Freedom Paradigm of Development

অতিথি লেখক's picture
Submitted by guest_writer on Sat, 18/02/2012 - 1:13pm

Thus spake Yajnavalkya

Achieving development both in individual and collective level is a prime issue of discussion with a historic expansion. Throughout the life significant portion is lost finding the answer how to live and live nicely. We can remember the proverbial conversation between famous Vedic saint Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyee. Maitreyee asked whether it is possible to achieve ‘immortality through gaining the whole earth full of wealth’. ‘No’ responds Yajnavalkya, ‘like the life of rich people will be your life. But there is no hope of immortality by wealth.’ Maitreyee remarks, ‘What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal?’ This mythical question remains still making its face towards us even today. Hence proceeds the humanity towards the capability to live really long and to have a good life while alive- rather than being immortal like Maiteyee.

Paradigm shift in development

The concept of development changed over time. It implies change in mostly 3 different areas: Economy, Technology and Political participation. If we look behind we will come across an evolutionary pattern in the dilemma of development. During the 1950s development was being measured in terms of economic growth only (Development as Economic Growth). Only GDP, GNP- those hardcore macroeconomic indicators were applied to judge a nation’s achievements. During 1960/70s policy makers became convinced that there exist some more issues other than economic growth to be taken into consideration. The concept of Development as Modernization took its lead during those decades. During 1990’s humanity lifted a long significant leap with the revolutionary concepts from renowned Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and his close colleagues James P Grant and Amartya Sen. The Human Development Index (HDI) evolved and development could be measured through a holistic approach (Development as Holistic Process). In late 1990s the issue of sustainability was added to it giving birth to Sustainable Development concept. But did the humanity stood still since then? Let’s see the answer.

Development as freedom

Humans have an inherent tendency to earn more and more. It does not require Samuelson and Nordhaus to conclude that human wants are limitless. But this income and wealth is not required for its own sake. Rather it is needed for one’s having more freedom to lead the kind of life one have reason to value. As my perspective of need is different from yours so the mode of fulfillment of those needs also different. This concept is being neglected by the international community and the policy makers as well. They tend to prescribe a generalized formula of development for all the countries without considering the huge diversities they contain. But this is not as easy as mentioned above, because some societies have such rituals, customs or believes that can never be accepted from humanitarian points of view. Only relying on the way people values to live does not ensure freedom from income poverty and capability deprivation. So, there is a real debate how to allocate freedom among the stakeholders.

Concluding remarks

Visualizing development in terms of freedom still requires significant amount of knowledge of human behavior. There are several areas of debate and controversy in determining the real definition and modalities of freedom. Before people are asked for deciding what they value to lead their life like, they need proper education. Then come the provision of political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. But again all these things do not ensure equity as evident from the lives of American blacks or some other vulnerable groups in developed world. There is a debate whether political freedom should come first or economic emancipation? What about authoritarian regimes bringing economic solvency, compromising some so called basic humanitarian freedoms? Political freedom without economic growth again pushes people toward more grave loss of freedom-how to handle that? I don’t know the answer, do you know?

[Many of the concepts used in this article are taken from the book ‘Development as Freedom’ by Amartya Sen]

Taufique Joarder


এস এম মাহবুব মুর্শেদ's picture

Very interesting article! However, I did not like the introduction that raises a question about immortality. Biological immortality of human gene is achieved by the giving birth to offsprings. On the other hand intellectual immortality is achieved by our publications and establishments and in memory of others.

The answers to your questions would be interesting to know. Please keep posting.

তৌফিক জোয়ার্দার's picture

The allegory was made by Amartya Sen in his groundbreaking book 'Development as Freedom'. As far as my understanding goes, the rationale behind the allegory was to emphasize the importance of living a healthy life with good education. Since it is not possible to live an eternal life, we should ensure every single life, whatever the length of that life might be, a worthwhile life. As you know he proposed, in conjunction with Dr. Mahbubul Huq, the Human Development Index, where he emphasized on health and education as a measure of human development. Later, he escalated his definition of development to freedom of the human life, where individuals will be capable of living the way they choose and value to live. He, being a professor of philosophy at Harvard, described the question of life from a philosophical viewpoint, not from a biological one. Your points are not void however.

রাতঃস্মরণীয়'s picture

In late 1990s the issue of sustainability was added to it giving birth to Sustainable Development concept. But did the humanity stood still since then?

The contents of humanity is more or less constant but its implementation is very much sociopolitical dependent. If the 'humanity' is observed from two different perspectives, i.e. material and non-material, asset comes as an obvious factor in the both. Hence, Robert Chambers has best described the welfare of humanity through his Sustainable Development Framework. Again, as I said, the phrase, sociopolitical dependency, Chambers did introduction of a guidance which can be exercised as best mix of assets, and hence, optimum utilisation of individual to state assets to better serve the humanity.

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(আর) ঠিক করে নাও চুম্বন না দ্রোহের কথা কবা।
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ধ্রুব বর্ণন's picture

A wonderful piece! What should come first? Political freedom or economic emancipation? Should there be a strict precedence between them? Currently I am more prone to think that anything that is not resource limited should be free to all by default. And freedom of thoughts, speech and belief are among them. It does not hurt one to give them to others. I know them as inalienable, natural rights. On the other hand, resource limited things are not as straightforward to decide on. So, apparently my partial answer to your question is, some political freedoms are independent of economic freedom, and can be given instantaneously, before anything else.

তৌফিক জোয়ার্দার's picture

I do think the same way. I believe the whole discussion raised in the putative book favors this proposition. Many countries, e.g. most Middle Eastern countries, despite having wealth fail to provide their citizen with the freedom. There is an inherent debate on the definition of 'freedom' though. Dr. Sen describes it as (as far as I can remember) the ability of the people to live the life the way they value to live. It is not the way dictated by any dominant culture, neither by the 'rulers'.

Now, the second issue that lurks, is how people would perceive their own life, building on their own expectation. Many people in the disadvantaged side do not even expect the bare necessities. What if some people 'value' to live in a way, which may be culturally acceptable (e.g. cast system, female genital mutilation, seclusion of women, etc.) to them, but not acceptable from humanistic point of view.

I don't know the exact solution to this. There is a rich discussion in social/cultural anthropology on these issues in 'cultural relativism' concept by Franz Boas. Professor Sen however emphasized on 'education', which may 'teach' people to value what they should rationally 'value'. That would determine their 'freedom' eventually.

But there are still more crucial debates on this. The way we educate people is not independent of the 'prejudices' of the educator. Therefore, the prejudices of the 'educator' may soak down to the people and shape the way people would value they way the people may want to live. And the debate continues.

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