Magazine article Foreign Policy

Amartya Sen: The Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Reflects on Misguided Policies, Social Disasters-And Whether He Had It Too Easy

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Amartya Sen: The Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Reflects on Misguided Policies, Social Disasters-And Whether He Had It Too Easy

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

My family was from Dhaka, now the capital of Bangladesh, but I studied mostly in Santiniketan, in a school in India. My earliest memories, between the ages of 3 and 6, are all of Mandalay in Burma, where my father was a visiting professor in the 1930s. I felt much at home in all these places, and the idea that you can be at home only in one place has never taken root in my mind.

That people could die as a result of stupidity or worse in public policy is quite important in my understanding about the world. The Bengal famine of 1943, which I witnessed as a child of nine, was largely the result of stupid public policy, in a year of relatively good food supply.

[I also remember] the riots that occurred in the 1940s which were not connected with the famine, but resulted from political cultivation of divisive identities. Suddenly, people who had seen themselves as just Indians, or just Bengalis, or just human beings, redefined themselves as sharply separated Hindus and Muslims. The wave of violence passed soon enough, but left a lot of dead bodies behind.

Functioning democratic societies do not tend to have famines. …

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