Posts Tagged ‘Amartya Sen’

The Sunday review:How democratic is the UK? The 2012 audit by Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Andrew Blick and Stephen Crone for Democratic Audit

08/07/2012, 07:00:40 AM

by Anthony Painter

In the time before everyone on the centre-left and beyond was talking about Amartya Sen, he wrote a book called Development as Freedom. The reason for bringing this up is that the book was a powerful reminder of why democracy is important –something we seem to have forgotten. In some parts of the world as well as in our own historical experience, it is a matter of life and death. Here is Sen on politics and famines:

“Famines have occurred in ancient kingdoms and contemporary authoritarian societies, in primitive tribal communities and in modern technocratic dictatorships, in colonial economies run by imperialists from the north and in newly independent countries of the south run by despotic national leaders or by intolerant single parties. But they have never materialized [sic] in any country that is independent, that goes to elections regularly, that has opposition parties to voice criticisms and that permits newspapers to report freely and question the wisdom of government policies without extensive censorship.”

For Sen, the reason for this is democracy is a basic human capability. It is part of being human in an enlightened sense, it enables us to press for our needs to be met and the process itself helps us to understand what we need and how we can cooperate or support collective provision to ensure that those needs are met.

Now, the UK is not despotic, no longer imperialistic and it is has a free press and democratic choice. No famine is on the way. Yet Sen’s perspective still should raise our alarm bells that, in its latest four yearly report, Democratic Audit comes to the conclusion that the UK’s representative democracy is “in long-term, terminal decline, but not no viable alternative model of democracy currently exists.”

Not only is our democracy faltering and floundering, our democratic reformers have, since Labour’s early reforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s, largely failed to find a convincing story of why that should concern us.


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Jesse Norman offers utopian conservatism, but the big society is the left’s for the taking

26/11/2010, 03:00:53 PM

by Anthony Painter

Two golfers shuffle up to the first tee. The first pulls out a shiny new, technologically engineered driver and pings a 250 yard shot straight down the centre of the fairway. He strokes his designer cap and steps back so that the second can settle into her stance. She lifts her single club- a six iron- and swings at the ball, just clipping it as she loses her balance in the effort of it all. The ball bounces a few yards forward, coming to an embarrassing stop 65 yards and 45 degrees off to the right. She daren’t take another shot such is her shame.

How can these golfers compete?

A fabian – as Jesse Norman caricatures the entire left in his new handbook for Cameronism, Big Society – would reach for the handicap system right away. The caricature is fair neither to fabianism or the left but let’s run with it.

They could play together for a while but really it wouldn’t be a competition. The first player surges ahead, wins, the scores would be narrowed at the end and both players would be left angry, frustrated, or both.

If I’ve understood Jesse Norman’s argument right, I suspect we’d have a similar analysis of a better way to proceed than that. As it happens, despite her humiliation the second golfer showed some instinctive talent for the pastime. She takes some lessons, practices intensely for a few years, and when the two players end up on the same tee once again they have a good, competitive game. They even get on rather well. We forget the result. In philosophical terms, this is the capabilities approach associated with Amartya Sen in contrast to outcomes-oriented philosophy of John Rawls.

But our lady golfer has to work long hours at minimum wage, she has a family to feed, and a husband who is not sympathetic to her taking up a pastime. She lacks time, resource, support, and consequently esteem. The rematch never happens. Quite simply, she doesn’t have the power to nurture her talents so that she can at least compete and gain some form of parity of esteem.

It is on the question of whether the second match happens or not that Norman and I diverge. I suspect it probably wouldn’t. Norman is more optimistic that it would. It’s important to understand why we would disagree. (more…)

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