Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

By Amartya Sen | Go to book overview

Appendix B
Illustrative Models of Exchange Entitlement

B.1
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

The determination of exchange entitlements in any real economy is a complex process, since a variety of influences -- economic, social, and political -- operate on the parameters in f(.), Q(.), etc., for each group. The process, as discussed in the text, will also vary substantially according to the precise institutional structure of the economy. While there is clearly little point in trying to develop a general theory of exchange entitlement determination (Appendix A was, of course, concerned exclusively with characterization rather than determination of exchange entitlements), there is perhaps some merit in illustrating the nature of the problem by considering some simple models. Two such models are presented in this Note, one based on Malthus analysis in An Investigation of the Cause of the Present High Price of Provisions ( 1800), and the other trying to capture an important aspect of the causation of the Bengal famine in 1943, analysed in Chapter 6.


B.2
MALTHUS ON THE POOR LAWS AND THE PRICE OF CORN

There is little doubt that Malthus's analysis of food shortage in 1800 was a supplement to his theory of population presented two years earlier:

To what then can we attribute the present inability in the country to support its inhabitants, but to the increase of population? I own that I cannot but consider the late severe pressures of distress on every deficiency in our crops, as a very strong exemplification of a principle which I endeavoured to explain in an essay published about two years ago, entitled, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future Improvement of Society. It was considered by many who read it, merely as a specious argument, inapplicable to the present state of society; because it contradicted some preconceived opinions on these subjects. Two years' reflection have, however, served strongly to convince me of the truth of the principle there advanced, and of its being the real cause of the continued depression and poverty of the lower classes of society, of the total inadequacy of all the present establishments in their favour to relieve them, and of the periodical returns of such seasons of distress as we have of late experienced.1

But over and above claiming confirmation for his theory of food shortage arising from population expansion, Malthus also presented a theory linking food shortage to the behaviour of prices and

____________________
1
Malthus ( 1880), p. 25.

-174-

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