ABUSE OF PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT VIEWS
Sen denounces the Food Availability Decline (FAD) approach in no uncertain terms. He does not present a dispassionate economic analysis of the weaknesses of people who disagree with him. That would be extremely difficult, given that they are scrupulous in their handling of their evidence, that their analysis is formally correct mainstream economics, and that any errors that do occur are random in their effect, rather than supporting one idee fixe. Instead, he abuses people who hold different views.
It is very disturbing, therefore, that Sen should have attacked serious, rigorous and honest analysis in terms that would persuade inexperienced economists that it is foolish or even immoral to examine the problem in the way the Famine Commission did. It is even more disturbing that they should be led to think that it is foolish or immoral to diagnose a famine as being due to a decline in food availability. This can only lead to failure to take the appropriate action, as a result of which millions will die. The following quotations from Senís works confirm that he has condemned the FAD approach in terms which could not be described as dispassionate.
He states, falsely, that the FAD approach ignores phenomena and explanations which are in fact covered in depth by the Famine Commission report and others which Sen describes as FAD. I do not think it would be unfair to say that through most of his writings he considers the approach of the Famine Commission to be typical of the approach he condemns. Sen states, for instance, that the FAD approach avoids dealing with the change in relative purchasing power and the impoverishment of people of some classes and occupations, and ignores the fact that, for example, "a sharp decline in the relative price of a commodity vis-a-vis food can jeopardize the ability to survive of the people who live by selling that commodity". In fact, a look at his sources will show that the FAD approach recognizes these phenomena and pays a great deal of attention to them, and, indeed, he gets all his examples from sources that adopt the FAD approach. At times he is denouncing an unbelievably narrow approach which I am quite certain no economist ever held. At other times he is denouncing a more balanced view, like that of the Famine Commission. At others, he is denouncing the view of the Bengal Government, which was virtually the same as his own.
In my opinion the Famine Commission wrote an excellent report. They sought the truth rather than evidence in favour of their hypotheses. They entered into their study with no preconceived ideas as to whether it was a FAD or a distribution famine and they reached a conclusion that was not in accordance with the official view. The report was written forty years ago by non-economists, so it is to be expected that we should think that their economic analysis was naive or even wrong in parts. In view of this it is surprising that they should have made few major errors and that they should have been broadly correct in their conclusions. Certainly their analysis had more depth than Senís. In spite of the deficiencies of their market analysis.
The Famine Commission, for instance, while taking an essentially FAD approach to the famine, gave a lot of attention to the hardship caused by redistribution. They present all the examples given by Sen and they analyse the distribution shifts in far more detail than he does. In most cases the shifts can only be explained by a large change in supply or demand, and elsewhere this is a possible explanation. In no case can the phenomenon be explained only by Senís hypothesis, and Sen makes no attempt to show that it can.
The Bengal Famine Code is the only book I know of which states unequivocally that all famines are caused by shortages (and, even so, this appears to be not so much a matter of belief as a reaction against those officials who took no effective action in the famine of 1886, believing it to be a Sen-type famine). Its uncompromising FAD approach involved making food available, issuing ration books and giving people food or the means to buy food. It laid down special measures to protect artisans, weavers and manufacturers, recognizing that the swing in purchasing power could destroy their markets. It laid down measures to prevent farmers from impoverishing themselves. It even laid down special treatment for "respectable" men who became destitute. Changes in distribution were seen as among the biggest problems arising out of a Food Availability Decline famine. (See Appendix I for details of the Bengal Famine Code.)
It must be concluded therefore that Sen is incorrect in his claim that the FAD approach avoids these matters "Similarly, a sharp decline in the relative price of a commodity vis-a-vis food can jeopardize the ability to survive of the people who live by selling that commodity. This is especially so when the people involved are close to the subsistence level already and when they possess very few saleable assets. It seems reasonable to argue that in an exchange economy these considerations must be relevant to the development of famines, since it is through the exchange system that food for survival is acquired by most people. The FAD approach avoids this central feature of an exchange economy." (Sen 1977 p35) It most certainly does not.
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