Lawrence Hamilton has a new book out on Amartya Sen- an economist who is of great importance if
1) Economists are important
2) All important Economists hitherto have been utterly evil and an Economist who has the courage to denounce his own devilish breed should be praised to the skies
The truth, however, is economists are unimportant and merely stupid rather than evil.
Sen's own stupidity arises from the insight that if Doctors can get paid a lot to treat sick people, then, surely, money could be made by arguing that 'treatment' generates wealth. We need a comprehensive theory of 'treatment' because as Mahatma Gandhi said 'Health is the true Wealth not silver or gold'.
The problem with this view is that it isn't true that 'treatment' generates wealth. Some may gain a livelihood by offering this service. But this is merely a case of 'value adding'.
Gold or Silver or other fungible assets do represent wealth. But Health does not. A healthy person, ceteris paribus, may gain more wealth than a critically ill patient. But then again she may not.
Development can occur under conditions of slavery or freedom or sheer absence of mind. Freedom- i.e. effective Hohfeldian immunities- may wax or wane for exogenous reasons. There is no necessary link between the two. Still, a few professional gobshites may get paid for pretending that Development is Freedom is Beatitude is the Triumph of the Aryan Spirit is the harbinger of Victory in the War against Masturbation and thus the necessary prolegemenon of the Reign of Total Niceness sans any sort of Sexy Naughtiness at all.
Thus, in 'Development as Freedom', Sen writes
In terms of the medieval distinction between ‘the patient’ and ‘the agent,’This 'medieval distinction' arose from Aristotle's account, in the Third Book of his Physics, of the bringing about of change, by something acting (the agent) on something which is acted upon (the patient) which involves the transmission of a 'form' from the agent to the patient. In this view, action is defined simply as "motion from an agent"; passion, as "motion received from an agent in a patient." Thus, the action of building is simply the thing built. In terms of rough and ready reckoning, this is good enough. The overseer turns up to check the building work is on-going. The workers have gone home, but he can see the half built wall. It is enough for him to monitor the progress made in the wall's construction to be able to say that the building activity has occurred.
this freedom-centred understanding of economics
is that of modern physics. The only non 'freedom-centered' understanding of econ is casteist, or magical, shite of the sort Sen's ancestors dealt in to get rich.
and of the process of development
which, for Sen's sept, occurred due to Whitey turning up and running things
is very much an agent-oriented view.
Coz Bengali compradors were 'patients' right? Whitey did things to them. Touched them in their no-no place. Probably anally probed them as well. Fuck you Whitey! Fuck you very much!
In one sense, Sen has a point. The fucker was sent by the Indian State to study Econ at Cambridge. According to one view, Joan Robinson- an actual White Memsahib of a condescending School Marm in the India of the Thirties- fucked him up permanently. According to another, the guy was so shite his mentor, Sukhamoy Charkraborty, talent spotted him immediately, as an equally vacuous, bureaucratic, bhadralok, cretin, the moment he arrived at Presidency College, Calcutta.
What fucking 'Wealth' did Sen create for India? None. The brand of Econ he 'developed' might not have been utterly mischievous had it been stamped 'for export only'. But it wasn't. Indeed, India's dirigiste attempt to develop export industries fell foul of the fact that subsidized products, supposedly catering to a 'phoren' taste', were re-imported in a manner which defeated this workaround for Baumol 'cost-disease' and fucked up 'fiscal headroom'. In other words, more and more money had to be wasted on Indian Sen-a-pods keeping up with the Joneses represented by NRI Sen-a-pods or 'Subaltern Studies' mavens and so on. This killed off the Anglophone Academy.
Consider the quotation from Amartya Sen previously given. The ambitious Bengali youth, reading it, might- quite naturally think- that 'medieval distinctions' matter. But only if the fucker does not know we live in, not 'days of yore', but 'modern times'. So, the Bengali aspirant to Sen-tentious status understands that ultracrepidarian crap is required to pad out one's stupidity and ignorance so as to migrate somewhere 'affirmative intellectual action' is available provided you denounce Fascism with your every other breath.
Common sense tells us, a patient is someone who is ill and who wants to get better or, at least, die painlessly. A Doctor knows more than the patient and can help her. Doctors monitor Patients. Medicine is a learned profession which helps patients by training Doctors.
An 'agent' is not a patient. There is nothing wrong with the fellow. He probably knows his own business best. There is no need to monitor him. No learned profession devotes itself to training people to help people who are better able to care for themselves. This is the main reason my emails to Bill Gates and Mukesh Ambani, offering to teach them how to get rich for the low low price of $9.99, tend to go unanswered.
Development is about 'catching up' with a more advanced form. Experienced professional with detailed ideographic knowledge can help people or enterprises or countries to develop properly. Sadly, most Development Economists- at least in India- were completely shit. This does not mean that India could not have developed rapidly. Like South Korea, it could have listened to Irma Adelman in the early Sixties. It chose instead to listen to worthless cretins. To his credit, Amartya Sen left India rather than join the Planning Commission. But he continued to babble mischievous bollocks.
With adequate social opportunities, individuals can effectively shape their own destiny and help each other.
Individuals shape their own destiny and help each other whether or not there are 'adequate social opportunities'. Indeed, 'social opportunities' are created by individuals helping each other.
How shitheads view people does not matter. They soon get disintermediated from decision making as opposed to the rubber-stamping of corruption through the pretence of decision making. But pretence doesn't matter very much.
They need not be seen primarily as passive recipients of the beneﬁts of cunning development programs. There is indeed a strong rationale for recognizing the positive role of free and sustainable agency – and even of constructive impatience … I am using the term ‘agent’ … in its older – and ‘grander’ – sense as someone who acts and brings about change, and whose achievements can be judged in terms of her values and objectives, whether or not we assess them in terms of some external criteria as well.
Why assess anything at all? What value or objective of one's own is met thereby? Is it to pretend one is doing something useful? Why not pretend to battle Fascism instead?
Development is about increasing the availability of goods and services so people are materially better off. This means they must trade-off leisure against work, and investing time and effort on boosting productive capacity, as opposed to talking bollocks.
Sen could not contribute to boosting output. He could contribute to talking bollocks. So, quite sensibly, he emigrated to where bollocks talking was better rewarded and did nothing else with great dedication.
In a newly published book on Sen we read-
Within development, Sen is famous for transforming the main indicators with which practitioners and policy makers are concerned about when thinking about development, as he is for his work on famines – for arguing, against the grain, that famines are not ultimately about a shortage of food but a lack of entitlement over food, that is, the power or means to acquire it.
But India needed to boost agricultural output. Talk of entitlements was useless. Two famines in Bengal, after transitions to Democracy, showed entitlements collapse unpredictably (or predictably if you take a dim view of Bengali politicians).
He argues convincingly that income maximization or GNP, or any other particular means that enables individuals to live a life they have reason to value, while important are not the main concern for development.
Whom has he convinced? Nobody who matters. Either a country produces more or it doesn't. If it doesn't people get poorer and try to emigrate. The country starts to fall behind its neighbors.
Development is about generating the capacity, the capability, the power of citizens to determine themselves how best they should live.
Which means producing more. Everybody doing Yoga and Mindfulness and determining for themselves how they should live will soon get us back to the stone age.
Some on the left have criticized this kind of approach for feeding into a market-based view – that markets best enable the ability to make choices for development – but Sen has little truck with this criticism for, as he says frequently, in the longue durée markets are one central component of enabling this development capability.
More important than markets is smart people voting with their feet to get out of places where output isn't rising. In the longue duree, those places are either depopulated or overrun with inbred nitwits.
As Karl Marx argued, despite their deﬁciencies and failures, as compared to earlier forms of exchange, markets have been revolutionary in enabling more efﬁcient exchange, that is, in empowering individuals to acquire the necessities and luxuries of life.
No. What markets are better at is permitting innovations to spread rapidly and facilitating social and political change. There is no way of distinguishing 'necessities' and 'luxuries'. Speaking generally, it is mischievous to do so.
As Sen argues, to be against markets generally speaking would be like being against communication.
Nothing wrong with that. There are circumstances where it is rational to be against both commerce and communications. During a war, you don't want your people trading with or talking to the enemy.
Yet critics of markets are clearly onto something (however overstated the criticism may sometimes appear): the problem lies not in the nature of markets themselves but in the exploitation and domination to which they can give rise;
but exploitation and domination exist without markets. It is not the case that markets, by themselves, give rise to either. On the contrary, they may ameliorate and finally dissolve both in a manner Marx delineated.
thus the crucial question becomes whether and how they are regulated.
But regulating a market, no matter how it is done, simply causes another unregulated market to come into existence. It is a different matter that regulation may reflect a change in norms and mores- a new 'correlated equilibrium'- such that the unregulated market is thinly populated.
Consequently, more often than not, the ﬁrst important question in development is how to help poor people enter markets securely, given that many still struggle even to enter them.
Poor people who better them themselves do 'Development'. Cunts who talk bollocks don't. If it is profitable to organize a particular markets, that market will exist. If it isn't, it won't. Costly coercive activity and the rewards for the same decides this matter. But that is a political and legal question- not one for Economics or Philosophy.
Development Economics need not have been crap. Indeed, if you describe Irma Adelman or Ta-Chung Liu as Development Economists then you could plausibly say that the subject wasn't entirely shit. But this would be disingenuous. The fact is, South Korea and Taiwan had to do sensible stuff because they couldn't rely on Uncle Sam to defend them for ever and ever. There was an existential threat and so there was a sensible response from quite ruthless power wielders. Even in India, Development could occur if a gun was put to the head of the Government.