The war against Sen

In: Uncategorized

16 Apr 2010

War was declared against Amartya Sen last night. Some of the participants at the Westminster seminar on redefining inequality (see events page), including me, decided it is time to challenge the Nobel prize winning economist.

It is nothing personal. Judging by Sen’s performance in lectures he seems like the epitome of an Indian gentleman academic. But his ideas need to be countered.

Sen’s books are difficult. They are packed with arcane academic references and he always shys away from drawing explicit policy conclusions.

His works are important because they sum up in the most sophisticated way some of the key assumptions of contemporary social thinking. For example, his notion of “capabilities” plays a central role in redefining development from a process of material transformation to one based on individual well-being. Although his ideas appear humanisitic and grand they represent an extreme narrowing of the idea of human potential.

If Sen’s ideas can be successfully challenged then less sophisticated proponents of the contemporary orthodoxy are likely to find it hard to hold the line.

It will not be easy, because his outlook is extremely influential, but it is a conflict well worth fighting.