Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

By Amartya Sen | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Poverty and Entitlements

1.1
ENTITLEMENTS AND OWNERSHIP

Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the of there being not enough food to eat. While the latter can be a cause of the former, it is but one of many possible causes. Whether and how starvation relates to food supply is a matter for factual investigation.

Food supply statements say things about a commodity (or a group of commodities) considered on its own. Starvation statements are about the relationship of persons to the commodity (or that commodity group).1 Leaving out cases in which a person may deliberately starve, starvation statements translate readily into statements of ownership of food by persons. In order to understand starvation, it is, therefore, necessary to go into the structure of ownership.

Ownership relations are one kind of entitlement relations. It is necessary to understand the entitlement systems within which the problem of starvation is to be analysed.2 This applies more generally to poverty as such, and more specifically to famines as well.

An entitlement relation applied to ownership connects one set of ownerships to another through certain rules of legitimacy. It is a recursive relation and the process of connecting can be repeated. Consider a private ownership market economy. I own this loaf of bread. Why is this ownership accepted? Because I got it by exchange through paying some money I owned. Why is my ownership of that money accepted? Because I got it by selling a bamboo umbrella owned by me. Why is my ownership of the bamboo umbrella accepted? Because I made it with my own

____________________
1
The contrast between commodities on the one hand and the relationship of commodities to persons on the other is central also to many other economic exercises. The evaluation of real national income is an important example, and for a departure from the traditional approaches to national income to a relationship-based evaluation in the light of this distinction, see Sen ( 1976b, 1979a).
2
The 'entitlement approach' to starvation analysis was presented in Sen ( 1976c, 1977b), and is developed and extended in Chapter 5 and Appendix A, and applied to case studies in Chapters 6-9 below.

-1-

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