Sens Explanation of the Great Bengal Famine

Book Report/Review
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Several authors have contested Sen's claim that some of the major famines he has examined were of non-FAD origin. The argument has raged mostly over the great Bengal famine of 1943 and the African famines of the 1970s. Who has had the better of the argument, though an important issue in its own right is not something we shall be concerned with in this paper What concerns us here is the claim of several of these critics that, by refuting Sen's empirical analysis, they have discredited the entitlement approach.


Although his empirical arguments relate to this particular famine, he goes on to draw a general analytical conclusion, which is our main concern here. He argues that ' Sen's theory of famine will lead to the wrong diagnosis and the wrong remedies for famine and will therefore worsen the situation'. (Eric Markusen, David Kopf, 1995).
This conclusion has two parts. There is first the claim that it was no accident that Sen misdiagnosed the Bengal famine, because his theory was such that it could not but lead to the wrong diagnosis. Secondly, such misdiagnosis will worsen the situation further by suggesting the wrong remedies. We shall see that both of these analytical conclusions are false, even if one grants for the sake of argument that Sen did actually misdiagnose the Bengal famine.
The first part of the claim, asserting the inevitability of misdiagnosis, is based on two premisses. The first premiss holds that 'one cannot discuss famines without constantly taking into account aggregate food supply', the implication being that reduction in food supply necessarily plays a part in all famines. ...
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