Sen, Amartya K. 1933–

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Sen, Amartya K. 1933–

(Amartya Kumar Sen)

PERSONAL: Born November 3, 1933, in Santiniketan, India; son of Ashutosh (college chemistry teacher) and Amita Sen; married Nabaneeta Dev, 1960 (marriage ended, 1974); married Eva Colorni, 1977 (deceased, 1985); married Emma Rothschild (an historian, economist, and educator), 1991; children: (first marriage) Antara, Nandana; (second marriage) Indrani, Kabir. Education: Presidency College (Calcutta, India), B.A., 1953; Trinity College, Cambridge, B.A., 1955, M.A. and Ph.D., 1959.

ADDRESSES: Office—The Master's Lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ, England.

CAREER: Economist, educator, writer, and editor. Jadavpur University, Calcutta, India, professor of economics, 1956–58; Trinity College, Cambridge, England, fel-low, 1957–63; Delhi University, Delhi, India, professor of economics, 1963–71; London School of Economics, London, England, professor of economics, 1971–77; Oxford University, Oxford, England, professor of economics, 1977–80, Drummond Professor of Political Economy, 1980–88; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Lamont University Professor and professor of economics and philosophy, 1988–98; Trinity College, Cambridge, England, master, 1998–. Andrew D. White Professor at Large, Cornell University, 1978–85; fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, England, 1980–88. Chairperson of the United Nations Expert Group on the Role of Advanced Skills and Technology, 1967.

MEMBER: International Economic Association (president, 1986–89; honorary president, 1989–), American Economic Association (president, 1994–), Econometric Society (president, 1984), Royal Economic Society, Indian Economic Association (president, 1989), Development Studies Association (president, 1980–82).

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of the British Academy; foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; fellow of the Econometric Society; honorary fellow of the Institute of Social Studies (the Hague); Mahalanobis Prize, 1976; honorary doctorate of literature, University of Saskatchewan, 1979; Nobel Prize in economics, 1998.


Choice of Techniques: An Aspect of the Theory of Planned Economic Development, Basil Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1960, A.M. Kelley (New York, NY), 1968.

Collective Choice and Social Welfare, Holden-Day (San Francisco, CA), 1970.

(Editor) Growth Economics: Selected Readings, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1970.

Behaviour and the Concept of Preference, London School of Economics and Political Science (London, England), 1971.

Crisis in Indian Education, Institute of Public Enterprise (Hyderabad, India), 1971.

(With Partha Dasgupta and Stephen Marglin) Guidelines for Project Evaluation, United Nations (New York, NY), 1972.

On Economic Inequality, Norton (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Employment, Technology, and Development: A Study Prepared for the International Labour Office within the Framework of the World Employment Programme, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1975.

Levels of Poverty: Policy and Change: A Background Study for World Development Report, 1980, World Bank (Washington, DC), 1980.

Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Choice, Welfare, and Measurement, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1982.

(Editor, with Bernard Williams) Utilitarianism and Beyond, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Resources, Values, and Development, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1984, reprinted, 1997.

Commodities and Capabilities, North-Holland (Netherlands), 1985.

On Ethics and Economics, Basil Blackwell (New York, NY), 1987.

Food, Economics, and Entitlements, United Nations University (Helsinki, Finland), 1987.

Hunger and Entitlements: Research for Action, United Nations University (Helsinki, Finland), 1987.

(With others) The Standard of Living, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

(Editor, with K.N. Raj and C.H. Hanumantha Rao) Studies on Indian Agriculture, Oxford University Press (New Delhi, India), 1988.

Africa and India: What Do We Have to Learn from Each Other?, WIDER (Helsinki, Finland), 1988.

Gender and Cooperative Conflicts, United Nations University (Helsinki, Finland), 1988.

(With Jean Drèze) Hunger and Public Action (also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Martha Craven Nussbaum) Internal Criticism and Indian Rationalist Traditions, United Nations University (Helsinki, Finland), 1989.

Jibanayatra o arthaniti, Ananda (Calcutta, India), 1990.

(Editor, with Jean Drèze) The Political Economy of Hunger (also see below), 3 volumes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990–91.

Money and Value: On the Ethics and Economics of Finance/Denaro e valore: etica ed economia della finanza, Edizione dell'elefante (Rome, Italy), 1991.

Inequality Reexamined, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

(Editor, with Martha Craven Nussbaum) The Quality of Life, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Jean Drèze and Athar Hussain) The Political Economy of Hunger: Selected Essays, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(With Jean Drèze) India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity (also see below) Oxford University Press (Delhi, India), 1995.

(Editor, with Kenneth J. Arrow and Kotaro Suzumura) Social Choice Re-examined: Proceedings of the IEA Conference Held at Schloss Hernstein, Berndorf, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1996–97.

(Editor, with Jean Drèze) Indian Development: Selected Regional Perspectives, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Development as Freedom, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Jean Drèze) The Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze Omnibus: Comprising Poverty and Famines, Hunger and Public Action, and India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

L'economie est une science morale, Decouverte (Paris, France), 1999.

Reason before Identity, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny, Office of Environment and Social Development, Asian Development Bank (Manila, Philippines), 2000.

Amartya Sen on Kerala, Institute of Social Sciences (New Delhi, India), 2000.

Rationality and Freedom, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

Delivering the Monterrey Consensus, Which Consensus?, Commonwealth Secretariat (London, England), 2002.

(With Jean Drèze) India, Development and Participation, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Kenneth J. Arrow and Kotaro Suzumura) Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, Elsevier (Boston, MA), 2002.

(Editor, with Sudhir Anand and Fabienne Peter) Public Health, Ethics, and Equity, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.

Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to Poverty and Inequality, edited by David B. Grusky and Ravi Kanbur, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 2006. Member of editorial board, Economics and Philosophy, Ethics, Feminist Economics, Gender and Development, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Indian Journal of Quantitative Economics, Journal of Peasant Studies, Pakistan Development Review, Pakistan Journal of Applied Economics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Social Choice and Welfare, Common Knowledge, Critic & Review, Theory and Decision, and Contemporary World.

SIDELIGHTS: Amartya K. Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prizewinner in economics, is a highly regarded theorist whose works have been credited with reintroducing ethics into economic discourse. Kenneth J. Arrow, himself a well-respected economist, wrote in the New York Review of Books that Sen "is a scholar of unusually wide interests in an era in which most economists have become highly specialized." Sen's ground-breaking work has led to the development of more sophisticated techniques for assessing world poverty and the relative wealth of nations. He has studied the causes of famine, the economic impact of literacy and public health initiatives, and the means by which governments can improve the prospects for their poorest citizens. As Jeffrey Sachs put it in Time: "In a lifetime of careful scholarship, Sen has repeatedly returned to a basic theme: even impoverished societies can improve the well-being of their least advantaged members." Sachs added: "In a world in which 1.5 billion people subsist on less than 1 dollar a day, this Nobel Prize can be not just a celebration of a wonderful scholar but also a clarion call to attend to the urgent needs of the poor." In Foreign Affairs, Richard N. Cooper wrote: "Most economists these days eschew moral philosophy—namely, the consideration of social justice—because they consider it too 'soft' for rigorous analytical treatment. But Amartya Sen harks back to the older and richer tradition of evaluating the considerations of economic efficiency—which dominate most modern economic analyses—with respect to their general social consequences. Such judgments require an ethical framework." Cooper noted: "Sen is a genuine world citizen. Implicit throughout his [work] is the notion that all humanity is connected and that human suffering anywhere holds relevance everywhere."

Sen's work has gained a wide readership due in part to the clarity of his prose style, which makes complex economic theories and arguments accessible to the non-specialist. In a review of the author's Resources, Values, and Development, Challenge contributor Kaushik Basu wrote that Sen's writings reveal "work of immense elegance, combining formal logic, welfare economics, and moral philosophy." Basu went on to note: "It has influenced the way one thinks of welfare economics and collective decision-making." A correspondent for Time International maintained that Sen tries to make his work understandable because he is a champion of wide dissemination of fact. "Whereas previous Nobel laureates were high priests of markets and monetarism, Sen has given economics a human face," the reporter noted, adding: "His concern is not hedge funds, high finance and speculators who shift billions with the click of a computer mouse, but helping the world's poor. And he sees the media as an ally in that noble task. We could do with more such reminders of an almost forgotten mandate."

A Business Week contributor suggested that Sen "is still moved by the extreme want he witnessed as a youth." At the age of ten in 1943, Sen—the grandson of a college professor—personally witnessed a severe famine in Calcutta that at its height claimed 30,000 lives per week. The starvation was not caused by poor harvests, but by stockpiling and misinformation—and, Sen would later conclude, the absence of elected officials who could be called to task by their constituents. Sen earned his advanced degrees from Trinity College, Cambridge, and his subsequent career as a professor and writer has embraced the real-life lessons he was taught at an impressionable age.

One of Sen's most influential books—and the work that most critics feel won him the Nobel Prize—is Collective Choice and Social Welfare, first published in 1970. According to Basu, the book "played a significant role in the juxtaposition of welfare economics and moral philosophy." In this and subsequent works, Sen uses the tools of social choice theory to analyze concepts such as fairness, liberty, and justice. He challenges the notion that wealth automatically "buys" happiness, and that a better gauge of well-being might be that of "extended sympathy." Basu claimed that Collective Choice and Social Welfare "became a classic," drawing the attention of "not only economists but also professional philosophers." Social choice theory—the area of microeconomics which examines the relation between social judgments and individual preference—is further explored through the essays collected in Choice, Welfare, and Measurement. According to A.B. Atkinson in the New York Review of Books, Sen argues that individuals incorporate a much larger pool of information in making choices than had been theretofore acknowledged by economists. The author applies this argument to the question of poverty, an area in which, asserted Atkinson, "Sen has opened up an important new line of inquiry and stimulated a large theoretical literature."

Another of Sen's contributions to economic theory can be found in Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. In that work, the author challenges the accepted notion that famine is primarily caused by a reduction in the food supply caused by drought or disease. Utilizing data gathered from four major twentieth-century famines in Asia and Africa (including the one he witnessed himself), Sen argues that famine results when changes in the economic system deny or reduce the ability of a proportion of the population to acquire an amount of food necessary to keep alive.

In On Ethics and Economics, the author's efforts to reinsert ethical questions into economic discourse take the forefront. John Broome commented in the London Review of Books: "Sen has never acknowledged a boundary between economics and ethics. He brings philosophical arguments to bear where they are needed in economics, and combines them skilfully with formal analysis. He has also used the methods of economics to illuminate questions in philosophy." Sen also contributed two essays to The Standard of Living, and these pieces serve as the focus of discussion for the remainder of the book, comprising four commentaries by other economists. In this case, Sen argues for an expanded definition of the standard of living that takes into account both a person's abilities and the opportunities presented by the person's life situation. Sen returns to this idea in his Inequality Reexamined, in which he discusses poverty and human welfare as more than an expression of monetary income. David Miller wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: "Sen's point is that two people may have the same income, but one of them, say because of a handicap, may have many fewer opportunities to achieve valuable goals. We need to look behind external advantages to see how for different categories of people these translate into real capacities." F.W. Musgrave, who reviewed Inequality Reexamined for Choice, wrote: "Readers could not expect a better, more comprehensive conceptual basis for examining statistical and empirical studies on inequality."

Development as Freedom was the first major title Sen published in the wake of receiving the Nobel Prize. Considered by some critics to be the author's personal manifesto, Development as Freedom argues that "development" cannot be measured merely in terms of industrialization or per capita income—it also must take into account the degree of political freedom citizens command, as well as their individual abilities to make informed choices in all aspects of their lives. "If there is an underlying theme in Sen's work—and it takes up a few chapters here—it is skepticism that money is the measure of all things," wrote Fareed Zakaria in the New York Times Book Review. Zakaria added: "Sen recognizes that in most countries higher incomes do produce improvements across most measures of the quality of life. But in looking at the exceptions he forces us to examine the connection between income and well-being, between money and happiness." In his review for Foreign Affairs, Richard N. Cooper stated that Development as Freedom "provides a framework for thought rather than a formula for reform. It urges readers to ask what the ultimate aims of development should be, arguing that the appropriate aim is enlarging the capabilities of all human beings. In the process, Sen skillfully emphasizes the many dimensions—including freedom of expression—needed to attain that goal. But he is quietly revolutionary in insisting that we keep our eye on the ultimate objectives rather than on the intervening instrumental variables."

Sen's more recent books have focused on issues of culture, history, and "identity," In his 2006 book, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Sen argues that people's tendency to identify with a specific class, sex, area of politics, and other personal factors leads to hate and violence. "In this short and bracing book, Professor Sen inquires into the question of human identity, and the practical consequences of the various answers that may be given to it," wrote Anthony Daniels in the Spectator. Brendan Driscoll, writing in Booklist, called Identity and Violence a "rejection of the civilizational or religious partitioning that defines human beings by … membership in a particular group." Foreign Affairs contributor G. John Ikenberry commented that the author "eloquently describes the dangers of this flattening of human identity."

Upon awarding Sen his Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy of Sciences stated that the scholar had "restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems." Indeed, throughout his work the author emphasizes the influence of economic theory in the everyday lives of real people. Critics have applauded not only his arguments but also the manner in which he relates them. Lipton, for one, remarked: "His discussions … demonstrate the agreeable equation that wit plus rigour equals clarity."



Ray, Biswanath, editor, Welfare, Choice, and Development: Essays in Honour of Professor Amartya Sen, Kanishka Publishers (New Delhi, India), 2001.

Wood, John Cunningham, editor, Amartya Sen: Critical Assessments of Contemporary Economists, Routledge (New York, NY), 2006.


Booklist, March 15, 2006, Brendan Driscoll, review of Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, p. 10.

Business Week, September 20, 1999, review of Development as Freedom, p. 18.

Challenge, March-April, 1999, Kaushik Basu, review of Resources, Values, and Development, p. 41.

Choice, March, 1993, F.W. Musgrave, review of Inequality Reexamined, p. 1208.

Economist, May 13, 2006, review of Identity and Violence, p. 94.

Foreign Affairs, January-February, 2000, Richard N. Cooper, review of Development as Freedom, p. 163; May-June, 2006, G. John Ikenberry, review of Identity and Violence, p. 152.

London Review of Books, May 19, 1988, John Broome, review of On Ethics and Economics, pp. 16-17.

New York Review of Books, July 15, 1982, article by Kenneth J. Arrow, pp. 24-25; October 22, 1987, A.B. Atkinson, review of Resources, Values and Developments, p. 41.

New York Times Book Review, November 28, 1999, Fareed Zakaria, review of Development as Freedom, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, January 30, 2006, review of Identity and Violence, p. 55.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of Identity and Violence.

Spectator, July 29, 2006, Anthony Daniels, review of Identity and Violence.

Time, October 26, 1998, Jeffrey Sachs, "Friend of the Poor," profile of author, p. 69.

Time International, October 26, 1998, review of Resources, Values, and Development, p. 64.

Times Literary Supplement, March 12, 1993, David Miller, review of Inequality Reexamined, p. 23.


Harvard University Economics Department Web site, (October 26, 2006), faculty profile of author.

Nobel Prize Web site, (October 26, 2006), author autobiography.