Irish, Bengal and Ethiopian Famines.docx

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Western University
Geography 2152F/G
Bharat Punjabi

Famines 3/14/2012 6:27:00 AM What is a Famine?  Involves widespread scarcity of food o Caused by a lack food or difficulties in food distribution  May be worsened by climate fluctuations and extreme political conditions  Usually accompanied or followed by a regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic and increased mortality Dynamics of an Exchange Economy  In an exchange economy, a family’s ability to buy food depends on the rates at which its labour and other possessions can be exchanged multilaterally or bilaterally with other commodities  Whether or not a family has something to eat depends on what it can sell and the prices of food Exchange Entitlements  Represent a comprehensive picture of exchange possibilities faced by groups of people and reflect the institutional structure of the economy  The presence of a monopoly and other restrictions also makes prices depart from exchange entitlements Failures of Exchange Entitlements (FEE)  FEE – when famines are caused by the breakdown of the ability of a person to exchange his entitlements rather than due to a shortage in food availability  The explanation of famines until 1981 was the decline of food availability o This doesn’t explain why only a certain section of the population such as agricultural farmers were disproportionately affected by famines  Food Availability Decline (FAD) – the decline of food availability o Works best when much of the food is eaten by a family happens to be grown by it without the need of exchange  Entitlement failure o An economy in a good state may develop a famine if there is a sudden shake up of the system of rewards for the exchange of labour, commodities and other possessions o A sharp revision of exchange entitlements can cause a famine even when there is no shortage of food Primitive vs. Modern Economies  Sen demonstrated that the FEE type of famines have a special relevance for developing counties at early stages of modernization or development  In a primitive economy, famines resulting from the exchange of labour in the economy based on family labour or communal labour prior to the development of the wage system cannot arise  Exchange of commodities are limited and people eat what they grow themselves in primitive economies, where the role of other failures of exchange entitlements is also remote  Famines based on the FAD can take place, but the relevance of the FEE famines grows as the economy becomes more exchange oriented, particularly as labour begins to be bought and sold Vulnerability to Famine  Poverty  Inappropriate social infrastructure  Suppressive political regime and absence of democracy  Weak or underprepared government 3/14/2012 6:27:00 AM Amartya Sen and the Modern Theory of Famines  Sen is a development economist born in undivided India in 1932  Teaches at Harvard and lives in Cambridge, MA  Often called the conscience of modern economics  Trained at Cambridge, UK un the British economist Joan Robinson  Wrote his book on famines in 1981 – “Poverty and Famines: An essay on Entitlement and Deprivation” Sen’s New Theory of Famine  Emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary research in development  Attempts to re-evaluate through moral and economic reasoning why we need materials progress in the form of economic growth and economic development  Contributed a great deal by restoring the broad moral vision of early political economists like Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx to 20 thcentury political economy economics  Believer in the humanism of the Western Enlightenment  Believes people have to be at the centre of development Sen on Famines  Personal experience – first hand experience of the 1943 Bengal famine  Coming from a privileged family of Bengali academics, Sen was struck by the paradox of how his family had regular access to food while thousands of rural migrants perished on the streets of Calcutta Sen on Exchange Entitlements  A system of exchange is a system of entitlements  People’s ability to survive in
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