out with his empirical work on famines, proving Ray’s hunch that famines are man-made, result of maldistribution of food-grains rather than food shortage. It was shown by Ray that famines could occur even in the absence of any decline in aggregate food availability. This idea was elaborated by Sen to emphasize the role of entitlement. It attracted considerable attention and the case studies, presented by him to illustrate the point, triggered controversies and debates.
In the opening chapter on Poverty and Entitlements, Sen writes:
"Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat. While the latter can be a cause of the former, it is but one of the many possible causes. Whether and how starvation relates to food supply is a matter for factual investigation."
Sen builds his thesis on unequal distribution of food-grains during famines, but he goes deeper into the causes that lead to unequal distribution. It is correct to say that starvation depends not merely on food supplies, but on its distribution.
It is not much helpful either in understanding famine and deprivation or in framing a policy to fight it. The more relevant issue is: What determines distribution of food between different sections of the community ? The entitlement approach directs one to questions dealing with ownership patterns and – less obviously but no less importantly – to the various influences that affect exchange entitlement mappings. If people die regularly in the world due to starvation, this is seen as a result of their inability to establish entitlement to enough food; the question of physical availability of the food is not directly involved.
The entitlement approach concentrates on the ability of the people to command food through the legal means available in society, including the use of production possibilities, trade opportunities, rights vis-à-vis the state and other methods of acquiring food. A person starves because he does not have
the ability to command enough food. Entitlement approach concentrates only on those means of commanding food that are legitimized by the legal system in operation in that society.
If a group of people fail to establish their entitlement over an adequate amount of food, they have to go hungry. If the deprivation is large enough, the resulting starvation can lead to death. This is nothing but entitlement failure. In Sen’s view, the notion of entitlement should not be confused with normative ideas as to who are ‘morally entitled’ to what. The reference is to what the law i.e. the prevailing traditions, customs, social and economic arrangements guarantee and support. The logic of entitlement approach indicates that the analysis must concentrate on occupation groups and their entitlements.
Sen’s entitlements include items like nutritious food, medical and health care, employment and security of food supply in times of famines. Market could provide entitlements only if all people have opportunities to get work and reasonable wage. Famines in modern times are thus not food famines but ‘money famines’ and the state is therefore called upon to provide work and wages on an adequate scale. Sen pleads for regular assured food entitlements and avoidance of inflation. Inflation hits poor the hardest since their real wages lag behind prices of the basket of goods (mainly food items) they want to buy. It should however be stressed that entitlements presuppose aggregate availability. Entitlements cannot be introduced and much less sustained in the absence of certainty regarding aggregate supplies. Thanks to technological advances, aggregate supplies would not be an insurmountable barrier to the introduction of entitlement – based policy.
Sen argues that poverty must be seen as the deprivation of basic capabilities rather than merely as lowness of incomes. It is true that lowness of income is a standard criterion of identification of poverty. However, it is only one of the major causes of poverty, and not the only one. He sees poverty as a capability deprivation. There are influences other than lowness of income, which bring about capability deprivation. In other words, income is not the only instrument in generating capabilities. Thus, the capability deprivation approach concentrates on deprivations that are intrinsically important, unlike low income, which is instrumentally significant in identification of poverty.
Sen has concentrated in his recent writings on three focal features of deprivation of basic capabilities viz. premature mortality, undernourish-ment and illiteracy. He finds ‘striking failures’ in this area and calls for crucial policy initiatives.
Since poverty is a matter of deprivation, the recent shift in focus from absolute to relative deprivation provides a useful framework for analysis. But relative deprivation as an approach to poverty is incomplete; it supplements but cannot supplant the approach of absolute dispossession. Poverty and inequality relate closely to each other but they are distinct concepts and in Sen’s view, neither subsumes the other. Measurement of poverty is not to be viewed as an ethical exercise but primarily as a descriptive one in the sense that the poor lack in certain capabilities. Sen argues that the ‘policy definition’ of poverty which attempts to describe the predicament of the poor in terms of prevailing standards of ‘necessities’ involves ambiguities, which are inherent in the concept of poverty. But ambiguous description is not necessarily prescriptive, involving ethical judgments.
Ethics and Economics
Amartya Sen’s book entitled On ethics and economics explores the relationship between contemporary economics and moral philosophy. He shows how the two are interrelated and contributions of one are of immense interest and significance to those of the other. The distancing between economics and ethics has brought about one of the major deficiencies of contemporary economic theory. He persuasively argues that the actual behavior of human beings is affected by ethical considerations, and the main object of ethics is to influence human behavior. Therefore, considerations relating to economic welfare must be allowed to have impact on actual behavior of human beings and hence they are relevant for modern economics. Modern logistic economics can be made more productive by paying greater attention to ethical considerations that shape human behavior and judgment.
Sen clarifies the ways in which welfare economics can be enriched by ethics, and how positive economics and public policy can be improved by allowing a say to welfare economics in the determination of individual and group behavior. This however is not a one-way benefit route. Ethics, according to Sen, can in turn benefit from a closer contact with economics. Some of the ethical considerations can be helpfully analyzed by using various approaches and procedures utilized in economics. He points out that if rights are considered not only as purely legal entities with instrumental use but rather as having intrinsic value, the economic literature would be improved. Logistic economic theory identifies rationality of human behavior with internal consistency of choice and also with maximization of self interest. But is there a conclusive evidence for the claim that self-interest maximization provides the best approximation to actual human behavior ? Does it necessarily lead to optimum economic conditions ?
Take the case of Japan. In Japan duty, loyalty and goodwill have proved to be of great value for the achievement of individual and group efficiency. In this case, there is a systematic departure from self-interested behavior in the direction of rule-based behavior.
Inequality in income, wealth and opportunity is a fact of life. Sen has extensively dealt with absolute poverty and relative inequality, especially in their measurement aspects. He stressed that inequality is fundamentally a different issue from poverty. To try to analyze poverty ‘as an issue of inequality’ or the other way round would do little justice to either. Poverty is a matter of deprivation. Recently there is a shift in focus – from absolute to relative deprivation. It has provided a useful framework for analysis. And Sen has used this shift for axiomatic derivation of a poverty measure and its variants.
The measurement of relative deprivation and absolute poverty involves complex mathematical formulations especially with regard to variants of poverty measure. Sen argues that there is nothing defeatist or astonishing in the acceptance of ‘pluralism’, which is inherent in the exercise.
In economic literature, the poverty line is a measure commonly used to indicate the proportion of population below a tolerable standard of living. Obviously the measure is inherently arbitrary and depends on the predilections of the measurer. Sen claimed that it ignores the levels of deprivation among the poor and hence fails to capture the welfare aspects, when policies are addressed to alleviate poverty.
The people below the poverty line do not shrink even if the poorest get a better deal. This happens because of the nature of the ‘poverty gap’. Sen devised a new formula for poverty indexation based on income inequality of people below the (arbitrary) poverty line. This came to be known as Sen Index and is recognized now as a standard tool for calculating the Human Development Index (HDI).
In Sen’s view what creates welfare is not simply goods and services acquired but the activity for which they are acquired. Income is significant not for its own sake but because of the opportunities it creates.
These opportunities get translated into capabilities and depend on a number of factors like education and health and these should not be lost sight of, while attempting to measure welfare. When decisions are taken regarding enhancement of social welfare, higher weightage needs to be assigned to the lowest strata of society. Ethical norms become imperative in this context.
One of such ethical norms could be that of obtaining minimum equal capabilities for all human beings. And it is here that state policy has a definitive role.
Abraham Bergson developed social choice theory in 1938 by introducing the concept of social welfare function. Arrow spurned the theory by highlighting serious difficulties in obtaining collective choice or social choice from individual preferences or values. In economic welfare literature, this has come to be known as ‘Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem’.
The methods of social choice under dictatorship or convention could be rational in the sense that an individual can be rational in his choices.
But not so in a capitalist or democratic set up. In this situation, there are two methods by which social choices can be made : (1) voting, typically used to make political decisions and (2) market mechanism, to make economic decisions.
Under both the methods, the wills of many people are involved, and there has to be amalgamation of tastes of several individuals in the making of collective or social choices. Arrow showed that a method of majority decision does not satisfy the condition of rationality. He had formulated five conditions to be satisfied in order to arrive at a rational social or collective choice.
His impossibility theorem demonstrated that it is impossible to satisfy all the five conditions simultaneously. This theorem thus robbed the welfare economics of its prestigious position wherefrom it attempted to provide rational basis for more equitable distribution of income and wealth in society.
Sen’s contribution to welfare economics and especially to the theory of social choice lies in challenging the ‘impossibility theorem’, within the framework of utility analysis and using non-utility information wherever necessary. Arrow had almost abandoned the hope of arriving at rational social choice through voting system under a democratic set up.
In order to be rational, it has to be dictatorial and therefore inegalitarian. Sen showed that there are grey areas in individual and social choices. He attempted to quantify through ingenious methods, subtle deviations and showed that the case for democracy is not lost. There is indeed a possibility of some middle ground in the analysis of social choice.
Sen addressed the question of subordination of individual preferences to the overriding demands of the general good. He brings in the notion of ‘information’, which helps individuals to choose better. Individuals transact better when they are better informed about each other and this is possible only in a democracy. Thus, Sen establishes a case for democracy.
In Sen’s theory of social choice, nonutilititarian information plays an important role. Every individual is unique and there is considerable diversity in individual preferences. Hence the insurmountable problem of aggregation arises.
Sen too accepts ‘pluralism’, but talks of ‘social identity’. An individual determines social identity by sharing his identity with others through fellowship, communitarian leanings and solidarity. All his efforts are directed towards formulating a general theory of social choice.
Through informational broadening, it is possible to have coherent and consistent criteria for social and economic assessment. According to Sen, what is important is not the possibility of rational social choice but the use of an adequate informational base for social judgments and decisions.
There are indeed ‘unintended effects’ of any decision, but that should not preclude taking such decisions. The emphasis is on the need to anticipate unintended but predictable consequences of social choice.
In the book India : Economic Development and Social opportunity (1995) coauthored with Belgian economist Jean Dreze, Sen tried to analyze the task of economic development in India in a broad perspective in which social as well as economic opportunities have central roles. He stressed that even well functioning markets cannot take care of the problems posed by shortfall in human capabilities.
The human capabilities in turn depend on basic education, health services,
ownership patterns, social stratification, gender relations and the opportunity of social cooperation as well as political protest and, opposition. As social opportunities open to different individuals or groups differ widely, there arise differences in quality of life attained and the levels of economic performance. Variations in social opportunities influence particularly the extent to which the people at large can use the facilities offered by the functioning markets.
The broad perspective presented in this book and Sen’s other recent publications bring out the obstacles to economic development in India and the basic failure of public policies to remove them.
Economic reforms initiated in 1991 were long overdue, but the thrust does not appear to be in the right direction. Lack of initiative towards radical change in social policies including those in education and elementary health care, according to Sen, is a major failure. So long as shortfall in human capabilities is not made good, India cannot attain accelerated economic development. Special attention has to be paid to the role of basic education in social transformation as well as economic expansion.
Sen’s latest book Development as Freedom highlights his concern for the single most significant variable namely freedom, as an end and also the means of economic and social development. The book based on five lectures he delivered as a Presidential Fellow at the World Bank during the fall of 1996, deals extensively with the problems of deprivation, destitution and oppression. There is an overpowering need to tackle poverty and illiteracy, famines and hunger, violation of political freedoms and basic liberties, exploitation of women and children, threats to environment and the very sustainability of our economic and social life.
Sen argues that efficiency results of market mechanism do not on their own guarantee distributional justice. The powers of the market mechanism have to be supplemented by the creation of basic social opportunities for social equity and justice.
Sen substantiates his view of the role of expansion of social opportunities by pointing to the success stories of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. These countries benefited from a participatory economic climate in which people’s entry into the market was facilitated through provision of social opportunities like schooling, basic health care, land reforms and micro-credit.
• Economics is not only concerned with generating income but also making good use of that income to enhance our living and freedoms.
• I am used to thinking of the word "academic" as meaning "sound," rather than the more old-fashioned dictionary meaning: "unpractical," "theoretical," or "conjectural."
• I remember being quite struck by Rabindranath Tagore's approach to cultural diversity in the world.
• Economic unfreedom, in the form of extreme poverty, can make a person a helpless prey in the violation of other kinds of freedom.
I could not get anyone in Trinity, or in Cambridge, very excited in the "theory" of Social Choice.
• The 1970s were probably the golden years of Social Choice theory across the world.
Personally, I had the sense of having a ball.
• When the Nobel award came my way, it also gave me an opportunity to do something immediate and practical about my old obsessions, including literacy, basic health care and gender equity, aimed specifically at India and Bangladesh.
Recognition assumes myriad forms. However one that satisfies the innermost yearnings of the recipient is of the highest importance. In Sen’s case, the general feelings were that he got it too late, not too soon. It had become almost a family joke when every year during the last five, Nobel Prizes in Economics went to economists other than Sen. Award to Sen could be delayed, but not denied. His long innings as Lamont Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard had his place secured at the high table of ‘liberal’ America, and he was in the elite company of distinguished economists like J. K. Galbraith, Paul
Samuelson and Robert Solow. Sen was no doubt ploughing his lonely furrow, especially in the areas of ethics, morality, women development and welfare indices, but the Harvard School in a way was ‘shining splendid’ against the ‘magic spell of market’ championed forcefully by the Chicago University economists under the leadership of Millton Friedman. True, Sen’s writings did not produce sufficient impact on public policies in Western countries until the rediscovery of the Third Way by Tony Blair. But the intellectual presence of the ideas Sen propounded especially during the eighties, was very much evident in scholarly discussions and debates on public policy.
Amartya Sen’s return to his Alma Mater as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge was truly a dream realized and culmination of a scholastic career spanning over four decades. Commenting on this, Ms. Nabneeta Dev, former wife of Amartya Sen observed "I am proud of him today as he is Master of Trinity College,
but I was equally proud of him when I had married a struggling young Prize Fellow of Trinity College – not to speak of the Nobel Laureate."
The day the Nobel Prize was announced, there was a chorus of jubilation in India and abroad, not only among NRIs, but also among a large number of Asians residing in U.S. and European countries. The West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu interrupted his speech at a public meeting in West Bengal only to announce the news about ‘our’ Amartya Sen winning the Nobel.
Sen was surprised and pleased to get the call informing him of the Award. But as he puts it : "I was even more pleased when they told me that the subject matter was welfare economics, a field I have long been very involved in. I am pleased that they gave recognition to that subject." This was indeed the innermost yearning of the scholar, fulfillment of a dream, recognition that he recognizes. A commentator’s observation is worth noting : "The sixth Indian to be awarded the Nobel Prize was honored for a lifetime’s work to invest the dismal science with concerns that are far from mundane.
Social science, poverty index, studies of famine – Sen’s interests are abstruse in comparison with the market-oriented research of the past few Laureates. These are undoubtedly lively areas of research, but light years away from Sen’s world of measuring poverty and inequality by the most rigorous scales and probing the reasons of the individual’s economic failure." The Nobel citation affirmed that Sen has restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems.
Recognition of excellence in any field in India generally follows a well-defined pattern. An international organization of repute confers an honor on an individual for his life-long contributions in an area of his choice and then the governments both at the state and the national levels wake up and almost rush to confer similar honors on the individual. A case in point is the ‘Bharat Ratna’ conferred on Amartya Sen by the government in New Delhi. A shrill voice was still heard in the corridors of power : Sen is an agent of ‘Christian West.’ What a travesty of truth !
Recognition of Sen’s works could be gauged by the several of his research papers published in some of the most reputed international journals of philosophy and economics. More than two dozen widely known Universities of different countries of the world have honored Amartya Sen with Honorary D-Litt degrees. He was elected President of the American Economic Association in 1994, the only nonwhite President to-date. He has earned wider recognition as a liberal economist through his membership on the editorial boards of several technical journals in Ethics, Philosophy,
Applied Economics, Public Affairs, Business and Contemporary World. He has been invited as a Visiting Professor by some of the best Universities of U.S.A. The prizes that he won at the college and later as a Professor, thinker, and author of thought-provoking books speak eloquently of Sen’s work.