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Sens Explanation of the Great Bengal Famine - Book Report/Review Example

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Several authors have contested Sen's claim that some of the major famines he has examined were of non-FAD origin. The argument has raged mostly over the great Bengal famine of 1943 and the African famines of the 1970s. Who has had the better of the argument, though an important issue in its own right is not something we shall be concerned with in this paper What concerns us here is the claim of several of these critics that, by refuting Sen's empirical analysis, they have discredited the entitlement approach.
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Sens Explanation of the Great Bengal Famine
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Download file to see previous pages Although his empirical arguments relate to this particular famine, he goes on to draw a general analytical conclusion, which is our main concern here. He argues that ' Sen's theory of famine will lead to the wrong diagnosis and the wrong remedies for famine and will therefore worsen the situation'. (Eric Markusen, David Kopf, 1995).
This conclusion has two parts. There is first the claim that it was no accident that Sen misdiagnosed the Bengal famine, because his theory was such that it could not but lead to the wrong diagnosis. Secondly, such misdiagnosis will worsen the situation further by suggesting the wrong remedies. We shall see that both of these analytical conclusions are false, even if one grants for the sake of argument that Sen did actually misdiagnose the Bengal famine.
The first part of the claim, asserting the inevitability of misdiagnosis, is based on two premisses. The first premiss holds that 'one cannot discuss famines without constantly taking into account aggregate food supply', the implication being that reduction in food supply necessarily plays a part in all famines. Bowbrick, however, simply asserts this proposition, because he nowhere establishes the necessity of food shortage as a precondition of famine. He does however make a case for its sufficiency, in the following manner. He defines three different degrees of food shortage: the first-degree shortage is defined as the situation in which, despite food shortage, widespread starvation can be avoided by redistributing food in the appropriate way, but the second- and third-degree shortages are such that not even a perfect distribution can avoid famine. Thus, famines will inevitably occur in the event of second- and third-degree shortages, and may very well occur even in the case of first-degree shortage owing to practical constraints on redistribution, especially if the population is already living close to the level of bare subsistence. It therefore follows that food shortage of whatever degree will often be sufficient to spark off a famine in a barely subsisting economy.
The second premiss lies in Bowbrick's interpretation of Sen's theory as a specific hypothesis that stands in opposition to the FAD hypothesis. He suggests that the entitlement theory proposes a 'redistribution hypothesis', according to which famines are caused simply by redistribution of command over food (away from the poor and the vulnerable), unaccompanied by any reduction in aggregate food availability. (Jean Dreze, Amartya Sen, 1990).
He then goes on to argue that an approach that explains famines in purely distributional terms will inevitably misdiagnose cases involving second- and third-degree shortage. For, even if these cases are accompanied by adverse redistribution of food, such redistribution in itself cannot be blamed for the famine because even in the absence of any redistribution famine would still have occurred. The situation is slightly different for first-degree shor ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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