Amartya Sen on the smugness of cynicism that nothing can be done

Amartya Sen Interview, Mint

New Delhi: The public discourse surrounding his new book, An Uncertain Glory, India and its Contradictions, co-authored with Jean Dreze, has rapidly metamorphosed into an either-or growth versus social development debate, but Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues that both are needed—and not one at the cost of the other. In an interview with Mint he spoke about the key arguments in this book. Edited excerpts:

Would it be a correct summary of your book to say this: the post-1991 discourse has largely been urban-centric and has tilted towards privatization? In part, this rush towards the market was triggered by 50 years of stagnation and a lack of hope among the educated. The book makes the case that growth without improvement in the lives of all will split the country into two very unequal halves.

This is definitely part of the story. However, privatization or non-privatization, with which you began, is not the ideal way of summarizing the debate. There is an issue of the role of the market and an issue of the role of businesses as such. The two happened simultaneously in the 1990s. The pro-market role was helpful in a way for certain sectors where privatization is important, like hotels. It brings in the efficiency of the economy by privatization. I haven’t stayed in an efficiently run government hotel yet. It is not that I am longing to stay in a hotel which is owned by a businessman; it is just that I want the efficiencies of the market to be brought into the operations of a hotel.

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