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Development as Freedom

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  6,411 ratings  ·  282 reviews
By the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, an essential and paradigm-altering framework for understanding economic development—for both rich and poor—in the twenty-first century.

Freedom, Sen argues, is both the end and most efficient means of sustaining economic life and the key to securing the general welfare of the world's entire population. Releasing the idea
Paperback, First Anchor Books Edition, 366 pages
Published 2000 by Anchor (first published 1999)
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 ·  6,411 ratings  ·  282 reviews

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Mar 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Here's the thing about Amartya Sen: everything he writes oozes humility and compassion, and his optimism is both refreshing and contagious. His arguments are consistently predicated upon a genuine respect for humanity and a desire to eliminate the poverty that plagues most of the world. For this reason, it's hard not to like him. But - of course there's a but - when it comes down to the actual content and evidence of some of his works there are some gaping holes that fundamentally undermine the ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen
Development as Freedom is a 1999 book about international development by the economist Amartya Sen. Amartya Sen was the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics. His book argues that economic development entails a set of linked freedoms: Political freedoms and transparency in relations between people. Freedom of opportunity, including freedom to access credit; and Economic protection from abject poverty, including through income supplements and unemployment
--Let me rank those who research “Development Economics”:

1st Tier: Critical Political Economists, i.e. seriously consider historical context/power relations + social imaginations: ex. Utsa Patnaik, Prabhat Patnaik, Michael Hudson, Amiya Kumar Bagchi (who had me fooled by writing some essays on Sen, but Bagchi's father did supervise Sen...)

2nd Tier: Heterodox Economists, i.e. seriously consider other schools of economic thought (esp. historical), not just Neoclassical (“Mainstream Economics”): ex
Apr 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
The first thing you realize from reading Amartya Sen is what a fundamentally nice human being he must be. I'm serious. Waves of decency and kindness just eminate from the page. And what's more, he seems to believe that for the most part, other people are just as nice as he is. It's such a relief to read someone who's brilliant but not cynical.
The other thing i really liked about this book was that it provides the ideal meeting place for my University of Chicago-steeped intellect and my bleeding
howl of minerva
Don't be dazzled by the Nobel prize, this is a tedious and ultimately vapid book. See reviews by E and Andy that pretty much nail it.


And I'd just like to add, Sen has an unfailing eye for a punchy quotation that is (amazingly) more boring than his own text, and that - like his own text - makes either no point or a self-evident one.

"John Hicks, one of the leading economists of this century who himself was far more utility-oriented than freedom-oriented, did put the issue with admirable clari
Apr 29, 2007 rated it did not like it
There's a nice 40 page essay in here about the importance of considerations other than GDP in developing countries. Unfortunately it is buried by 260 pages of poor writing in which Sen:

- repeats himself
- repeats himself
- distinguishes his arguments or perspectives into type A, type B, and type C, when in reality A, B, and C are not all that different, or their distinction does not seriously enhance understanding of the subject being discussed
- stretches his points to tautological limits - think
Katie Holbrook
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
I picked up this book not knowing the exact thesis (hint to past self: it's the title) but hoping to get an analysis of ideas of development with a depth that your typical 25-page academic paper doesn't have space for. What I got instead of the desired depth, was huge breadth instead. My chief complaint about this book is that I felt it would formulate a sensitive and productive viewpoint on an issue and then promptly fail to engage with that viewpoint on a contemporary timescale. Oftentimes, in ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I misunderstood the title, believing Sen's thesis was that economic development leads to greater freedom--"hey, now that we're so rich, look at all the things we can do"--which would have been a very short and shallow book. Instead, I think the idea of the title is that increasing individuals' freedoms will lead to economic development. Not freedom like how a libertarian would define it (which we all know is simply freedom from government regulation and taxes--sorry libertarians, but that about ...more
Dec 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
I agree with those who found this book boring. It really is a boring boring book.
Esentially this is a book about political philosophy and ethics etc which I really find boring topics as I don't understand why people have to discuss ethics and morals of some subjects. For ex: Its wrong to kill innocent people. The end. I don't need to analyse the ethics of murder to know and understant its wrong. I think its called to have "Empathy".

Ironically Sen is talking a lot about people who don't have fr
Jun 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Had I known that this book was compiled based off a series of lectures that Sen did for the World Bank, I wouldn't have been so surprised by the neoliberal free market cheerleading. As it was, I was expecting a book about development focused on strategies and frameworks that have and might actually reduce "unfreedoms" in the world. See "E"s review, which explains all this much better than I could do here. ...more
Feb 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Meh. Not my cup of tea but required for my philosophy class "The Individual and Society." I will say I have a fledgling understanding of his premise that the development of society frees them from the prison of poverty. ...more
Helen Harcourt
Feb 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Sen’s writing is engaging but the conspicuous absence of any meaningful discussion of class domination ultimately lets his thinking down.
Nov 15, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a treatise on the importance of individual freedom, both as an end in itself and as the best means of economic development. It is based on a series of lectures Sen gave in 1996-7, which netted him a Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Nearly two decades later, all of his points seem obvious, but I bet they were revolutionary at the time. His writing is an odd mixture of turgid institutional-ese with occasional hilarious sarcastic asides or brilliantly lucid and forthright sentences. Here's ...more
Jul 27, 2008 rated it did not like it
Very dry writing which both dumbs down and yet doesn't quite explain global economic concepts. Sen has powerful theories which re-emphasize the duality of human rights laws - the need for both the end to hunger and political freedom. The interrelationships of human needs and the ability to reforge all efforts towards political and economic freedoms into an argument towards "western" development. It is a complicated and complex argument - both flawed and profound - and is deeply embedded in his r ...more
Readable, yet disappointing in many ways, particularly if you know anything about the field already or believe that history/context is important. I wouldn't even say it is a good development book that has not aged well. Far from pushing the envelope, Sen timidly advances the idea that development isn't just GDP like some inoffensive champion of limp liberal economics. I do think there is a worthwhile essay here, perhaps summarizing the first 4 chapters about capabilities. I liked his framing of ...more
Sep 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Re-read (skimmed) this book which was a text from grad school just to refresh my memory. It continues to be such a solid contribution to the world of international development, even if I am a different, far more progressive person reading it now than I was ten years ago.

Sen's primary assertion, that human freedom is both a means and a goal to development, is what distinguishes and recommends this text. Complemented by one of the more compassionate readings of Adam Smith (and one with which I wh
Stuart Macalpine
The best book on agency you will read...
Dhiraj Sharma Nyaupane
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
In one of the last notes written by Gandhi, he said:

I will give you a Talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for hungry and spiritually starving milli
Aany Tazmin
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"...But the honey collectors also have to escape the tigers. In a good year, only about fifty or so honey gatherers are killed by tigers, but that number can be very much higher when things don't go so well. While the tigers are protected, nothing protects the miserable human beings who try to make a living by working in those woods, which are deep and lovely - and quite perilous...

...If poverty drives human beings to take such terrible risks - and perhaps to die terrible deaths - for a dollar o
Justin Tapp
This was the first book I bought after returning home from two years overseas in 2004. It has traveled with us until now. It's probably best that I didn't read it until recently since I have a much better appreciation of the arguments.

Sen is a Nobel prize winning economist (1998), and one of my grad school teacher's teacher's teacher. He combines economic analysis with moral philosophy. His point (I think) is that freedom is both and ends and a means of development, and we should analyze policie
To be fair, I can't give a rating to this. I skimmed through large portions in the book - it was essentially the same thing and obvious facts dressed up. However, I am aware that these facts seem obvious now only due to the popularity of his work and were probably fresh when he first wrote them. For now, they seem outdated and limited.

Especially in the current context, much of the book kinda seems obsolete. The idea of development as freedom seems to be the promotion of western style consumption
Jul 11, 2014 marked it as to-read
Citado en el artículo de Pugno en Capabilities and Happiness.

Sen has proposed that we should move on from primary goods to “capabilities,” defining social justice in terms of the opportunities open to people according to their functioning. The capability approach differs from Rawls’s approach in two respects. It focuses on what goods can do for people in their particular circumstances, taking into consideration, for example, that people with disabilities may have higher travel-to-work costs tha
Prakhar Jain
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
As someone who leans right when it comes to the economy, the not-so-good review may reek of partisanship. However, this by no means implies that the idea discussed in the book didn't appeal to me.

Sen in his book explains how and why development should be seen as an enhancer of freedom at its core. He has present compelling arguments to put forward his case. Like by the end of the book, you will know, for sure, and I mean like really sure, that no famine has ever occurred in a democratic country
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Though this book was incredibly dry, it did challenge my thinking a bit. It made me think more about the big picture; for example thinking about the causal factors of famines, rather than a famine simply being a lack of food. He even points out the famines can occur during times of increased food production.

He also challenges some conventional wisdoms (or, at least, commonly held beliefs) such as people who are poor don't care about democracy, Adam Smith was an advocate of a market system which
Jan 29, 2018 added it
Shelves: economics
I don't know what to make of this. On the one hand, Sen's notion of increasing capabilities and the removing of "unfreedoms" strikes me as a very noble idea. On the other hand, Sen's approach is quite often absolutely fucked in practice (hey there, microcredit!).

Look, I guarantee that Amartya Sen is a profoundly compassionate person who really does care about bringing the world's poor up, but like many of his fellow travelers in the Clinton-ish and Gates Foundation-esque world of nice people try
Yara Fathalla
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sen is truly one of the greatest development scholars of our time. Although the book does not give straightforward answers to development problems and sometimes I felt it could be inapplicable in complex settings, it lays out a different understanding of "development" which is important to consider whenever solutions are being created. The holistic perception of underdevelopment-as not being merely about poverty- has really helped me think critically about mainstream solutions to development pro ...more
Xavier Quintana
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Heinously dry and redundant. And I like dry, usually.

For added (or any) fun, take a shot every time you read the phrase "vis-à-vis"
Arjun Pathy
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, economics
Before I make any criticism of this book, I have to say this: Sen is an absolute master of devastating disembowelments of his intellectual opponents, performed so quickly and effortlessly that you can barely even be sure that they happened. His attacks on (naïve but common interpretations of) mainstream economic theory are a treasure to behold. Take this gem about why economists’ search for the coveted transitive and complete social choice function is clearly absurd:

A choice procedure that relie
Nick Mclean
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
We are accustomed to thinking of economics as soley a study of GDP, supply and demand, scarcity and surplus, the business cycle etc.. For most of us economics is a precise and contentious science, with different solutions favoured by those of different political persuasions. But at its heart Economics is deeply philosophical. The measurements we commonly use are those that have historically been found to be the most useful. As consensus changes and our values evolve, the way we measure economic ...more
Gede Suprayoga
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First, read this book because I was dazzled as it is written by a Noble Prize winner, Amarta Sen. Second, I am looking for an answer to how democracy and economic development can join, and what prerequisites are available for the current generation.

This book is indeed a remarkable work that turns the economy as a thing that can not be separated from values. In some of the book pages, Sen clearly emphasizes personal and societal values that should drive how the economy should be governed and how
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Amartya Kumar Sen is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members.

Sen was best known for his work on the causes of famine, which led to the development of practical solutions for preventing or limiting the effects of real or perceiv

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14 likes · 3 comments
“The World Bank has not invariably been my favorite organization. The power to do good goes almost always with the possibility to do the opposite, and as a professional economist, I have had occasions in the past to wonder whther the Bank could not have done very much better.” 6 likes
“Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development.” 6 likes
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