Amartya Kumar Sen CH
: অমর্ত্য কুমার সেন, Ômorto Kumar
) (born 3 November 1933), is a Nobel Memorial Prize in
-winning economist. He is known for his work on
, human development theory
, welfare economics
, the underlying
mechanisms of poverty
, gender inequality
, and political liberalism
. He is a
distinguished economist-philosopher who won the Nobel Memorial Prize
in Economic Sciences
in the year 1998 for his work on welfare economics
to 2004 he was Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, becoming the first Indian academic to head an
He is also a
former honorary president of Oxfam
. He is
currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of
Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also a fellow of Trinity
Amartya Sen's books have been translated into more than thirty
languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. As
of 2009 he has received over 80 honorary
from a distinguished landed family from East
Bengal (present-day Bangladesh).
His maternal grandfather Kshitimohan Sen
was a renowned scholar of
medieval Indian literature, an authority on the philosophy of
. He was a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan.
He became the second Vice Chancellor
of Visva-Bharati University
Santiniketan. His maternal grandfather was an uncle of the first
Chief Election Commissioner of India, Sukumar Sen
and the Law Minister of India, Ashoke
. Sen's father was Ashutosh Sen and his mother
was Amita Sen, who were born at Manikganj, Dhaka.
taught chemistry at Dhaka University (now in Bangladesh) and later became Chairman of the West Bengal Public
Sen's first wife was Nabaneeta Dev Sen
, a well known Indian
writer and scholar, with whom he had two children: Antara
. Their marriage broke up shortly after
they moved to London in 1971. In 1973, he married his second wife,
, who died from stomach cancer
quite suddenly in 1985. They
had two children, Indrani and Kabir. His present wife
Emma Georgina Rothschild,
is an economic historian, an expert on Adam
Smith and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.
Sen brought up his youngest children on his own. Indrani is a
journalist in New
York, and Kabir teaches music at Shady Hill School in Cambridge,
Massachusetts and has produced 3 of his own hip-hop Albums.
His eldest daughter Antara Dev Sen
an Indian journalist who, along with her husband Pratik Kanjilal,
publishes The Little Magazine
. Nandana Sen
is a Bollywood
usually spends winter holidays at his home in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India, where he
likes to go on long bike rides, and maintains a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he and Emma spend the spring and long
Asked how he relaxes, he replies: "I read a lot
and like arguing with people."
Education and career
born in Santiniketan, West
Bengal, the University town established by the poet
Rabindranath Tagore, another
Indian Nobel Prize
winner. His ancestral
home was in Wari, Dhaka in
Rabindranath Tagore is said to have given
Amartya Sen his name ("Amartya" meaning "immortal").
Sen began his high-school education at St Gregory's School
in Dhaka in
1941, in modern-day Bangladesh. His family migrated to India
following partition in 1947. Sen studied in India at the
school and Presidency
College, Kolkata before moving to Trinity
College, Cambridge, where he earned a First Class (Congratulatory
First) BA (Honours) in 1956 and then a Ph.D. in 1959.
To Sen, then Cambridge was like a
battlefield. There were major debates between supporters of
Keynesian economics and the diverse contributions of Keynes’
followers, on the one hand, and the “neo-classical” economists
skeptical of Keynes, on the other. Sen was lucky to have close
relations with economists on both sides of the divide. Meanwhile,
thanks to its good “practice” of democratic and tolerant social
choice, Sen’s own college, Trinity College, was an oasis very much
removed from the discord. However, because of a lack of enthusiasm
for social choice theory whether in Trinity or Cambridge, Sen had
to choose a quite different subject for his Ph.D.
thesis, after completing his B.A.
He submitted his thesis on “the choice of techniques” in 1959
under the supervision of the totally brilliant but
vigorously intolerant Joan
While an undergraduate student of Trinity College he met Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis
Cambridge. Mahalanobis, after returning to Calcutta, recommended Sen to Triguna
Sen, then the Education
Minister of West
Bengal. When Sen arrived in India on a two year
leave from Cambridge during his second year of doctoral
research,Triguna Sen appointed him as Professor and Head of
Department of Economics at Jadavpur
University, Calcutta, his very first appointment, at the age of
23. Between 1960–1961, he taught at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology as a visiting professor..
He has also been a
visiting professor at Stanford, Berkeley, and Cornell.
During his tenure at Jadavpur
, he had the good fortune of having the great
economic methodologist, A. K. Dasgupta, who
was then teaching in Benares, as his supervisor.
Subsequently, Sen won a
College, which gave him four years of freedom to do anything he
liked, during which he took the radical decision of studying
. That proved to be of immense
help to his later research. Sen related the importance of studying
philosophy thus: “The broadening of my studies into philosophy was
important for me not just because some of my main areas of interest
in economics relate quite closely to philosophical disciplines (for
example, social choice theory makes intense use of mathematical
logic and also draws on moral philosophy, and so does the study of
inequality and deprivation), but also because I found philosophical
studies very rewarding on their own.”
taught economics at Calcutta, Jadavpur University, Delhi School of Economics (where
he completed his magnum opus Collective Choice and Social
Welfare in 1970), Oxford (where he was first a Professor of Economics at
College and then the Drummond Professor of Political
Economy and a Fellow of All Souls College), London School of Economics, Harvard and was Master of Trinity
College, Cambridge, between 1998 and 2004.
In January 2004 Sen
returned to Harvard. He is also a contributor to the Eva Colorni
Trust at the former London Guildhall University.
2007, he was appointed as chairman of Nalanda Mentor Group to steer
the execution of Nalanda University Project, which seeks to revive the ancient seat of
learning at Nalanda, Bihar, India into an international
Sen's papers in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped develop the
theory of social choice
, which first
came to prominence in the work by the American economist Kenneth Arrow
, who, while working at the
, famously proved that all
voting rules, be they majority rule
or two thirds-majority
or status quo
, must inevitably conflict with some
norm. Sen's contribution
to the literature was to show under what conditions Arrow's impossibility theorem
would indeed come to pass as well as to extend and enrich the
theory of social choice, informed by his interests in history of economic thought
In 1981, Sen published Poverty and Famines: An Essay on
Entitlement and Deprivation
(1981), a book in which he
demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food
, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for
distributing food. Sen's interest in famine stemmed from personal
experience. As a nine-year-old boy, he witnessed the Bengal famine of 1943
, in which three
million people perished. This staggering loss of life was
unnecessary, Sen later concluded. He presents data that there was
an adequate food supply in Bengal at the time, but particular
groups of people including rural landless labourers and urban
service providers like haircutters did not have the monetary means
to acquire food as its price rose rapidly due to factors that
include British military acquisition, panic buying, hoarding, and
, all connected to the
war in the region. In Poverty and Famines
, Sen revealed
that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly
reduced. In Bengal, for example, food production, while down on the
previous year, was higher than in previous non-famine years. Thus,
Sen points to a number of social and economic factors, such as
declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor
food-distribution systems. These issues led to starvation among
certain groups in society. His capabilities approach
, a person's actual
ability to be or do something, rather than on negative freedom
approaches, which are
common in economics and simply focuses on non-interference. In the
Bengal famine, rural laborers' negative freedom to buy food was not
affected. However, they still starved because they were not
positively free to do anything, they did not have the functioning
of nourishment, nor the capability to escape morbidity.
In addition to his important work on the causes of famines, Sen's
work in the field of development economics has had considerable
influence in the formulation of the Human Development Report
published by the United Nations Development
. This annual publication that ranks countries on a
variety of economic and social indicators owes much to the
contributions by Sen among other social choice theorists in the
area of economic measurement of poverty and inequality.
Sen's revolutionary contribution to development economics and
social indicators is the concept of 'capability
' developed in his article
"Equality of What." He argues that governments
should be measured against the
concrete capabilities of their citizens
This is because top-down development will always trump human rights
as long as the definition of terms
remains in doubt (is a 'right' something that must be provided or
something that simply cannot be taken away?). For instance, in the
States citizens have a hypothetical "right" to
To Sen, this concept is fairly empty. In order for
citizens to have a capacity to vote
, they first
must have "functionings." These "functionings" can range from the
very broad, such as the availability of education
, to the very specific, such as
transportation to the poll
when such barriers are removed can the citizen truly be said to act
out of personal choice. It is up to the individual society to make
the list of minimum capabilities guaranteed by that society. For an
example of the "capabilities approach" in practice, see Martha Nussbaum
's Women and Human
He wrote a controversial article in The New York Review of
entitled "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing"
(see Missing women of Asia
analyzing the mortality impact of unequal rights between the
genders in the developing world, particularly Asia
. Other studies, such as one by Emily Oster
, have argued that this is an
overestimation, though Oster has recanted some of her
Sen was seen as a ground-breaker among late twentieth-century
economists for his insistence on discussing issues seen as marginal
by most economists. He mounted one of the few major challenges to
the economic model that posited self-interest as the prime
motivating factor of human activity. While his line of thinking
remains peripheral, there is no question that his work helped to
re-prioritize a significant sector of economists and development
workers, even the policies of the United
Welfare economics seeks to evaluate economic policies in terms of
their effects on the well-being of the community. Sen, who devoted
his career to such issues, was called the "conscience of his
profession." His influential monograph Collective Choice and
(1970), which addressed problems related to
individual rights (including formulation of the liberal paradox
), justice and equity,
majority rule, and the availability of information about individual
conditions, inspired researchers to turn their attention to issues
of basic welfare. Sen devised methods of measuring poverty that
yielded useful information for improving economic conditions for
the poor. For instance, his theoretical work on
inequality provided an explanation for why there are fewer women
than men in India and China despite the
fact that in the West and in poor but medically unbiased countries,
women have lower mortality rates at
all ages, live longer, and make a slight majority of the
Sen claimed that this skewed ratio results from
the better health treatment and childhood opportunities afforded
boys in those countries, as well as sex-specific abortion.
Governments and international organizations handling food crises
were influenced by Sen's work. His views encouraged policy makers
to pay attention not only to alleviating immediate suffering but
also to finding ways to replace the lost income of the poor, as,
for example, through public-works projects, and to maintain stable
prices for food. A vigorous defender of political freedom, Sen
believed that famines do not occur in functioning democracies
because their leaders must be more responsive to the demands of the
citizens. In order for economic growth to be achieved, he argued,
social reforms, such as improvements in education and public
health, must precede economic reform.
Although Sen is a self-proclaimed atheist
he claims that this can be associated with Hinduism
as a political entity.
Sen cites Peter Bauer
as a major
influence on his thinking.
Honours and awards
- The Idea of Justice
London: Allen Lane, July 2009.
- Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our
Time), New York, W. W. Norton, 2006.
- The Argumentative
- Rationality and Freedom, 2004.
- Inequality Reexamined,
- Development as Freedom,
- Freedom, Rationality, and Social Choice: The Arrow Lectures and
Other essays, 2000.
- Reason Before Identity, 1999.
- Choice of Techniques, 1960.
- Collective Choice and Social Welfare, 1970, Holden-Day, 1984,
- On Economic Inequality, 1973.
- Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation,
- Hunger and Public Action, jointly edited with Jean Drèze, 1989
- India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity,
with Jean Drèze, 1995.
- Commodities and Capabilities, 1999.
- Sen, Amartya, On Economic Inequality, New York,
Norton, 1973. (Expanded edition with a substantial annexe by James
E. Foster and A. Sen, 1997).
- Sen, Amartya, Poverty and Famines : An Essay on
Entitlements and Deprivation, Oxford, Clarendon Press,
- Sen, Amartya, Choice, Welfare and Measurement, Oxford,
Basil Blackwell, 1982.
- Sen, Amartya, Food Economics and Entitlements,
Helsinki, Wider Working Paper 1, 1986.
- Sen, Amartya, On Ethics and Economics, Oxford, Basil
- Drèze, Jean and Sen, Amartya,
Hunger and Public Action. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Sen, Amartya, "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing".
New York Review of Books, 1990. ()
- Sen, Amartya, Inequality Reexamined, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1992.
- Nussbaum, Martha, and Sen,
Amartya. The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
- Sen, Amartya, Reason Before Identity (The Romanes Lecture for 1998), Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-951389-9
- Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, 1999. ( Review by the Asia Times)
- Sen, Amartya, Rationality and Freedom, Harvard,
Harvard Belknap Press, 2002.
- Sen, Amartya, The Argumentative Indian, London: Allen
Lane, 2005. ( Review by the Guardian, Review by the Washington Post)
- Sen, Amartya, An Aspect of Indian Agriculture,
Economic Weekly, Vol. 14, 1962.
- Other Publications on Google Scholar