Poverty and Famines. An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.
Опубликовано на портале: 27-11-2003
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984, 416 с.
The Nobel Laureate (1998) Amartya Sen needs no introduction. But poverty and starvation are better known than he is. Better still, the author is in full realization of this fact. So, no self-elevating adjectives or poignant criticism can be found in the book. The book focuses on starvation in general and famines in particular. At the very outset, Amartya comes out to be a Keynesian in approach rather than a classicist. As his critics would put it - "This paper is not concerned with long-term food policy". This is true to some extent but the author here is trying to fit in a jigsaw puzzle with two or more puzzles thrown in at once. The book can be further divided into three parts for reading purposes: * For layman [Chapter 1-5,10] * Case Studies [Chapter 6-9] * For the erudite economist [Appendix A-D] This is what sets the book apart - a simple treatment of such a complex subject! For an issue as basic as hunger, you do require a simple treatment that masses can understand and not only a Master at some reputed economic school. The first and second section can be read by anyone slightly concerned with the word - Poverty while appendices are for the more learned. Chapter I introduces the elementary concepts of his approach to starvation - "The Entitlement Approach". He clearly distinguishes between the food availability and the relationships between a person and the food available. According to him, a person can get food to which he is legally or socially entitled. He can exchange his owned entitlements for other entitlements. Thus, even if plenty is available in author's words - "Starvation is seen as the result of his inability to establish entitlement to enough food". The second and the third chapter deal with concept of poverty, its identification and aggregation. He presents various methods of poverty evaluation and a critique of each- 1. The most usual head count method (i.e. relative number of poor) 2. Biological and nutritional approach (i.e. minimum amount of nutrition required). The aggregation is dealt with by advocating the axiom of "Ranked Relative Deprivation". This deals with the relative poverty amongst the 'poor'. Chapter III brings out the difference between starvation and famines. It sets a stage for discussion of famines in particular. He distinguishes both on - 1. Time Contrast (Long term and Short Term) 2. Group Contrast (Endemic and Specific Community) Chapter IV critically examines the entitlement approach with explanations of endowment and exchange. He examines the limitations of entitlement approach. The author seems to be very much aware of this e.g. '....some transfers that include violation of entitlement approach as looting'. The Case Studies cover the- * Bengal Famine of 1943 * Ethiopian famine of 1972-4 * Sahel Drought and Famine of 1968-73 * Famine of Bangladesh in 1974. The case studies chosen are of widely different nature and lend credit to his work. He goes about justifying the entitlement approach both in times of low food availability and adequate food availability. The Bengal famine case has been taken to illustrate the failure of FAD (Food Availability Decline). From the data of Famine Inquiry Commission of 1945, he proves that actually per capita availability rose about 9% form 1941-43. Since rural workers were as a community affected the most, exchange entitlement could have been a reason. The 'class-basis of destitution' further corroborates the food entitlement approach. The causes of sharp movements of exchange entitlements in this case can be briefed as- 1. Printing of currency leading to inflationary pressures 2. Speculation and Hoarding (A typical Keynesian!) 3. 'Indifferent' winter crop 4. Prohibition of cereal export 5. An uneven expansion of income and purchasing power 6. Impoverishment of groups not directly related to food production He further examines the bad policy of Bengal govt. at that time. The policy was largely FAD approach based and believed in merely creating supplies of food in the affected region, which, obviously, did not help much. The critics have strongly challenged the validity of Famine Commission report (Sen too is aware of that) and actually contend that crop availability was less than that reported (a large upward bias). This hits at the root of his analysis as he works on the initial analysis that there was actually a rise in food available. Also, the critics lay claim to inefficiency of PDS used to funnel the food into Bengal. To quote-"...and what was put on the market vanished without a ripple". They further proved that the inflation was pretty much the same throughout India. So why this should have only hit Bengal. Sen has neglected the infrastructural breakdown. The Ethiopian Famine, again, according to him proved the validity of entitlement approach, as there was little price rise of commodities. But in Sahel famine decrease in food availability was the causal factor. Sen analysed region wise food output to declare that the effect of famine was actually lower in food deprived areas. The approach of Sen seems to be of a short-term nature but does, indeed, subtly propose a long-term vision too. The focus of govt. should not only be to concentrate on food availability but as Sen points out towards ensuring no sudden changes in exchange entitlements. He advocates govt. intervention in these situations (Keynesian approach!). The critics who oppose the above may please note that that at no time does he propose to completely eliminate the FAD approach. Rather, in opening lines of Chapter I he says- "Starvation is characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough to eat. While the latter can be a cause of the former, it is but one of many possible causes". In conclusion, the book is a must read for everyone. This is a simply written book with lots of conviction and healthy refute of the theories he disposes of.
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