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|October 15, 1998||
Sen pleased at recognition to welfare economics
Amartya Sen, the scholar from India who won the Nobel prize for economics yesterday, said he was thrilled mainly because the subject he explores, welfare economics, deserves more recognition.
Sen says his work in Social Choice explores how common economic indices of a nation or group's well-being -- like gross national product -- exclude minorities and the poor.
"I was surprised and quite pleased when I got the call from the Royal Academy,'' Sen said in an interview in Manhattan, where he was attending a friend's memorial service.
"But I was even more pleased when they told me the subject matter was welfare economics, a field I have long been very involved in,'' said Sen, 64, a master at Britain's Trinity College in Cambridge. "I am pleased that they gave recognition to that subject.''
Sen's best-known work challenged the common view that shortage of food is the most important explanation of famine.
Sen, who grew up in India and was nine when he witnessed the devastating effects of a 1943 famine, said some famines have less to do with food supply than with simple economics.
"Famines can occur even when the food supply is high but people can't buy the food because they don't have the money,'' he said.
"There has never been a famine in a democratic country'' because leaders of those nations are spurred into action by politics and a free media, he said. "In undemocratic countries, the rulers are unaffected by famine'' and there is no one to hold them accountable, "even when millions die.''
Sen flew to New York last night to attend Thursday's memorial service for Mahbub ul Haq, architect of the annual human development index that is used by the United Nations to measure the wealth of nations by citizens' living standards. The two were students together at Cambridge and long-time friends. Haq died in July of pneumonia.
"My happiness at getting the prize is tempered by this sad occasion,'' Sen said. "I know he would have been very pleased to see me get the prize. I miss him a lot.''
Sen taught economics and philosophy at Harvard for 11 years before going to Britain. He said he hopes to spend the portion of the 963,000-dollar Nobel prize money that won't be paid in taxes "on something good.''
Though Sen downplayed his Nobel achievement, saying there were many others who deserved the prize and he wished he could share it with them, those who know him well said it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.
"He is the most wondrous man anyone would ever want to meet,'' said Anna Marie Svedrofsky, his secretary at Harvard for 10 years.
"He's just joyous. That's really the only word to describe him.''
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