Poverty and FaminesAn Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

Poverty and FaminesAn Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

Amartya Sen

Print publication date: 2003

ISBN: 9780198284635

Publisher: Oxford University Press


The main focus of this book is on the causation of starvation in general and of famines in particular. The traditional analysis of famines concentrates on food supply. This is shown to be fundamentally defective—it is theoretically unsound, empirically inept, and dangerously misleading for policy. The author develops an alternative method of analysis—the ’entitlement approach’, which concentrates on ownership and exchange. Aside from developing the underlying theory, the approach is used in a number of case studies of recent famines, including the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, the Ethiopian famines of 1973 and 1974, the Bangladesh famine of 1974, and the famines in the countries of the African Sahel in the 1970s. The book also provides a general analysis of the characterization and measurement of poverty. Various approaches used in economics, sociology, and political theory are critically examined. The predominance of distributional issues, including distribution between different occupational groups, links up the problem of conceptualizing poverty with that of analysing starvation. The book contains some technical economic analysis, but the text of the book has been kept as informal as possible, so that the text is accessible to the non‐technical reader, and the main lines of reasoning and their applications to the case studies are easily followed. Technicalities and mathematical reasoning are confined to the four appendices, which (1) present a formal analysis of the notion of exchange entitlement, (2) provide illustrative models of exchange entitlement, (3) examine the problem of poverty measurement, and (4) analyse the pattern of famine mortality based on the Bengal famine of 1943.