The full transcript of Jonathan Derbyshire's interview with renowned Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Senby Jonathan Derbyshire / July 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Jonathan Derbyshire: We first met four years ago. You said something to me then that I think bears on the preoccupations of your new book, co-written with Jean Drèze, An Uncertain Glory. We were talking about the Indian left. You said: “I’ve been very critical of the political balance of the left in India in recent years. A party which has a real commitment to the underdogs of society should be much more worried than it seems to be that India has a higher proportion of undernourished kids than anywhere else in the world.” That insight is, more or less, the point of departure for your new book isn’t it? You’re interested, in other words, in what you call the “two-way relationship” between “social justice” (your term) and economic growth, which of course has been spectacular in India over the past 15-20 years.
Amartya Sen: That’s exactly right. At the time, I hadn’t done the systematic work to see what the other indicators looked like, but I knew that on the undernourishment index we [ie India] were very low. But then when I found that this was true in other many other aspects – having a stable and secure medical arrangement for all; having a well functioning school system to which every child has actual access; universal coverage of immunisation – in all these areas India seemed to be doing worse than many countries which it has overtaken in terms of per capita income- for example, Bangladesh. So this, four years ago, was a thought that was bothering me which I always wanted to follow up. As I looked through it with my friend and collaborator Jean Drèze, it became clear that systematically India was underperforming in these respects, even when it was outperforming other large economies, with the exception of China (today, despite its fall in growth rate, it still has the third highest rate of growth among large economies, after China and Indonesia).
JD: That context – the competition with China and the other BRIC nations, India’s sense of itself as punching its weight on the global stage – matters doesn’t it?
AS: Yes. Economic growth is important precisely because it can help people to lead better lives, but to take growth itself to be a fetishistic object of admiration is part of the…