Saturday, October 26, 2013

Capabilitiy should be central to growth

Our world needs more critical thinking and more robust arguments because economic growth has not only been enhancing income inequality but is keeping a large segment of the population deprived of basic education, health care and livelihood opportunities. Conventional economists have been of the view that either growth will percolate to pull poor out of poverty or redistribution of wealth will extend much-needed basic education and health care to the deprived.

Despite a growing consensus that neither of the two options has favored the poor thus far, the widespread use of economic achievements as a measure of country's progress continues to persist. How have the world’s poor been surviving on a daily basis is least of its concerns! In recent memory, the Sarkozy Commission has attempted to question the economic growth paradigm. It found that the benefits of increased wealth do not reach the poor because these are first usurped by the elites. Redistribution at best remains a good intent!

Citing the case of Vasanti, who was physically and economically abused by her alcoholic husband, Martha Nussbaum argues that only by creating and strengthening the capabilities of the poor can their dignity and self-respect be restored. With support from the Self-Employed Women's Organisation (SEWA) in Ahmedabad, Vasanti not only realized her potential but could put the same to effective use in discovering a dignified existence. Ascertaining what is a person ‘able to do and to be’ holds the key to understanding the Capability Approach, the alternate model to assess human development that Nussbaum has been working for over two decades.

Capability as a means of progress has been central to all cultures. Development (growth) as a normative concept, on the other hand, undermines capabilities and hence human dignity. For Nussbaum, it is people who matter ultimately; profits are only instrumental means to human lives. Human development must do justice for both humans and non-humans, enabling people to live full and creative lives. In an era of perpetual inequity, Nussbaum demonstrates, through narratives of individuals, that our idea of development ought to focus on the lives of the individuals and the way they actually live....Link

Creating Capabilities
by Martha C. Nussbaum
Harvard University Press, USA
Extent: 237, $22.95

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