Biography of Amartya Sen

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Indian Economist Amartya Sen Biography

Amartya Sen, Indian Economist, Nobel Prize Winner is known as “the Mother Teresa of Economics” for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political liberalism.

Amartya Sen is known as “the Mother Teresa of Economics” for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political liberalism.

Born on 3 November 1933 he is currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also a fellow of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, where from 1998 to 2004 he was Master, the first Indian academic to head an Oxbridge college.

In 1998, Sen won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his contributions to work on welfare economics.

“Social choice theory related importantly to a more widespread interest in aggregation in economic assessment and policy making (related to poverty, inequality, unemployment, real national income, living standards)” as said by Amartya Sen. Social choice theory studies voting rules for how individual preferences are aggregated to form a collective preference. Sen`s contribution to the literature enriches the theory of social choice.

Sen points that there are a number of social and economic factors, such as declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food-distribution systems etc behind the issues which led to starvation among certain groups in society.

Amartya Sen`s revolutionary contribution to development economics and social indicators is the concept of `capability` which is a conceptual frame work for evaluating social states in terms of human welfare. He argues that governments should measure the concrete capabilities of their citizens.
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This is because top-down development will always trump human rights as long as the definition of terms remains in doubt.  Amartya Sen`s books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security.

He has received over 80 honorary doctorates. In the year 2010, Time magazine listed him among the 100 most influential persons in the world.

Early Life of Amartya Sen

Amartya Kumar Sen, an Indian economist and a winner of the Nobel Prize was born on 3rd November 1933 in Santiniketan, West Bengal. His ancestral home was in Wari, Dhaka in modern-day Bangladesh. His family migrated to India following partition in 1947. Rabindranath Tagore is said to have given Amartya Sen his name “Amartya” meaning “immortal”.

Sen`s maternal grandfather Ksitimohan Sen was a renowned scholar of medieval Indian literature. Amartya Sen was born to professor father Ashutosh Sen, who taught Chemistry at Dhaka University and mother Amita Sen. St Gregory`s School in Dhaka in modern-day Bangladesh was Amartya Sen`s high-school.

Before moving to Trinity College, Cambridge Sen studied in India at the school system of Visva-Bharati University and Presidency College, Kolkata, where he earned a First Class BA in 1953. At Trinity College he received B.A in 1956 and then a Ph.D. in 1959. He was also allowed four years to immerse himself in philosophical issues during his stay at Trinity College.

He has taught economics at University of Calcutta, Jadavpur University, Delhi, Oxford where he was first a Professor of Economics at Nuffield College and then the Drummond Professor of Political Economy and a Fellow of All Souls College, London School of Economics, Harvard and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1998 to 2004.

In January 2004 Sen returned to Harvard. He is also a contributor to the Eva Colorni Trust at the former London Guildhall University.

Work of Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen in 1998 for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty and political liberalism won the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences i.e. Nobel Prize for Economics. He became the first Asian academic to head an Oxbridge college.

Among his many contributions to development economics, Sen has produced work on gender inequality. He is currently the Lamont University Professor at Harvard University.

The theory of social choice has been developed with Amartya Sen`s contribution. The theory came into prominence with the thoughts of Kenneth Arrow, the American economist. Sen`s contribution was to reveal the condition under which Arrow`s Impossibility Theorem (the theorem demonstrates that no voting system based on ranked preferences can possibly meet a certain set of reasonable criteria when there are three or more options to choose from) come to pass as well as to extend and enrich the theory.

“Poverty and Famines :  An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation” is a book published by Amartya Sen in 1981, where he demonstrated that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. His interest in famine came from his personal experience as he witnessed the Bengal famine of 1943. In his book he has shown that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly reduced.

In case of Bengal, food production was higher in that year than in previous non-famine years. A number of social and economic factors came into play which led to starvation among certain groups in society. His `capabilities approach` focuses on positive freedom (a person`s actual ability to be or do something) rather than on negative freedom approaches, which are common in economics and simply focuses on non-interference.

In the Bengal famine, rural labourers` negative freedom to buy food was not affected. However, they still starved because they were not positively free to do anything.

To Amartya Sen, then Cambridge was like a battlefield. There were major debates between supporters of Keynesian economics and the diverse contributions of Keynes` followers, on the one hand, and the “neo-classical” economists sceptical of Keynes, on the other. Sen was lucky to have close relations with economists on both sides of the divide.

Meanwhile, thanks to its good “practice” of democratic and tolerant social choice, Sen`s own college, Trinity College, was an oasis very much removed from the discord. However, because of a lack of enthusiasm for social choice theory whether in Trinity or Cambridge, Sen had to choose a quite different subject for his Ph.D. thesis, after completing his B.A.

He submitted his thesis on “the choice of techniques” in 1959 under the supervision of the brilliant but vigorously intolerant Joan Robinson. During his time at Cambridge, and according to Quentin Skinner, Sen was a member of the secret society “The Apostles”.

Personal Life of Amartya Sen

Indian writer and scholar Nabaneeta Dev Sen was his first wife with whom he had two children Antara and Nandana. Antara is renowend Indian journalist and Nandana is a bollywood actress. But their marriage broke up after they moved to London in 1971.

Eva Colorni was his second wife with whom he had two children, Indrani and Kabir. Indrani is a journalist in New York and Kabir teaches P.E in the Boston area. Eva died from stomach cancer in 1985. An economic historian, an expert on Adam smith and Fellow of King`s College, Cambridge The Hon. Emma Georgina Rothschild is his present wife.

Honours and Awards For Amartya Sen

  • He received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in welfare economics in 1998.
  • In 1999 he received the Bharat Ratna `the highest civilian award in India` by the President of India.
  • In 1999 he was offered honorary citizenship of Bangladesh from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in recognition of his achievements in winning the Nobel Prize, and given that his family origins were in what has become the modern state of Bangladesh
  • He received the 2000 Leontief Prize for his outstanding contribution to economic theory from the Global Development and Environment Institute.
  • He was the 351st Commencement Speaker of Harvard University.
  • In 2002 he received the International Humanist Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
  • Eisenhower Medal, for Leadership and Service USA, 2000;
  • Companion of Honour, UK, 2000.
  • In 2002, he received an honorary degree from the university of Tokyo[17]
  • In 2003, he was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
  • Life Time Achievement award by Bangkok-based United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)

Works by Amartya Sen

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  • Choice of Techniques, 1960
  • An Aspect of Indian Agriculture
  • The Argumentative Indian,
  • Commodities and Capabilities
  • Growth Economics
  • Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
  • Collective Choice and Social Welfare
  • On Economic Inequality
  • Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, 1981.
  • Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation
  • Choice, Welfare and Measurement
  • Food Economics and Entitlements
  • On Ethics and Economics
  • Hunger and Public Action
  • Hunger and Public Action
  • “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing”.
  • Inequality Re-examined
  • The Quality of Life
  • India : Economic Development and Social Opportunity

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