Indian Wins Economics Prize; Expert's Nobel Cause to Prevent Famine

Article excerpt

Amartya Sen, whose work combining economics and philosophy has brought a new understanding of the catastrophes that plague society's poorest people, has won the Nobel Economics Prize.

Sen, an Indian citizen who teaches at Trinity College in Cambridge, was awarded the prize "for his contributions to welfare economics," which have helped in the understanding of the economic mechanisms underlying famines and poverty.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which gives the award, said Sen, aged 64 "has restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems."

He has studied the Bangladesh famine of 1974 and other catastrophes in India, Bangladesh and the countries of the Sahara. Sen joined Trinity College this year after teaching at Harvard University, among other institutions.

His best-known work is detailed in his book Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. It challenges the common view that the shortage of food is the most important explanation of famine.

On the basis of studies of several catastrophes, he shows that "famines have occurred even when the supply of food was not significantly lower than during previous years".

Part of his explanation of the 1974 Bangladesh famine is that flooding throughout the country significantly raised food prices, while work opportunities for agricultural workers fell as one of the crops could not be harvested. Due to these factors, the real incomes of agricultural workers declined so much that this group was disproportionately stricken by starvation.

His work undertakes not only hard economic analysis, but broader questions including whether the majority principle is the best way to make decisions and how can it best be determined whether poverty is increasing or decreasing. …