Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

By Amartya Sen | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Entitlement Approach

5.1 ENDOWMENT AND EXCHANGE

The entitlement approach to starvation and famines concentrates on the ability of people to command food through the legal means available in the society, including the use of production possibilities, trade opportunities, entitlements vis-à- vis the state, and other methods of acquiring food. A person starves either because he does not have the ability to command enough food, or because he does not use this ability to avoid starvation. The entitlement approach concentrates on the former, ignoring the latter possibility. Furthermore, it concentrates on those means of commanding food that are legitimized by the legal system in operation in that society. While it is an approach of some generality, it makes no attempt to include all possible influences that can in principle cause starvation, for example illegal tranfers (e.g. looting), and choice failures (e.g. owing to inflexible food habits).

Ownership of food is one of the most primitive property rights, and in each society there are rules governing this right. The entitlement approach concentrates on each person's entitlements to commodity bundles including food, and views starvation as resulting from a failure to be entitled to a bundle with enough food.

In a fully directed economy, each person i may simply get a particular commodity bundle which is assigned to him. To a limited extent this happens in most economies, e.g. to residents of old people's homes or of mental hospitals. Typically, however, there is a menu -- possibly wide -- to choose from. Ei is the entitlement set of person i in a given society, in a given situation, and it consists of a set of alternative commodity bundles, any one of which the person can decide to have. In an economy with private ownership and exchange in the form of trade (exchange with others) and production (exchange with nature), Ei can be characterized as depending on two parameters, viz. the endowment of the person (the ownership bundle) and the exchange

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