Development as Freedom

from a basic to a comprehensive development approach

Essay 2010 8 Pages

Politics - Methods, Research



From a basic to a comprehensive development approach

When the term development is considered, it is difficult to have a clear dimension to address, as this term illustrates a complex human process, rich in linkages and interrelations, which has been erroneously simplified in the course of time, by various single explanatory variables. Nevertheless, in order to restrict the domain, it might be useful to find a definition of it. The term underdevelopment, strictly related to its positive derivate, was defined by J. de Largentaye as a “weak degree of resource exploitation” [1], resources that can be natural, economic and human. For the author, the main dynamic was to find in the economic development, which is the increase in the amount of people nation's population with sustained growth, from a simple low-income economy, to a modern high-income economy, with the ultimate goal of improving the economic, political, and social well-being of its people[2]. In this perspective the core of this process is a material and economic progress, which yields, as a mean and end, the improvement of people’s quality of life. This approach arose the problem as to how to measure “economic development”. For a long time, economists, social scientists and common people, have been classifying countries’ economic achievements and economic levels (which can not synthesize a whole process, but just single stages), through the measure of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The indicator, often used as quickly identifying countries’ overall economic output, has however got different inherent limits and turns out to be a rather imprecise tool. The main critic comes from the fact that GDP doesn’t offer any insights concerning the wealth distribution within a country. Development, as mentioned above, has as a mean and end the wellbeing of its people, and not of a minority. In a “developed” country a narrow gap between the poor and the rich, namely a low level of inequality, is a requirement. Furthermore the GDP tends to underestimate the level of the economy, by overlooking in its calculations activities that are not provided through the market, underground economies and non-monetary economies[3]. Finally, the indicator doesn’t offer any insights on how the level of wealth is invested in the country and in which sectors of the economy (public infrastructure, transports, education), which is normally necessary for economic development[4]. Here comes the fundamental distinction between income-earning and income-using. The classical theories of growth, consisting primarily of the pioneering work of Smith, Ricardo and Malthus consider productive investments and capital accumulation as the principal impetuses to growth, with a particular emphasis on the role of technologic progress. The demographic variable, is taken (especially by Malthus) into account, as offering potentially both supply of labor and escalating risk of profit erosion.[5] With the Keynesian and neoclassical theories of growth the human variable will be more and more central in determining the benefits and the equilibria of a stable welfare, which acquires a real meaning only if related to the benefits brought to its society. This is well expressed in a more general Aristotelic statement, taken up by Amartya Sen, Noble Prize Winner for Economics: “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else” [6]. This is Sen’s start in opening a new window on the development’s approach. Referring to concept of economic growth, the author links development’s achievements to comprehensive outcomes (taking into consideration the process through which outcomes are achieved), rather than culmination outcomes, (the mere values of the achievements).[7] In this perspective development must be a balance of proper achievements (which kind of outcomes are obtained), and proper means (how they are obtained). Marx himself, though holding the capitalist system as an alienating and exploiting form of labour and only as a formally free system, distinguishes it clearly from the real unfreedom of forced labour in the feudal times.[8] Thus capitalism, in what concerns freedom of employment, reveals a progress, when compared to the labour bondage. From this starting point Sen goes beyond the dimension of economics, by switching the main goal of development to the very end of economic growth: the achievement of human freedoms. By opposing the classic theory of modernization, whereby social progress and constant social achievements are spurred by increased technology, industrialization and economic growth,[9] he emphasizes the relation state regime - economic growth, by showing with empirical evidence how economic growth is a feature of democratic systems. Systems in which political liberty and civil freedoms are the interconnection between state and society, have much wider reach in preventing famines, human catastrophes and conflicts. Thus underdevelopment is now seen as a condition of deprivation from political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guaranties and protective security.[10] It’s a deprivation from opportunities and from the processes that lead human beings to those opportunities. Consequences of these lacks are not only human suffering, self-fulfilment denial and identity annihilation, but also progress standstill at a national and global level. A society in which those deprivations exist, loses its role of “agent”, and more precisely “evaluative agent”, by which social change is brought about. Without social arrangements governments’ choices lose credibility, and more and more coercion and freedom deprivations are needed to enforce sets of choices which do not receive domestic ratification. Thus terms like income, deprivation and capability are inherently bound to the contemporary conception of development.

Now, it’s interesting to assess how this post-modern conception is part of the contemporary practice and of the “development measurement” at the international level. And it’s not astonishing to find a clear operationalization of these concepts in the Human Development Index (HDI[11] ), introduced in the framework of the United Nation Development Program in 1990, as the main development indicator to be held accountable, whose purpose is indeed “to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people centered policies”[12]. The indicator is calculated through a uniformed weighted sum of three other variables: the Life Expectancy Index, which gives an insight into the living conditions and standards of a people, the Education Index, which highlights the social opportunities, and the GDP pro capita at purchasing power parity, which represents the purely economic dimension. Of course as any indicator, the HDI can not comprehend the totality of a reality. For instance it doesn’t take directly into account the wealth distribution and the negative externalities of development on the environment.. In order to address such shortcomings, other indicators exist, as the GINI Coefficient, a measure of statistical dispersion in the wealth distribution of a country, which finds application in the study of inequality.[13] Other indexes (as the Resource Degradation Index and the Air Pollution Index) can also contribute separately to describe states’ environmental conditions. In the field of political freedom, democracy and human rights, Freedom House, a renown non-governmental organization based in Washington D.C., publishes annual reports in order to assess countries’ domestic levels of freedom, basing its ratings on five main subcategories: civil and political rights, political culture, free and fair elections and freedom of the press. [14]

Strictly related to those measurements are also the commitments undertaken by the international community, for instance the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, achieve a universal primary education, improve maternal health, combat HIV, AIDS, Malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and build up a global partnership for development.[15] These goals, supposed to be achieved by 2015, are at the core of the international development agenda for 192 countries in the world, and represent a hope for a world rid of basic forms of unfreedom: famine, morbidity, low life expectancy, gender inequality, lack of political liberties and civil rights.[16]


[1] J. Freyssinet, Le concept de sous-developpement, Paris, Mouton, 1966, p.6

[2] H. Myint and A. O. Krueger , Economic development, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009

[3] T. Pettinger, Does GDP measure economic development? at http://econ.economicshelp.org/2007/05/does-gdp- measure-economic-development.html. retrieved August 6th, 2010

[4] Ibidem

[5] Growth Theory, at http://social.irank.org/pages/2101/growth-theory.html#ixzz0vGm7isf7. retrieved August 7th 2010

[6] A. Sen, Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999, p.14

[7] Ibid., p.27

[8] K. Marx, Capital, Sonnenschein, London, 1887, vol.1, p.240

[9] I. Linden, A new Map of the World, Darton, London, 2003

[10] A. Sen, op.cit. p.38

[11] See annex 2

[12] M. U. Haq, Reflections on Human Development, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995, p.9.

[13] See annex 3

[14] Freedom House Annual Report, at http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=276. retrieved August 6th 2010

[15] Millennium Development Goals, at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/poverty.shtmI■ retrieved August 7th 2010

[16] A. Sen, op. cit., p. 15


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Development Freedom



Title: Development as Freedom