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Development is Freedom, Sometimes

Amartya Sen, an Indian Economist, presciently claims that development and political freedoms are often directly intertwined. In his book, Development as Freedom, Mr. Sen postulates that political freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means [1].

Sen rightfully claims that political freedoms help to promote economic security – and that social opportunities (in the form of opportunities for participation in trade and production) can help to generate personal abundance as well as public recourses for social facilities.

Mr. Sen’s point is proven in the critically acclaimed novel Behind the Beautiful Forever’s by Katherine Boo. In the novel, a woman named Asha, who resides in a slum in Mumbai – has big ambitions of being the corporator of Ward 76 – a dream made plausible by progressive internationally acclaimed legislation that aims at ensuring that woman in India had a significant role in governance [2].

The political parties in the country were required to put up only female candidates for certain elections. The participation of woman in the political sphere is of utmost importance for economic and social development.

Democracy itself is one of the most crucial elements of development. Sen postulates that although democracy in India may not have translated to the complete prevention of disasters, such as famine ­– democracy in India has overall yielded stability and security that allowed for it to develop.

Half a century after India gained independence from the British in 1947, democracy was flourishing – because political parties have largely been tackled within the constitutional procedures.

Governments have risen and fallen according to electoral and parliamentary rule. India’s democratic flourishing has the power to override old caste divisions and give woman like Asha a voice while ensuring development that will lift millions out of poverty.

India’s transition to democracy has yielded successful economic returns that have accelerated development. Since the late 1980s, India has had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world [3].

This growth can be attributed to neoliberal economic policies – but these economic developments wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for India’s robust democratic norms and institutions that have yielded stability and promoted a culture of growth.

Development in India is often a double-edged sword. Inequality in the country often runs rampant, despite the enormous economic development that has assumed form throughout the years. The sins of development in India are best illustrated in the following passage from Behind the Beautiful Forever’s:

“Wealthy citizens accused the slumdwellers of making the city filthy and unlivable, even as an oversupply of human capital kept the wages of their maids and chauffeurs low. Slum dwellers complained about the obstacles the rich and powerful erected to prevent them from sharing in new profit. Everyone, everywhere, complained about their neighbors. But in the twenty-first-century city, fewer people joined up to take their disputes to the streets. As group identities based on caste, ethnicity, and religion gradually attenuated, anger and hope were being privatized, like so much else in Mumbai”.

This beautifully humane passage illustrates to use the ills of development that have become increasingly omnipresent in India. This passage emphasizes that India’s economic miracles that came as result of privatization did not reach everybody equally. In my view, more political freedoms and social opportunities would remedy the ills of inequality in India and further promote a culture of growth.

Development often came at a heavy price in India. Despite India’s impressive record in democracy, corruption remained rampant – as mentioned in Behind the Beautiful forever’s: “For the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.

The virtues of development even harmed some citizens – as illustrated in another beautiful passage:

“But people seemed to die of it all the time—untreated asthma, lung obstructions, tuberculosis. Abdul’s father, hacking away in their hut, spoke of the truer consolation. The concrete plant and all the other construction brought more work to this airport boomtown. Bad lungs were a toll you paid to live near progress.”

This passage illustrates to us that development often diminished quality of life for many residents in Mumbai – and that development is in fact a double edge sword and cannot always be measured by traditional metrics of development.

To enhance development, more political and social freedoms must assume form – and this will in turn yield more accountability. Political and social freedoms coupled with political accountability will enhance equity and will ensure the virtues of development will be reached by all.

\Mr. Sen is correct in asserting that developing and strengthening a democratic system is an essential component of the process of development. Democracy should strengthen accountability and yield development that enhances human flourishing.

Development itself is often a double-edged sword, so, democracy should ensure stability and equity. Sen says it best and makes a very important observation by postulating that while we must recognize the importance of democratic institutions, they cannot be viewed as mechanical devices for development. Their use is conditioned by our values and priorities, and by what we make of the available opportunities.

Sources [1] Sen, Amartya. Development as freedom. Oxford Paperbacks, 2001. [2] Boo, Katherine. Behind the beautiful forever’s. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014. [3] DeLong, J. Bradford. "India since independence: An analytic growth narrative." In search of prosperity: Analytic narratives on economic growth (2003): 184-204.


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