Amartya Sen is an Indian economist and recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his groundbreaking work in welfare economics. Sen is only the sixth Indian to receive this honor and is a specialist in devising socio-economic policies which help curtail the damaging effects of famines and food shortages.
Sen was born on 3 November 1933 in West Bengal, India, and belonged to a well-respected and affluent family. During his childhood, he developed a great interest in Sanskrit, Mathematics and Physics, and highlighted Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw as his idols. Sen was also fascinated by Bengali literature, as well as Indian and Greek folklore.
Sen’s learning undertakings began with an admission in St Gregory’s School in Dhaka. However, he soon had to leave the school as his family migrated in during the events of the partition. He thus enrolled at the Visva-Bharati University, followed by graduation with a degree in economics from the Presidency College in Calcutta. His next stop was London at the Trinity College, Cambridge, from where he obtained a B.A and an M.A in 1955 and 1959 respectively. He subsequently completed his doctorate in economics from the University of Cambridge. He returned to India for a brief two year spell before his doctorate studies and earned a teaching position at Jadavpur University. He was soon made chair of the economics department over there, at a tender age of 23, which was quite out of the ordinary for someone so young and inexperienced in the discipline.
After finishing with his doctorate studies, Sen managed to teach at a number of universities across India and England, including the University of Delhi, the London School of Economics, University of London and the University of Oxford. He also served as the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, before moving to Harvard for what would be his second stint there as a faculty member. He currently teaches Philosophy and Economics at Harvard and is a senior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.
Amartya Sen’s professional career was dedicated to improving communal welfare via economic reform and policies, for which he became known as the Mother Teresa of Economics. His work was focused towards driving socially backward societies out of their misery, and his take on social choice theory, communal justice, economic reasoning behind famines, and poverty and living standard estimating measures motivated other economists to also dig in to the matter with their own research. Sen underlined his own famine experience in Bengal as a nine year old boy as the main motivation behind his devotion to the issue. He asserts in his famous book titled “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation” in 1981 that weak food distribution systems and economic inequality is what caused the deaths of millions of people during the famine rather than scant food supplies.
Sen’s legacy boast his ability to not only convince governments and international organizations to look in to matters concerning poverty alleviation, but also find ways to compensate the poor for their sufferings and lost earnings and control food prices. He is a staunch proponent of social reforms, such as education and public healthcare, for economic growth. Amartya Sen has also drawn praise for writing some of the most thought provoking and insightful research papers, and has made a name for himself by publishing contentious articles which have stirred great debate, such as “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing’ in the New York Review of Books. Sen’s other contributions include authoring around 20 books which have been translated in over thirty languages for mass outreach.