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December 10, 1998


'Finance Minister? Governor of Trinidad? Why should I like to be some other?'

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Nobel laureate Amartya Sen today advised Indian policy-makers to refocus development objectives and direct them towards those ''who are the worst-off in the society''.

In a radio interview after being conferred the prestigious Nobel prize for economics at Stockholm, Professor Sen said raising economic growth is important, but the most important objective ultimately is to expand the ability of most sections of the population to earn a decent living, to have an opportunity to lead a worthwhile life. For this, expansion certainly and growth indirectly are important.

Professor Sen, who has been described as the conscience of economics, said growth is not important on its own but of great instrumental significance.

He was answering a question as to what suggestions he would give to India's finance minister in order to step up economic growth rate from the present four per cent to seven per cent.

''If I were there in such a discussion with a person of the kind you have described, I would say and ask to get his objectives right and the objectives have to be more people-related than commodity-related and to particularly focus on those who are worst off in a society,'' he said.

Asked whether India was prepared for integration with the world economy, he said neglect of basic education is a major lacunae in the country's efforts to globalise.

Professor Sen pointed out that there was no escape from globalisation as the situation is one in which the world economy is increasing, becoming more integrated. ''So the real question is what are the things to watch out which will be problematic in a globalising world and there are many such things.

Some of them spring from lack of domestically adequate policies. For example, in a globalising world, you will have to compete with other producers, you have to produce competitive products according to specifications that require education, that require the ability to read, write and do basic calculations and all that is very important from the point of view of having a successful opportunity in a globalising world,'' he said.

Asked as to why he had stated in some of his lectures that he would not accept the post of India's finance minister, Professor Sen said, ''I am not a politician and not in a ministerial business. I happen to be an academician and quite like my job. I think it is a decent job. I like teaching. I like to be with students. I like being with teachers. Why should I like to be some other and do something else?''

Professor Sen remarked that he has been asked similar questions in the past as to why he is not something else. In this connection, he narrated an incident when on his being appointed Master of Trinity College, when he was arriving in Calcutta, he was told by someone he know that he was being made governor of Trinidad.

At this he replied that it may take some time for this to happen, but certainly there was no offer of the governorship of Trinidad. As an independent country, Trinidad does not have such a post.

Prof Sen clarified that welfare economics cannot be identified with Indian liberalisation. The message that he gave was that welfare economics being a theory, could only serve as a broad tool of well being of a society.

He said his first-hand experience of observing the famine in 1943, when he was nine or 12 years old, had motivated him emotionally, even though this was not the reason as to why he had done so much research in welfare economics, a subject cited as the reason for giving him the Nobel prize.

Prof Sen said Shantiniketan was a wonderful place to grow up and many of its values were those imparted by Rabindranath Tagore. Shantiniketan did not give too much emphasis on economics for which it has often been criticised. It was only partly true that he grew up in that place as he spent part of his early days in Dhaka.

''My family comes from Bangladesh. My ancestral home is in Dhaka and part of the time between the age three to six, I was also in Mandalay, that is Burma,'' he added.

Prof Sen said he was not organised enough in his thoughts to have a childhood dream and was confused as to what he wanted to be. ''But it is quite clear to me that I wanted to be an academician in some form, whether in economics or in physics or maths. He was interested in Sanskrit classics and still remembers some of what he learned in his childhood days.


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