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December 28, 1998


Market economy not the panacea, says Sen

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Arup Chanda in Calcutta

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is an atheist.

At a meet-the-press programme at the Calcutta Press Club, Professor Sen was asked, "Do you believe in god?" He replied: "Although this is a personal matter... But the answer to your question is: No. I do not believe in god."

This surprised many as Professor Sen is a former ashrambalak of Shantiniketan and an ardent disciple of Rabindranath Tagore, who was a strong believer in god.

However, Professor Sen hastened to add, "I admire people whose belief in god made them do great things, like what Mother Teresa did in Calcutta."

Throughout the 90-minute question-answer session, he stressed on his favourite issues like basic education, healthcare, land reforms, removal of inequality and capability.

He reiterated his criticism of the nuclear blasts in Pokhran. Replying to a question, he said: "What happened in Iraq (referring to the recent missile attacks) does not justify the Pokhran blasts. I am against India's nuclear policy. It is certainly not desirable that only a few countries possess nuclear armaments, but if it reaches universally that will also be of great harm."

He said one has to take notice of the fact that 85 per cent of the arms sold in the world were by five permanent members of the UN Security Council in spite of lot of protests.

Asked whether he was ever asked by the Union government or any state government for formulating its economic policies, Professor Sen said he was against being an official advisor. "Once when I was quite young I was asked to chair a parliamentary committee but certain conditions regarding classified information were attached to it. So, I refused. There is no information in India that I cannot get within 48 hours. I am lucky to have lived in India, the United Kingdom and the USA where multi-party democracy exist," he said.

The 65-year-old economist said there was no role model economy in any country. "We should be more absorptive. Calcutta is unique in this regard. We assimilate all kinds of culture here," he said.

He pointed out that despite fast growth, unemployment was a big problem in Europe while the US suffered from increased inequality with 40 million people without health insurance.

Talking about the Indian economy, he said, "There are things to learn as well as not to learn from some countries. We should not imitate blindly.'' He observed that after Independence no stress was laid by the government on illiteracy and progress was very slow.

He said a market economy was not the ready solution for economic progress and the success of a market economy depended on many factors like health, education and land reforms while undeveloped industries need government help. "One should not solely depend on a market economy. Some economists suggest it, but I do not. We did not get full opportunity of a market economy," he said.

Asked whether the Indian economy suffered because of the policy of a mixed economy, he observed, "There is no economy in the world that is not a mixed economy. In the US there are many establishments controlled by the government while in many socialist states private land is being allowed. The question is what kind of balance existed and what is the role of the government and the private sector."

Referring to the economic recession in East Asian economies, he said these economies had a growth rate of five to 10 per cent each year for several decades and one should have been ready to take a drop too. "During the bad times economic leadership was needed but it did not come and as a result some groups of people had to suffer. This is where the state had a role to play."

Commenting on socialist economies, he said one should not overlook its success. "Even Tagore during his visit to the erstwhile Soviet Union criticised its one-party state but praised the state of literacy. As far as education is concerned the shining example today is Vietnam. It will be great when it goes the market economy way because the country had invested more than China in education. The Chinese too had achieved a lot in education, healthcare and land reforms which was carried out brutally," he said.

He felt that China's post-reforms policies were indebted to pre-reform policies and India could learn from China how to best use a market economy and at the same time not lose social commitments. "The most successful economic growth in the world is in China. We need to learn a lot from them," he said, but hastily added, "we have nothing to learn from China as far as democracy is concerned."

Professor Amartya Sen: Specials

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