Social Scientist. v 25, no. 294-295 (Nov-Dec 1997) p. 72.


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SOCIAL SCIENTIST

Sen's paper on the subject is the most analytically rigorous and clear presentation of the approach date. By the second half of the sixties Sen was already deeply immersed in welfare economics, a concern which was to take him by the second half of the seventies into the now-famous analysis of poverty and famines, published in 1981, and thence to his more recent work stressing the importance of public action for the reduction of deprivation.

As a student of Professor Sen at the Delhi School of Economics in the latter half of the sixties, this writer had a first-hand experience of his remarkable powers of crystal-clear exposition of sometimes difficult topics in economic theory. Sen was good to students, and has been particularly meticulous in acknowledging the work done by younger colleagues including his ex-students—a generous trait which is, alas, rarely found among most academics today.

This brings us to the question of the sociology of the Nobel economics prize. The Nobel Committee has displayed the same bias in its choices as orthodox narrow-minded bourgeois economics generally does. The case of Maurice Dobb illustrates the point. In the sheer range of his ideas, in depth, and in scholarship, Maurice Dobb was outstanding in a University which had outstanding contemporaries—Pierro Sraffa, Joan Robinson, Nicholas Kaldor among others. But as a Marxist, Dobb was denied even a professorship, as indeed was Joan Robinson until the very last years of her life, for the Keynesians were considered in their own way to be no less dangerously revolutionary than were the communists, in the hide-bound academic ani bience of the Oxbridge high table. Needless to say the Nobel committee never considered any of these outstanding economists for its prize.

The question therefore arises: how did it come to pass that an economist from the Third World—for despite his nearly three decades of exile abroad, and only a soupgon of Bengali to his speech, no one ever thought of Sen as an Englishman—an economist, moreover, who after having proved that he could handle formal logic and mathematics as well as anyone, had spent his energies on the unfashionable subjects of poverty and deprivation—could 'make it' at all? This question acquires weight particularly in the context of the distinctly poor choices made by the Committee in the past, which had helped to devalue the economics Nobel considerably.

Last year's choice however at last boomeranged on the committee, for the two economists who were given the prize for their alleged ability to predict the movement of share prices were recently involved in the collapse of the Long-Terms Capital Management enterprise. They had used their economic expertise to try to make big money through speculation, leveraging a sum of less than 5 billion to forty times that sum or about 180-200 billion in financial investments through the device of hedge funds, and had come to ignominious grief in the process, requiring a US government bail-out of massive proportions. By awarding the prize to Professor Sen this year, the committee was undoubtedly salvaging some of its own lost reputation for discernment. The fact that they chose Amartya Sen is to be welcomed by progressive people everywhere.

While Professor Sen's positions are those of a progressive left-leaning



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