June 15, 2021

Indian economist Amartya Sen, 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences



The economist and philosopher
Amartya Kunan Sen
(Shantiniketan, India, 1933), a key figure in current economic thought, has been awarded today the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2021 to which 41 candidates from twenty different nationalities opted. Sen, who already received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, has focused his research on give a voice to the most disadvantaged and in defining the theory of social choice, economic well-being, and human development.

Your school of thought on the underlying mechanisms of poverty have contributed to the fight against injustice, inequality, disease and ignorance, as highlighted by the award jury. In the note sent to the media, the Princess of Asturias Foundation also delves into its “continued and excellent work,” which “has had a decisive influence on the development plans and policies of the most relevant world institutions.”

Sen was born 87 years ago in Bengal, when the territory was part of the British Empire. After studying for several years in his country, he installed his temporary residence in the United Kingdom, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1956 and received his doctorate in 1959. Sen has been a professor at prestigious educational institutions such Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford or Berkeley and is an advisor to the United Nationss. In January 2004 he returned to Harvard, where he currently works as a teacher.

Known as «The conscience of the economy», He has always been a lawyer for the poor throughout his professional career. Along these lines, Sen focused his numerous studies in determining the causes of famines and is considered as the father of the United Nations Human Development Index, a qualitative rather than a quantitative indicator of well-being. In this index, in addition to material criteria, factors such as education, health or freedom are also included. In contrast, Sen has always defended that setting the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a goal is a serious mistake since it does not reflect the well-being or the development achieved by the society of a country.

In addition, their contributions in the development of economic and social indicators have highlighted the concept of positive freedom, that is, the real capacity of a person to be or to do something, as opposed to negative freedom, common in economics, which focuses on non-interference.

Causes of famines

Sen’s work that has received the most recognition is the book entitled ‘Poverty and Famine: An Essay on Law and Deprivation’, published in 1981 and in which he strove to demonstrate that hunger is not a consequence of the lack of food, but of inequalities in the distribution mechanisms of these and that, therefore, it is based on an unbalanced distribution of wealth.

The figure of Sen, “The least influential of all economists”, as the recipient of the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences describes himself, is marked by its Bengali origins. The famine of 1943 suffered in this territory – where he spent his childhood – marked his way of approaching the economy and his interest in explaining the causes of poverty and hunger. During his childhood he met the Indian intellectual Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, whom he visited frequently. Both thinkers have had great influence on his work and the focus of his economic research.

Sen was Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and has also received the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Awards (USA, 1990), the International Catalonia (1997), the Meister Eckhart (Germany, 2007), the International Edgar de Picciotto (Switzerland, 2012), the Charleston- EFG John Maynard Keynes (United Kingdom, 2015), the Johan Skytte (Sweden, 2017) and the Peace of the German Book Trade (2020). He has also been an advisor and honorary president of Oxfam International, president of the Econometric Society (USA) and of the Indian Economics, American Economics and International Economics Associations (France).

He was also one of the twenty-five figures of the Commission created by Reporters Without Borders to prepare the International Declaration on Information and Democracy, made in 2018. The economist and philosopher has collected his memoirs in Home in the World: A Memoir (2021).

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