What is “development”?

Jonathan B. Wight

A student of mine is finishing up her Honors Thesis on substantive measures of development. One measure she examines is cell phone ownership as a proxy for infrastructure.  One can argue that in a rural areas without land lines, access to cell phones enables one to live a life of greater affiliation and connectedness to those you love (e.g., many husbands migrate and may return only once a year). Having the capability of communicating with loved ones can be considered an important aspect of human development.  What do you readers think?

Amartya Sen writes provocatively about substantive measures and his book, Development as Freedom (1999) offers great insights. 

But Paul Krugman’s quote still captures the issue most succinctly:  

     “Feudalism with cell phones is still feudalism.”

Anyone want to share other pithy quotes on this subject?


Money Enough

Jonathan B. Wight

Economic mores can take on a life of their own, leading to the unthinking acceptance of ways of life that can be destructive.  One such custom is to consume, consume, consume.  One’s life can become defined by one’s spending, and the grasping for income to pay for it all.  Adam Smith wrote extensively about this issue in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (see the passages about the poor man’s son).  The economy sets us up for failure because we can’t all be number one, yet we strive onward thinking that the next toy, the next car, the next promotion will bring happiness and success.  People step on this treadmill and can’t get off. 

Religious-minded authors continue to write about the subject.  Doug Hicks, a delightful colleague and co-teacher of an ethics and economics class with me, recently came out with his own book addressing this issue:    

Douglas A. Hicks, Money Enough: Everyday Practices for Living Faithfully in the Global Economy (Jossey-Bass 2010).

This is a thoughtful book that addresses the conflicts and contradictions of modern economic life. How does one create community and place? Most importantly, how does one create meaning in our lives?  Money fills a void, and increases the external resources available to satisfy cravings. But deeper longings and drives remain. For example, Adam Smith noted that the instinct for commerce does not arise initially from the desire to get wealthy, but from the desire to converse (Lectures on Jurisprudence 1982, p. 493)! 

Hicks majored in economics as an undergraduate and went on to get an MDiv and PhD in Religion.  Amartya Sen was his second dissertation reader.  Hick’s work is thus informed by the capabilities approach and its ethical framework. Money Enough is a friendly read, for those seeking some gentle nudging (not of the paternalistic kind!) toward a balanced life of greater meaning and purpose.  Here are chapter titles that give you a hint for the journey:

Ch 1: Surviving

Ch 2: Valuing

Ch 3: Discerning Desires

Ch 4: Providing

Ch 5: Laboring

Ch 6: Recreating

Ch 7: Expanding the Community

Ch 8: Doing Justice

Ch 9: Sharing

The book takes the form of a personal narrative, rather than an academic tome. The problem in any economic system remains determining what the goal ought to be. This book beautifully demonstrates that this can and ought to be a deeply personal decision, guided by faith and practical wisdom. 

New book on capabilities and justice

Mark D. White

Measuringjustice Just discovered a new book about capabilities and justice: Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities, edited by Harry Brighouse and Ingrid Robeyns, published by Cambridge (2010).

From the Cambridge website:

This book brings together a team of leading theorists to address the question ‘What is the right measure of justice?’ Some contributors, following Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, argue that we should focus on capabilities, or what people are able to do and to be. Others, following John Rawls, argue for focussing on social primary goods, the goods which society produces and which people can use. Still others see both views as incomplete and complementary to one another. Their essays evaluate the two approaches in the light of particular issues of social justice – education, health policy, disability, children, gender justice – and the volume concludes with an essay by Amartya Sen, who originated the capabilities approach.

• Introduces theoretical discussions which are accessible for non-specialists by incorporating debates about particular sectors of justice

• Includes a contribution from Thomas Pogge which has previously been difficult for scholars to obtain

• Introduction sets the terms of debate in historical context, providing a background for the reader


1. Social primary goods and capabilities as metrics of justice Ingrid Robeyns and Harry Brighouse; Part I. Theory: 2. A critique on the capability approach Thomas Pogge; 3. Equal opportunity, unequal capability Erin Kelly; 4. Justifying the capabilities approach to justice Elizabeth Anderson; 5. Two cheers for capabilities Richard Arneson; Part II. Applications: 6. Capabilities, opportunity, and health Norman Daniel; 7. What metric for justice for disabled people? Capability and disability Lorella Terzi; 8. Primary goods, capabilities, and children Colin MacLeod; 9. Education for primary goods or for capabilities? Harry Brighouse and Elaine Unterhalter; 10. Gender and the metric of justice Ingrid Robeyns; Part III. Concluding Essay: 11. The place of capability in a theory of justice Amartya Sen.