Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Amartya Sen: A More Human Theory of Development

(Elya/Wikipedia)

(Elya/Wikipedia)

Some of the chapters in your highly acclaimed Development as Freedom book were delivered as lectures to World Bank staff at the behest of James Wolfensohn. Do you believe that your collaboration with him led to substantive change in Bank practice?

I cannot really claim that my lecturing the Bank has had any particular impact. But Jim Wolfensohn has introduced many new ideas and practices in the Bank which reflect his own thinking. I am very happy that his ideas have much similarity with my way of thinking, but he arrived at them on his own.

The World Bank had not been my favorite organization. I would not have liked to have been involved very much in the Bank without some basic change in the Bank's attitude to a number of these questions. This did occur with Jim Wolfensohn's arrival. He is also an old friend and we had worked together as Trustees of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was then, and he still is, the chairman of its Board. I was a member of the Board, and we worked there together. I developed a tremendous admiration for Jim for the way he ran the Board. I was delighted when he became the President of the Bank.

When he asked me to give these lectures at the Bank, on any subject of my choice, I thought immediately that this was something I would like to do. And it was a good experience, with lots of useful comments on my lectures which I could use in finalizing the book, Development as Freedom. And it was good to have tried out the book on a large but critical and knowledgeable audience.

In an article in the Guardian (UK) entitled "Freedom's Market" you suggested that, "The real debate associated with globalization is, ultimately, not about the efficiency of markets, nor about the importance of modern technology. The debate, rather, is about inequality of power." Do you believe that this rather dramatic inequality in power within and between states can be altered without equally dramatic structural change?

This is a difficult issue. Let me say three things. One is that the inequalities are monumental in the world today both in economic affluence and in political power. Any kind of analysis of globalization has to be alive to that fact. Now I do believe that greater global contact has been a very strong force for good not just today but over thousands of years. The history of the global contact is sometimes underestimated by thinking of it primarily as a recent phenomenon, and in terms of influences going only from the West to the East, or from North to South. But historically the process of influence has not been unidirectional. Look, for example, at 1000 AD, at the beginning of the millennium which finished just four years ago. In the fields of science and technology, there were a great many things known then in China which were not known in Europe. Similarly, Indian, Arab, and Iranian mathematicians knew a great deal about mathematics which the Europeans had no clue of, including the decimal system and a number of departures in trigonometry, and other approaches. These moved through globalization from East to West, just as science and technology easily move today from West to East. Europe would have been as silly to turn down wisdom coming from the East as the East would be today to turn down wisdom coming from the West. So despite the inequality of power, my first point is that you have to really see the positive contribution that a global movement of ideas—of knowledge and understanding—makes.

The second point is that economic globalization itself could be a source of major advancement of living conditions, and it often is. The main difficulty is that the circumstances in which it produces the maximum benefits for poorer people do not exist now. This is not however an argument for being against global economic contact but rather an argument for working towards a better division of benefits from global economic contact.

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