Income and “Unfreedoms”

Though I don’t know that I initially agreed with Sen’s phrase “freedom” as the means and end of development, simply because of all the connotations that we in the United States assign the term, his warning against conflating low income and poverty is essential.  If we, as he suggests many development practitioners do, see social investments as simply a means to increase income, we neglect the multiple dimensions of human life (and poverty as a condition of that life) and will confuse means and ends.  Sen demonstrates effectively that while investment in social services can help the economy grow as measured by income, this is not necessarily the case, as in Kerala.  In Kerala, a strong investment in social development has reduced poverty with only moderate aggregate economic growth.  Is this outcome not what we are looking for, even if it doesn’t have the income numbers?

But the important point is that income is the means to an end, not the other way around.  If we use a capability framework, as Sen advocates, we see that income growth is only one way to expand the options that an individual faces and can take advantage of.  Investment in social services such as education and health care are also means of expanding capabilities, but they do so more directly than income.  Thus, instead of conceptualizing the chain of impacts like this:

Social investments –> increased income –> reduced poverty

We should see it something more like this:

Increased income –> social provisions (health care, education) –> increased opportunities –> reduced poverty (full capability achievement)

Where the “danger” comes in is in implementation of development strategies.  An emphasis on income in development to the exclusion of all other aspects of poverty does not necessarily lead to significant increases in the well-being of the individuals in question.  There is evidence that measures of well-being such as mortality rates or levels of inequality are not correlated as expected with income.  If we look only at income as a proxy for poverty, we neglect these other aspects of the human condition that are just as if not more important than income, and run the risk of applying our efforts for naught.

One Response to “Income and “Unfreedoms”

  • For our particular situation I think your chain of impact is better, but it can be both of the them. If the change occurs from within a society (people solve the problems of their local communities through discussion) as Sen describes, then the chain of impacts starting with social investments makes more sense. However, since we are not from within the community, there will be change in income first (our outputs) and then a progression towards social changes and poverty elimination (outcome and impact).

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