Conscience of Economics

Dr. Amartya Sen, the Indian economist and Nobel Laureate is known for his works in welfare economics, social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famines, and indexes of the measure of well-being of citizens of developing countries. His contributions are very valuable for the development of backward countries. He has used his education entirely for the upliftment of the countries and those segments of society that are lesser developed.


Sen was born in 1933 in Santiniketan, West Bengal to Ashutosh Sen and his wife Amita. His father was a professor of Chemistry and his mother was the daughter of a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore. Sen did his initial schooling in Dhaka. Post-Partition, the family moved to West Bengal and Sen completed his schooling in Visva-Bharati University School and then at Presidency College, Calcutta where he graduated with a First Class First in Economics. In 1953, he moved to Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated with a First Class in Economics in 1956. After enrolling there for   PhD, Sen returned in India where he was immediately appointed him Professor and founding Head of Department of Economics at Jadavpur University, Calcutta. He was only 23 at the time and had not even begun his PhD. Till date; this age remains the youngest age at which anybody has been appointed to a professorship or a head of department in India. He taught there for two years after which he returned to Cambridge to complete his PhD.

While at Cambridge, Sen decided to study philosophy, which later helped him in his research. He was quoted saying “The broadening of my studies into philosophy was important for me not just because some of my main areas of interest in economics relate quite closely to philosophical disciplines (for example, social choice theory makes intense use of mathematical logic and also draws on moral philosophy, and so does the study of inequality and deprivation), but also because I found philosophical studies very rewarding on their own.”

Between 1960 and 1986 he was a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UC-Berkeley, Stanford, and Cornell. During this period he also taught Economics at University of Calcutta and at the Delhi School of Economics and other famous Universities such as University of Oxford. He joined Harvard in 1986 as the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor of Economics. The research work done by him is immense. Sen began by contributing to the theory of social choice and in an article published by him in 1981 he argued that famine occurs not only from a lack of food, but from inequalities built into mechanisms for distributing food. He also argued that the Bengal famine was caused by an urban economic boom that raised food prices, thereby causing millions of rural workers to starve to death when their wages did not keep up. His work in the field of development economics had great influence in the formulation of the Human Development Report. His other fields of contributions are welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political liberalism.

Dr. Sen currently serves as Honorary Director of Center for Human and Economic Development Studies at Peking University in China.


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