Immigration and Development, with Amartya Sen

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

With the Nobel economist Amartya Sen, we pick up the question hanging at the end of our conversation on remittances and the flood of migrant workers.

Amartya Sen [Jon Chase, Harvard News]

To wit: isn’t the immigration crisis the flip side of a development riddle? What would it take to make the lives of Mexican farmers sustainable in Mexico? How does it come to be that there are more African-trained nurses and doctors working in Europe than in Africa? Under the heading of “flood control,” what might the US be doing to address the tide of refugees from Latin America before they reach the Bush border fence?

Amartya Sen, the Lamont University Professor at Harvard, is of course an immigrant from India — in an America that he notes has always been hospitable to intellectuals and highly qualified specialists like him. Development economics is only one of his fields, and his technical studies are the least of his worldwide eminence. He is best known perhaps for the observed rule that famines simply do not happen in independent democracies with a free press; famines are invariably political and military “events,” as he first suspected on the basis of his own childhood witness of the famine in Bengal in 1943 which took 3 million lives. He is a feminist exponent of the argument that the single most important stroke in development policy (and population control) is the education of women. His new book Identity and Violence takes apart all the easy labels of ethnic and national destiny and smashes the monoliths of East and West: “Violence is fomented by the imposition of singular and belligerent identities on gullible people, championed by proficient artisans of terror.”

A courtly liberal gentleman of the world, Professor Sen seems to relish tests of wit and theory: recently with Robert Kagan, for example, on the “clash of civilizations,” and on development aid with William Easterly, dubbed by Sen “the man without a plan.” We are asking him for a reasonably grand synthesis here, and a primer on spreading out modernization and growth toward, as we say, “the next 5 billion.”

Amartya Sen

Nobel Prize winning Economist

Author of several books including Development as Freedom and Poverty and Famines

Luis Alberto Moreno

President, Inter-American Development Bank

Related Content