Poverty And Famines: Entitlement And Deprivation?

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Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation By Amartya Sen New York, Oxford University Press, 1981, 257 pp. Reviewed by Liz Maria Kuriakose & S. Sowjanya III Economics (B) Introduction ‘How severe is poverty? What causes famines?’ Amartya Sen proves that first rate theorizing can illuminate the terrible, practical problems of Asia and Africa, reviewed The Times Literary Supplement. The main focus of this book is upon the causes behind starvation in general and famines in particular. The contents of the book are part of a study undertaken for the World Employment Programme launched by the International Labour Organization in 1969. Traditionally, famines were analyzed on the basis of food supply which Sen proves to be theoretically…show more content…
It is widely believed that famines are caused by decline in food availability. He calls this the Traditional Approach (FAD) which concentrates on supply side. A shortage in per capita food output causes famine. Contrary to this conventional belief, he argues that famines are not a result of food shortages. Failures in harvests, reductions in food imports, droughts, etc, are some contributing factors and more important are the food distribution systems in the society. In his studies of several well-known historical famines, Sen found that famines occurred even when per capita food output was maintained. In this, he believes that famines resulted either from sudden collapse in the endowments of people or from dramatic changes in relative prices, which prevented some of the population to acquire enough food. Thus, he came up with the Entitlement Approach to understand the entitlement systems within which the problem of starvation is to be analyzed. He considers starvation to be a function of entitlements but not of food availability. Individuals starve because they do not have sufficient food entitlements for subsistence. This approach subsumes the idea of FAD approach: The aggregate supply of food affects food entitlements, but they in turn depend on distribution and production of physical and human assets, and prices of goods and services. It directs one to the ownership patterns which determines the distribution…show more content…
Empirics have shown that famines could thrive even without a general decline in food availability. Even in other cases, starvation has several other variables apart from food availability. FAD approach, which is a food centric view, provides very less idea about the causal mechanism of starvation. It is a gross concept which cannot be applied to the population as a whole. It is not possible for the food supply to fall behind population growth for the world as a whole. Entitlement Approach concentrates on the ability of different sections of the population to have a command over food with the entitlement relations of that society. The latter approach requires use of categories based on certain discriminations. ‘Poor’ as a category is not suitable for causal analysis or evaluative exercises as it can distort public policy. A market economy is characterized by a price for every good or service and every player owns some goods or services. People will starve when their entitlement is not sufficient to buy the food for survival. The food available to them makes a connection with their income distribution and exchange process. The supply of food is not considered to be irrelevant. A decrease in the supply of food will increase its price which decreases the ability to buy food by using their entitlement and may drive to starvation if on the margins of hunger. The

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