Re: ECON: "Unsustainable Predictions"

From: Mark Plus (
Date: Fri Apr 06 2001 - 18:43:28 MDT

Anders Sandberg wrote:

>From: Anders Sandberg <>
>Subject: Re: ECON: "Unsustainable Predictions"
>Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 16:53:23 +0200
>Mark Plus:
> > An Indian economist (I believe he's named Amarya Sen) argues that
> > democracies tend to become famine-resistant. When things get too bad in
> > some region in a democratic country, the afflicted people complain to
> > politicians. Because these politicians want to get re-elected, they
> > incentives to _do something_ to alleviate the food shortages. It's
> > significant that the greatest famines in the 20th Century occurred under
> > authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, while in more-or-less democratic
> > India, the food situation seems to be improving, along with general
> > economic conditions.
>I don't think it is democracy itself, but rather open societies with free
>markets that become immune. After all, if it was just a question of the
>government doing something, then one would expect feudal societies to
>immune too.

In Amartya Sen's own words (from

"The governmental response to acute suffering often depends on the pressure
that is put on it, and this is where the exercise of political rights
(voting, criticizing, protesting, and so on) can make a real difference. I
have discussed (in these pages and in my book Resources, Values, and
Development) the remarkable fact that, in the terrible history of famines in
the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and
democratic country with a relatively free press. Whether we look at famines
in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, or other dictatorial regimes, or in the Soviet
Union in the 1930s, or in China from 1958 to 1961 (at the failure of the
Great Leap Forward, when between 23 and 30 million people died), or
currently in North Korea, we do not find exceptions to this rule. (It is
true that Ireland was part of democratic Britain during its famine of the
1840s, but the extent of London's political dominance over the Irish was so
strong--and the social distance so great and so old, as illustrated by
Spenser's severely unfriendly description of the Irish in the sixteenth
century--that the English rule over Ireland was, for all practical purposes,
a colonial rule.)

"While this connection is clearest in the case of famine prevention, the
positive role of political and civil rights applies to the prevention of
economic and social disasters generally. When things go fine and everything
is routinely good, this consequence of democracy may not be sorely missed.
But it comes into its own when things get fouled up, for one reason or
another. Then the political incentives provided by democratic governance
acquire great practical value. To concentrate only on economic incentives
(which the market system provides) while ignoring political incentives
(which democratic systems provide) is to opt for a deeply unbalanced set of
ground rules."

I might add that Sen has one more Nobel Prize in Economics (1998) than we

Trans-millennially yours,

Mark Plus, Expansionary
"Working to make religion and death obsolescent in the 21st Century."

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