Sen’s essay concerns the existence of extensive hunger amidst unprecedented global prosperity in the contemporary world, but he argues that the problem would be decisively solvable if our response were no longer shaped by Malthusian pessimism. Effective famine prevention does not turn on food supply per head and the automatic mechanism of the market: there can be plenty of food while large sections of the population lack the means to obtain it. Effective famine prevention thus requires “entitlements.” Economically, governments can and should provide public employment programs so that those threatened by famine can be empowered to command food. Politically, democratic participation and a free press can work to ensure government accountability for famine prevention. The choice that Sen urges, however, is not for the state over the market—the experience of the Indian state of Kerala demonstrates that a voluntaristic approach can work as well or better than China’s compulsory “one child policy” in limiting the rapid population growth that contributes to world hunger. Rather, a reasoned solution to the problem of hunger must acknowledge the complementary importance of both well-functioning markets and open and democratic public action.
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Amartya Sen; The Political Economy of Hunger: On Reasoning and Participation. Common Knowledge 1 April 2019; 25 (1-3): 348–356. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-7299462
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