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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humans are diverse, therefore equality of what?, 5 July 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Inequality RE-Examined (Paperback)
Everybody feels emotionally positive about the slogan of the French revolution: "Égalité, liberté et fraternite" or "Equality, freedom and brotherhood. Application of the principles is another matter. Marx doctrine was all should perform according to their ability and the results distributed according to the people's needs. The communists put up a façade for providing the same income without a link to performance. That doctrine has lost all credibility. The free market doctrine is reward based on performance. Yet no society is comfortable with poverty and crime. Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime but in practice there is a significant correlation. Amartya Sen presents a masterful analysis of the equality problem. The fundamental problem is that people are diverse and not equal, and therefore the word "equality" in the slogan means nothing unless one can answer: equality of what? He believes that inequality in outcomes when it comes to the deprived is most fruitfully seen as a capability failure. He rightly criticises many welfarists of looking at the outcomes in terms of income differentials. Many welfarists see the solution to the problem by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. Whilst wealth differentials are important solutions to poverty, according to Sen, can only be found by tackling the problems of capability and functioning. The book contains some criticism of the "Theory of Justice" by Rawls. It is however positive criticism. The book presents useful enhancement to the concept of Rawls. The Rawls "doctrine for example focuses on the means to freedom. It is also necessary to consider the capability to use the freedom. It is not an easy book to read, even though it is written in a very lucid style. For those interested in improving the functioning of society it is worth the effort to thoroughly study it.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 30 Oct 2009 12:46:13 GMT
'reward based on performance' is a slogan of breathtaking arrogance in its intellectual poverty in an unequal society, which rewards according to power....power to manipulate both financial resources and the law and its agents of enforcement. At a time when the rich are exposed as the theives of the wealth of nations, and are consequently rewarded by the gift of more taxpayer money this circumstance clearly exposes the nature of capitalism. 'Freedom' as' being able to do what you like to advance your own interests' is a very infantile concept, and clearly one which is very disgunctional for society and its productivity..
Furthermore, there is a willful failure to consider the differentials of inequality (ie. are the richest 4 times richer than the median, or the poorest?; 10 times?; 100 times?; 1000times?; 1 million times?).
And what is 'capability' supposed to mean?...apart from victim blaming that is. What would be the 'capability' of your average financier for constructing something of real value such as a house or a bridge?
The triumphalist nonsense advanced by the monetarist free marketeers (with the assistance of brutal militarist regimes) is due a fundamental critique in the light of its failure. Disfunctional social and economic arrangents are superseeded by better ones....It was Marx that said that.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2010 16:55:05 BDT
Yes. And maybe Sen agrees with you. But what are the restrictions to equality (presuming we think equality is the same thing - something egalitarian)? That question needs an answer before we talk about distribution.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2011 16:32:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Apr 2011 16:33:21 BDT
Reader says:
"What would be the 'capability' of your average financier for constructing something of real value such as a house or a bridge?"

I thought everyone knew that houses and bridges *don't* have real value. What have *real* value are resources *at relevant times in relevant configurations*. That's why famines often happen even with sufficient nutrition available in a country - because of distribution. Sen's capability approach is broader than you suggest; you seemed to have ignored the fact that his concept of 'capability' is quite close to your Marxist concept of power and control of capital. *His* point, though, is that different powers - not just control of capital - are relevant in different contexts (because of something like a causal holism of humanitarian problems, I take it). If you want to be a Marxist, I'd suggest Sen would be better appropriated as an ally rather than attacked as conceptually 'infantile'. Really, though, it would be better to recognise that the amount of power required to override capitalism would be so massive, and the human operators of that power so fallible, that by rocking the boat all you would achieve is its sinking - and not, by some magic, its transformation into a utopian spaceship.
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