Economics where people matter

I woke up this morning thinking about Amartya Sen. He is the acclaimed winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics Sciences among many  other prestigious awards.He’s been one of my intellectual heroes for many years. Though I haven’t had the time to read his works in as much detail as I would have liked, I have been impressed by his approach to economics in which the well-being of people is a touchstone.

The one book I have by him in my library is a slim paperback On Ethics and Economics (1991)which is an elegant critique of conventional economics and argues that economics should pay more attention to ethics.

Last night no doubt my unconscious brain was processing present political arguments in the UK about the success or otherwise of the current austerity economics; and I remembered Sen. There is growing discontent among many about the impact of austerity policies on general well-being and on social inequality, as well as the more strictly economic question of its actual effectiveness in achieving its stated aims of reducing public borrowing and stimulating the private sector leading to economic growth. Alongside that there is also the ongoing debate about sustainability and the question of what counts as desirable economic growth.

Last Sunday I preached a strong criticism of the view held by some leading politicians in the Coalition Government that the growth of food banks in the UK was a positive example of the “Big Society” at work. Rather I denounced the situation as a disgrace; a sign of a society which is in no sense “big”; and is failing not succeeding. I was pleasantly surprised by how much support I got from the congregation for expressing this so forthrightly; including some I mistakenly would not have expected to agree. There was also at least one voice of disagreement from someone again mistakenly I would have thought would have sympathised. My recent reading of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion (2012) has helped me to understand how those differences of opinion exist.

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