The "Globalism and Its Discontents: Point/Counterpoint" conversation series features Amherst College professor, and host of NEPR's In Contrast, Ilan Stavans and a guest engaging in thoughtful discussion and attempting to bridge the ideological divide growing in our nation.

Amartya Sen: “Globalism and Its Discontents: Point/Counterpoint with Ilan Stavans”

December 6, 2018

Amatya Sen, an economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, joined Ilan Stavans, professor of Spanish and host of NEPR's In Contrast, for a Point/Counterpoint discussion.

Amartya Sen Video Transcript

Ilan Stavans: I want to thank the class of 1970, and particularly 36 sponsors of the 50th reunion of that class for coming up with the idea of a... Allowing us to get provoked, in order to think differently, and for sponsoring the visits of every single one of the guests. I want to thank the people of communications for taping this. The people of Amherst Books, there will be a book signing immediately after the event today, and of course all of you for coming.

Ilan Stavans: My name is Ilan Stavans, and I teach here in the Spanish department, and I have been the host for this year of this series. Let me tell you what the protocol will be and then we're going to begin right away. We will have a conversation for about 35, 40 minutes between Amartya Sen and I, and me. We're going to go back and forth on a number of topics.

Ilan Stavans: The theme of this year is “Globalism and its Discontents,” so in one way or another, I will try to keep the line of argument on the local and the global and on the larger questions that we're all facing particularly on election day ... is the very ideology of globalism in question? Will it get another chance? Are we witnessing a kind of retrenchment of, a breaking down borders? Or are we simply seeing an impasse that will pass?

Ilan Stavans: After those 35, 40 minutes we are going to open it up to questions. There is a microphone to my left and I invite those of you that have a comment or a question to please stand. In the interest of keeping the speed and the rhythm of the evening, we will probably have about five or six questions because each of these will entail a response by Amartya Sen that will probably extend itself to about altogether 20 minutes, which would be the allocated time for that Q & A. And after that, Amartya will be signing books outside.

Ilan Stavans: I want to introduce Amartya Sen, who has been with us throughout the day. He arrived early, he teaches at Harvard where he has been for over 30 years. Originally from India, he is a major figure in economics and in the marriage between economics and philosophy. Having concentrated his career for which he has received among many other awards and prizes, the Nobel Prize, the human development aspect of economics, and that is that we don't only see the accumulation of capital as the essential measure for success and for happiness and for freedom but we see it in the larger context according to this theory, we see it at the length of an individual's life, the capacity to get the major conditions and needs satisfied, like health care and education and daily survival met.

Ilan Stavans: He is the author of many books, and one of those books has been at the center of the course that I've been teaching. In the morning we meet in the course with the students then in the evening we have this conversation and that book is called Development As Freedom. It's out there for him to sign.

Ilan Stavans: I want to say something just very quickly before we begin the conversation, and that is that because we have had that conversation in the morning with the students and then this event is also sponsored by NEPR's podcast, In Contrast, Amartya and I have been in conversation already, twice, and this is the third one, so on occasion you might hear something like "What I said before," or "This is in reference to a comment,", and I'll make sure that whatever it is, mentioning that context. I will contextualize it so that nobody loses the little bit of information.

Amartya Sen: [inaudible 00:04:46]

Ilan Stavans: Take the microphone.

Amartya Sen: ... I say, how many times to I have to tell you to?

Ilan Stavans: So, Amartya Sen, it's a real honor to have you here and a pleasure. Thank you for coming, I know it has been a big effort and the weather has not cooperated.

Ilan Stavans: Inequality has been a major concern of yours since your childhood, and that very inequality in your upbringing in India ended up defining how you perceive the potential for human development. You see the need to address those issues of inequality not only within a society, but within the larger community of nations, the so-called developed and the developing nations. And have been a prime force and promoter on the idea of thinking rationally, how to bring people that live in poverty to a level where they have those basic needs and they can be called free.

Ilan Stavans: So I want to start with a question of equality in a very large, ambitious way. Is inequality, Amartya, solvable? Can we imagine a world and make it a reality where the developed nations, those in control, in access, with access to power, will create the necessary context for those who do not have access to be lifted, the way it happened in China, the way it happened in Japan, but it hasn't happened in India and it hasn't happened in other parts, in South East Asia. Can we create the economic strategies in order to lift ... if not everybody, a large portion of that population that is described as poor, and what would those strategies need to be?

Amartya Sen: It's a very interesting question. Am I audible? Okay. You know, I think a world without inequality, in terms of the disvalue of inequality would be a very good world. And since it's a very important value, it's a world that's worth thinking about. On the other hand, avoidance of inequality is not the only value we have. We can think of many circumstances where we don't want that. Given, left on their own, women live longer than men. We don't want to organize a world in which women live the same amount as men. Such worlds do exist, but they're not called just worlds.

Amartya Sen: So it's one of the values and therefore while pursuing the really interesting topic statements that you want us to indulge in, you have to bear in mind there're other values to consider as well. And the way you could make women lives the same as men in terms of longevity is one where women have far less freedom than they should have given their natural capacity for withstanding disease and so on.

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Amartya Sen: And so inequality has many dimensions. That's the main ... the second point I'm making, and therefore ... I mean, the Japanese are very good in terms of providing similar care, nutritional and health, for boys and girls in a way that India or Pakistan may not. On the other hand, in terms of occupying senior positions in companies or in the government, Japan does not have the same level of equality as even some of these countries, Pakistan or India, might have.

Amartya Sen: So we have to take into account the multidimensionality of inequality. The sad thing is that I think what we have to consider is to regard each of inequalities as being important and have to ask, why are they important? And to the extent we can find an answer to that, we are to see what we can do to reduce that inequality without overlooking the fact that there are other values with which we're also concerned.

Amartya Sen: That generates a model of human reasoning, including particularly social reasoning. That requires a much bigger adventure in our thought, and that is something which I would say we should pursue as a general effort to have to do with inequality.

Amartya Sen: But I think where your question becomes electric is that there are certain types of inequalities which are very strong in countries in the Middle East and South Asia, they're very strong. And yet there are subtle aspects, for example ... if you look at sex-specific abortion, which affects girls in many parts of the world in a way that it doesn't affect boys, and roughly, to give you some basic statistic, left to themselves between 94 and 96 girls are born per 100 boys. That's not inequality. That's biology. It varies. But if you look at the European ratio, it's between 94 and 96.

Amartya Sen: And the inequality of this kind is very strong in some parts of the world. In the Middle East, in North Africa. It's strong in India and Pakistan. Not so much in Bangladesh, oddly enough. In India it's about 93 girls per boys.

Amartya Sen: And despite the much greater level of equality that Chinese women have compared with men vis a vis Indian women vis-a-vis women, the Chinese ratio at birth is actually lower than 92. It was not long ago 86. It's gone up.

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Amartya Sen:  The oddity is, and this is a new thing I found which I never looked at it and I thought I would ... that even in countries which are very advanced in Asia, like Singapore and Hong Kong and Taiwan, the ratio is below the European ratio, and therefore the East Indian ratio, and below the Bangladesh ratio.

Amartya Sen: So there's a problem. There's an issue where culture and economics intermix. So it's a very complicated question. We don't think of Singapore and Hong Kong being unequal in this respect because women do so well there, as I was saying. But when it comes to boy preference, there is a lingering boy preference all over Asia with the exception of Japan that is psychic.

Amartya Sen:
So I think what we have to do ... you know, as I get older and older, I recently became 85 and that's a gigantic ratio. Not long ago I wondered how people could live at that kind of age. But now that I am there, I pontificate. And in the context of pontification, it seems to me that we have to give reasoning a much bigger span. That is, the multidimensionality is very important. We don't know whether the Chinese and the Singaporean and the Hong Kong and the Taiwanese ... girls, women, suffer in a way that we would not expect in other ways. And these have not been studied much. They need to be studied.

Amartya Sen:                
So you know ... I have not led any kind of life other than academic. At the age of 23, I was appointed to a university teaching job and I held that tradition all my life, and I've never had a serious non-academic job. But one of the results of that is I'm continuously trying to invent new problems. And this is a new problem to offer and has not been discussed much, if I looked ... I think I know the general literature well. But it hasn't been, and we have to look at why it's the case. And then going further, why is it that in Japan, despite all the qualities that you get in education and science and so on, in politics and in business leadership there is this gap?

Amartya Sen:                
So I think we have to look at this inequality issue at many different levels, and I'm glad you asked the question. What I'm saying is that it's a much bigger issue than ... and you were pointing out rightly to some tantalizingly nasty aspects of it. I'm saying that other than what is immediately, visibly nasty, there is nastiness of a kind that we have to look into, and it's important.

Ilan Stavans:                
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Ilan Stavans:                 
It seems on the premise as a very obvious statement, but the power of it is enormous. And I would like to ... you and I have talked a little bit about this. But I would like to explain briefly to the audience what do you understand by freedom? And if freedom is the same across cultures and across times. If different cultures understand what freedom is differently, what is valued in freedom, or is there a universal platonic view of freedom that you are proposing here, or that you are endorsing? And that the ways that each society takes in regards to it is secondary, so to speak.

Amartya Sen:                
Yeah. Very exciting question. You see, I think the ... what we convey by freedom, of course, depends on the linguistic convention of that area in a way that, say, Antonio Gramsci or later Wittgenstein, not early Wittgenstein discussed. And yet there is a commonality in the notion of freedom which we have to respect, even as we take cognizance of the diversity of the different types of freedom coming into our story.

Amartya Sen:                
Now, the basic idea that a person ... A, should be free or at liberty to do things that he or she wants to do, unless there's a very strong reason against it, as a basic idea of freedom, is a common one across the world. People might say, "I don't think freedom is such a good thing," as Mr. [Duterte 00:20:49] in Philippines often does. And the president of this country occasionally becomes close to saying, though he hasn't actually said it in that form.

Amartya Sen:                
Yet, when you say, when Duterte said, "I don't think freedom is the right thing," or when [Lee Hwan-Yoon 00:21:14], with whom I had a series of arguments, says that it's a western values that emphasize freedom, and the eastern values don't, where I argue that he's mistaken in his reading. But he wasn't saying, "It isn't freedom. He was saying that it's not as valuable as westerners have made us think.

Amartya Sen:                
And so in that context, we can use the idea of freedom, whether we like it or not, in big way as a concept of importance. And that seems to me to be fairly universal. Not the liking of it, not the loving of it, but the recognition that it's a big issue.

Amartya Sen:                
But then when it comes to what are the important things to preserve, then, of course, it may depend from the minuscule aspects of culture, you know, where you are allowed to pray and whether the ... it's not minuscule. John Stuart Mill wrote a book about it called On Liberty. And similarly, what you had out to eat.

Amartya Sen:                
And then it goes into more difficult territory once you allow others to eat, which has become such a big issue in India. Where there was never a particular problem around what you ate, but suddenly people have got much more worried about what others are eating rather than what they are themselves eating, and it's an incredible collapse of a value system.

Amartya Sen:                
But for the moment, and this is not true of India as a whole, those who believe that have never been not a majority, they have never come close to being a majority. And yes, there are a lot people that take that view. So we have to not that the differences arise not only between regions and countries but within a region and within a country. Nothing was as clear over the last two or three days that two Americans, one possibly born in Hawaii and the other born in New York, as the world has presidentially experienced in America, have widely different views about what they would like to preserve. That doesn't mean that they're any different, they have different nations. They are the same.

Amartya Sen:                
I think the main thing to recognize there is that our differences don't arrive only from where we come from. I mean, just to give a test, where actually I have to be very careful. I tried what an Amherst curry would look like over dinner, and the results of it are on my shirt now. So I can keep my tie above it.

Ilan Stavans: To cover it.

Amartya Sen: To cover it.

Amartya Sen:  Where do you think this tie could be from?

Ilan Stavans: You mean where you bought it?

Amartya Sen:
Where was it made? And it has a symbolic value. But I don't think you would ever guess it's from a Muslim country, namely Bangladesh. It's a tie of Dhaka University. It's not green. It doesn't have a crescent moon. It's a red tie, which might make me look like a revolutionary. And you know, it's part of its culture too. As we knew in 1971. It played a big part, that part of the culture.

Amartya Sen:                
I think the fact is that there are big variations. What is common is some idea that people A, should be able to do what they really think are important to them, and important in their view for the world, and B, should have what you told earlier, the basic means which make their exercise of their freedom feasible. Food, education, shelter, medicine, play a part in that.

Amartya Sen:                
That is the commonality. Within that, there will be big differences. But that's not different from other ideas that we have. You know, the nature of kindness, as we understand it, varies. The nature of cruelty as we understand it varies. And so on.

Amartya Sen:                
So I would say that when I talk about development as freedom, I'm trying to pursue an idea which has a globality, a global understanding, despite the fact that it can take many different forms.

Ilan Stavans:                 
Amartya, do we learn to be free? Is this the process and the product of an intellectual ... a reasonable development? Or is that freedom that you're talking about intrinsic to the very nature of who we are regardless of the axis of education and to the development of one's reason?

Amartya Sen:               
I would say the comparison here, is what Chomsky, Noam Chomsky, says about our ability to generate language and grammar. That is, we have a capacity to understand, and that was, after all, the big difference between the early Wittgenstein of Tractatus, and the later Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations. And understanding ... in which, by the way, the Marxist thinker Gramsci played a very big part, mainly through the influence on [Piero Sraffa 00:28:04], who actually as it happened was one of my teachers. But in Trinity College, they were both fellows, Wittgenstein and Sraffa, and that thought was something that Sraffa won over Wittgenstein.

Amartya Sen:                
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Amartya Sen:                
And I think our ability to think grammatically then evolves. If you think about an Indian grammarian, fourth century BC, what was his contribution? He accepted the universality of grammar, but he said that people very often use it wrongly. And therefore, let me get these rules. He wrote 4,000 rules. There's a problem there, because how are these generated, or are these dictated by you?

Amartya Sen:                
So at the moment I've given up teaching economics. I teach math and philosophy mostly, and this year I'm teaching with mathematician called Barry Mazur and an economist and mathematician Eric Maskin, I'm teaching a course called Axiomatic Reasoning, so I'm talking about Panini, Wittgenstein, Chomsky and Gramsci and so on.

Amartya Sen:                
And the right answer to your question is you can ... three things. A, we have a sense of freedom which is intrinsic in the way our sense of grammar is. B, we could systematically apply reason to it and subject it to scrutiny. And C, many of the reasoning and rules that would appeal to us would turn out to be mistaken so that the rules offer them scrutiny. They need scrutiny of scrutiny. That's roughly my answer.

Ilan Stavans:                 
Okay. I want to move you to another freedom-related question before we go to the topic of reason and politics and globalism today. And this is something, Amartya, that you and I have talked today once, but I think this audience is going to be very interested in. I mentioned to you ... I would like for you to address the idea ... the potential idea of an individual choosing the opposite of freedom and making this an active choice.

Ilan Stavans:                 
So I told you during the podcast that I teach a course in a nearby jail, and I have become close to the inmates and have found out that some inmates, this is ... all of them are male, and many of them are from Springfield and other surrounding areas ... literally prefer to be in the jail, particularly in certain periods of the year, the winter, the spring. This is how they have told it to me. Because being outside, the inclement weather conditions, the violence on the street, the opioid epidemics and other drugs, being in the jail is preferable to being outside, and they also say that the benefits that they get in the jail are double or triple what they get outside. They get food, they get shelter, they get classes, and so on.

Ilan Stavans:                 
So here is a paradigm of a series of individuals who actually, one told me, would commit a petty crime sometimes coming to the winter in order to be able to be in jail for the next X amount of months and then go out. This is an active decision of limiting one's freedom in order to be able to benefit from that absence. So this is a choice that comes from reason in that it ultimately is a statement on what is happening on the streets.

Amartya Sen: Yeah. You know, we discussed this a bit earlier, so I have to be careful in not boring you with a similar answer.

Ilan Stavans: Oh, you don't have to worry about me. These are the people you have to entertain.

Amartya Sen:
[crosstalk 00:33:11] you know that to commit a sufficiently petty crime that sends you to prison between December and April, and then to come out as the daffodils come out, from jail ... requires pretty fine-tuning of crime and the judicial system. But let's imagine that you can.

Amartya Sen:
I strongly recommend for those who have not read it a collection of short stories by O. Henry called "Four Million", and four million is the number of New Yorkers at the time when he wrote it. And one of the stories is about a guy who is very depressed with the winter coming. He doesn't know of anywhere of earning an income. So he thinks, wouldn't it be better to be in prison? You know, think of the heat, warm rooms, breakfast ready in the morning ... and he tries to get himself arrested.

Amartya Sen:
And most of the story is the difficulty in his getting arrested. And he tries to misbehave in the street, running around obstructing cars and so on, and then one of the policemen who's about to arrest is told by another policeman saying, "These are Yalies celebrating their victory over Harvard in the game, and we have been told not to arrest them." So he doesn't get arrested. So this goes on and on. He is very frustrated. And then he sits in the park and he says, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I [inaudible 00:35:07] myself and start earning an income, look for a good job? Maybe I know jobs where ... but maybe if I try hard I might get it." And then he gets full of resolve, saying, "I am going to do that." At which moment a policeman puts a hand on his shoulder and says, "You are under arrest for loitering."

Amartya Sen:
So that's the story. And it's a sad story. It's a comment on society. It's a comment on the individual as well, and the comment has a similarity with yours.

Amartya Sen:
But [inaudible 00:35:51] what's common between your story and O Henry's is that they're not wanting to be locked up. They're looking for a warm room, a meal, a care in case you fall down and break your leg. And these are not imprisonment. These are the associated benefits that in the imprisonment system in this country happen to come with the imprisonment. Many countries, they don't, by the way.

Amartya Sen:
And so what these person are seeking is not wanting to bolted up. They're seeking a warm room and food and care. So I wouldn't draw from it that anyone is choosing unfreedom. If somebody said, "You can get a warm room, and you can get breakfast when you like, and a meal, and you can get a little bit of pocket money too, and you don't have to stay in the jail, you can go around," I bet he would choose that. Which indicates that it's not ... you shouldn't interpret it as someone preferring unfreedom to freedom. Someone prefers the freedom of having a warm room and food and a little income over the freedom of being able to roam around and go where you like.

Ilan Stavans:                
I am struck by ... now, but throughout your work, you don't ... you use the opposite of freedom as "unfreedom". You don't talk about ... you don't use other words.

Amartya Sen: What?

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Amartya Sen: Well, I think it would be difficult not to think of unfreedom as the opposite of freedom.

Ilan Stavans: And unfreedom is the absence of freedom.

Amartya Sen:                
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Amartya Sen:                
There are many ideas which require engagement from both ends, but the engagement from the negative end is often much more articulated than from the positive end. And I would say freedom is one of those ideas. I mean, when I first started using it, people would say that there's no such word in English.

Ilan Stavans: I was going to say the folks of the OED would say, "We haven't registered it."

Amartya Sen:  Well, the OED happen to have unfreedom.

Ilan Stavans: They do?

Amartya Sen: They do.

Ilan Stavans: Oh. Have to open it.

Amartya Sen: Because I'm not that original. [inaudible 00:39:52].

Ilan Stavans:                 
So Amartya, I want to ask you about globalism today. Do you think that we are, with the rise of populism and the emergence of fascist groups and fascism in countries like Poland and Hungary and Brazil, are we entering a period in which globalism is severely questioned and maybe even in retreat? Or is this an impasse that will pass?

Amartya Sen:                
I think there have been ups and downs, certainly, you're right. But it's not the case that what we are witnessing now is a totally unprecedented phenomenon. When I first arrived in Trinity College in Cambridge as an undergraduate, I was struck when I went to the chapel to see how many Trinity men had fallen in the war. Their names were there on the side of the chapel, and so many of them that the entire chapel walls were taken up by their names. So when the Second World War happened, their names had to be put in the antechapel.

Amartya Sen:                
I was absolutely shocked by the number of people who had died off one particular age group, a college of 700 students, and that many people in three and a half years ... it was amazing for me. And what were they fighting about? Britain versus Germany versus France. You know, very far from globalism. I don't think today, despite everything, no one would think that the French and the English are intrinsically ... or the French and the Germans are intrinsically hostile to each other.

Amartya Sen:                
I think we have been in this kind of a situation again and again, and we have overcome them. And I think in the context of one of our debates, I quoted also an old Italian story to indicate that what may appear to be new may not be that new, and I might as well mention or repeat that story.

Amartya Sen:                
This is about a ... I have to mention that I know a lot of these stories because my late wife who died, alas, early from cancer was from Italy, and she died of cancer but her father was ...

Ilan Stavans:  Put the microphone close to you.

Amartya Sen:                
Sorry. Her father was fought by Mussolini. In fact, two days in Rome, two days before the Americans liberated Rome he was editing the Avanti, the newspaper, the socialist newspaper. But naturally one would think that you have a lot stories about your enemies, and this about a fascist recruiter who goes to a village and trying to recruit for the fascist party. And he explains how good Mussolini has been. The trains are all running on time, malaria has been eliminated from Latina and the area on the coast. And he's saying that you ought to join the fascist parts.

Amartya Sen:                
So this very silly Italian peasant says, "Listen, your arguments are very good, but I can't join the fascist party, because you see, my father was a socialist, my grandfather was a socialist, my great-grandfather was a socialist. How could I possibly join the fascist party?" So the fascist recruiter said, "What kind of silly argument is that? How does it make a difference that your father and grandfather were socialist? Suppose your father was a murderer, and your grandfather was a murderer. What would you have done then?" To which this silly Italian peasant says, "Oh, in that case, of course, I will join the Fascist party."

Amartya Sen: So what may appear to be a new problem may not be all that new.

Ilan Stavans:                 
But you know, just ... maybe two hours ago, you were telling me on the same vein, Amartya, that you were surprised that racism in the United States and antisemitism in the United States are popping up their ugly heads. Are you really surprised? If you're saying this is recurrent, this is ongoing ... what we're seeing is something that we should have expected.

Amartya Sen:                
Yeah. Well, I'm surprised at some level, in the sense that I wasn't expecting it. And I have thought through it, am I still surprised? No, not really. Am I surprised altogether? I don't know. It depends how much thought I've put into it.

Amartya Sen:                
No, I think since the 1930s antisemitism was such a big issue. And in the time of the civil liberties ... civil rights movement in this country, since the color issue was so visited, that there were reasons to think that these battles have been won, and it appears that they have not. That's surprising.

Ilan Stavans: Can these battles be won?

Amartya Sen:                
Yes, they can be won, but the fact that they haven't happened is because there is a vulnerability there which can be exploited. And we have seen that, not just in the United States. I mean, we've seen it in Hungary. We've seen it in Poland. And oddly enough, we've seen even in Italy, in a way, in a country which saved hundreds of thousands of people from the sea, you know, not allow them to drown, and then suddenly the Italians won't save anybody else. It has the Portuguese have to come across the sea to pick up these terribly challenged, drowning individuals.

Amartya Sen:                
So I think there are complications in social thinking, and we have to think in every issue ... I mean, even this election has brought out some issues that are important, and not all of them are negative issues. The fact that even the day before the election an ad by the president of this country would not be published by Fox News, would not be carried by Fox News, which is not well known to be a left-wing publication, indicates that there is a certain amount of thinking going on on this subject.

Ilan Stavans:                 
Hopefully. We're going to move to the question and answer session, so I have one more question, but I'm inviting the audience to join on my left if people have comments, and if you do, to make them in a succinct way so that there's room for others.

Ilan Stavans:                 
And the question that I have, Amartya, is the one that is connected with reason and something that you push for and you support. Are we not seeing a crisis of reason at a time in the United States, today being election day, when there seem to be two versions of truth? The truth that comes from one ideological side, and the truth that comes from the other side. I was seeing a cartoon of the New Yorker that has a newscaster that says, "And that was the report about the weather from the Democratic Party. Now let's go to the one from the Republican Party." Are we ... is reason ... how do you rescue, how do you return, how do you reposition reason, the power of the intellect, at a time when we seem to be divided by alternative truths and the embrace of those truths in medias that ... faster. The loyalty to those truths, in spite of what you said about Fox News on occasion taking a break.

Amartya Sen:                
Yeah. I think we'll never be in a position where truth would not be challenged by something else which is described as being truth. So the idea of truth versus truth is not a new one. In fact, all debates about epistemology are in fact debates about truth versus truth. About the flat earth, about many other things that we can talk about.

Amartya Sen:                
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Amartya Sen:                
And then he's immediately denounced by one of his disciples, [Brahmagupta 00:51:26], who is a believer, and who describes all this as fake news, or fake science. But wat Al-Biruni says in the 11th century, 600 years later, he's asking Brahmagupta that if you really think that Aryabhata has given fake news, why is it that after vilifying him, you then calculate the next eclipse of the moon and the sun by using his method rather than your method that you have been taught be your religion?

Amartya Sen:                
I think this debate, 11th century, 1010 AD, is remarkably interesting. And these are debates that will continue. But they're not the world of fake news. They are truth and counter-claims on truth. We're not going to get out of that, and we shouldn't. Yeah, because that is what epistemic debates are for. What went wrong here is the impossibility of listening to this argument, that because the fake news was played up in such a big way, you couldn't.

Amartya Sen:                
But that was a very nice point, that Brahmagupta not only drowned Aryabhata, but he would not allow anyone who was religious, Hindu, to believe in what these thoughts were without somehow committing apostasy.

Ilan Stavans: Which is where the danger is, where the tyranny is. First question, or comment?

Question 1:                  
Hi. So I want to ask about whether or not we should be coming up with new ideological visions that would actually lead to increasing agency and freedom, because we live in a world where both populists of the left and on the right are responding to what they see as failures of liberalism, they think, that ... on the left they'll say that liberalism doesn't actually grant agency or civil rights or economic freedom, that it's ... it's impossible to constantly keep liberalism alive and think that we can reform it, we should go beyond. The right thinks that liberalism is fundamentally leading to the decay of culture and institutions. And so I guess my question is because all of our political crises come from what are seen as failures of liberalism, shouldn't we go beyond liberalism in our vision and ideology?

Amartya Sen:                
If you accept that analysis. If you don't accept the ... I think there are two levels. First of all, is that thesis correct? And there's a debate there. And second, if it turns out to be in your view correct, how do you respond to that? I think you were addressing the second, but there is a first question also, as to whether that is a good analysis of liberalism or not. And you could also even argue that liberalism is mistaken, but not for these reasons, but for some other reason.

Amartya Sen:                
So these are all territories of reasoning, and if you arrive at the position that liberalism is mistaken and for these reasons, then your next question that you're asking is exactly right. Shouldn't we now go beyond it? We should, under those circumstances.

Amartya Sen:                
But this is only after the first part of the debate has been engaged and settled. You see, I think it's a similar thing that I was Lee Kuan Yew. That is, he was arguing that the Asian values did not value freedom, it valued discipline. And then we could ask the question, if that's the case, how would we incorporate discipline in a modern society?

Amartya Sen:                
Now, that question would become important if the first part is correct, namely that Asians do not value freedom, they value only discipline, and I was trying to argue that that's mistaken. And ... by the way, I might say something, Lee Kuan Yew is gone. He was a wonderful person to argue. The symmetry in our position was unbelievable. I landed at the airport and before, when I was being taken to the hospital, sorry, the hotel. The chapel doing it ... he was then called, he was the prime minister, and then called senior minister, and then finally he was called mentor minister. So I was told that the mentor minister has said that if I wanted to visit the mentor minister, the mentor minister would be quite happy to see me.

Amartya Sen: So I said under those circumstances, I do want to visit the mentor minister. I-

Question 1:                  
I guess I just wanted to quickly ask, do you personally think liberalism is mistaken?

Amartya Sen:                
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Ilan Stavans: Next question.

Question 2:                  
Thank you, Professor Sen, for this wonderful lecture. My question is why do you think neoliberal capitalism has continued to be so popular, even after the global financial crisis, and do you see a sort of socialist or utopian alternative to the system?

Amartya Sen:                
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Amartya Sen:                
Now, I've seen "neoliberal" being used in all these ways, so I really ... you know, and I don't think he would allow that kind of leisurely discussion now since we don't have that much time. But sometimes he and I are going to chat about how do you define "neoliberal", and then we can take on this question, exactly the question that you're asking, and get that definition.

Amartya Sen:                
There is a lack of articulation in the use of the term "neoliberal". I mean, this is a ... it's one of the reasons why people like Isaiah Berlin spend so much time talking about liberty, you know. Positive liberty, negative liberty. I even met when I was visiting Berkeley a woman who was doing her Ph.D. on Isaiah Berlin's distinctions, so I said, "So other than these two, how many distinctions did you find in Isaiah Berlin?" She said 28. So I think there is quite a lot of ambiguity there, but underlying that, with any definition, your question will make sense. The question is, which question?

Ilan Stavans: Next?

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So as you mentioned, somebody who would ... when you're talking freedom and un-

Amartya Sen: Sorry, I'm getting ...

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When you're talking about-

Amartya Sen: I can't hear.

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Can you hear me now?

Amartya Sen: Pardon?

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 Hello?

Ilan Stavans: Can you hear now?

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Check, one, two, three.

Ilan Stavans: Go ahead, go ahead. I'll translate.

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So when you're talking about freedom and unfreedom when you were having this conversation, I heard about how an inmate in this area will be able to escape the winter, the harsh climate conditions living in the prison for a short period of time. I mean, I'm from India, and if I draw a comparison, I would never see anybody wanting to go to jail for maybe like ...

Amartya Sen: Anyone wanting what?

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Anyone wanting to go to jail for a short period of time, because nobody wants to sleep-

Amartya Sen: That's true everywhere, isn't it?

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No, but like ... I just want to see the cultural difference you can draw in this whole scenario.

Amartya Sen: Are the people going around clamoring to want to go to jail?

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  No, in the sense ... I mean, I don't know. Maybe I'm not framing it correctly, but what I'm trying to say is nobody wants to go to jail in India, because you don't want to sleep without a fan or not get a meal, and you're going to jail over here just to get all those amenities. So how do you draw that comparison?

Ilan Stavans: I think it's something that you were talking about, Amartya, before, which is that the conditions of imprisonment in the United States are very different from conditions in other countries, where jails are crowded, where there's no food, where there are different types of diseases and violence.

Amartya Sen: Yeah.

Ilan Stavans: I'm suspecting that that is the ...

Amartya Sen:
Yeah. I didn't think that the conditions of prison in India ... United States is certainly than that in India. But I must say, nothing is going to make me long to go to where you're less freedom on grounds that there's such a wonderful experience waiting for me. Are you saying that our position to imprisonment may depend on what the content of imprisonment may be? What being in prison entails? If that's the case, I quite agree. Yeah. And you know, increasingly I'm convinced that if I had to choose not to prison, Saudi Arabia would be high countries where I wouldn't like to go to prison, and for various reasons that I could articulate.

Amartya Sen:                
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Thank you.

Ilan Stavans: Next question.

Question 4: Hi. I'm wondering what your opinions are in terms of population control as a tactic among development agencies, and where the freedoms and unfreedoms lie between eugenics and increased access to reproductive rights.

Amartya Sen:  I didn't get the last bit.

Question 4: Where you think that the freedoms and unfreedoms lie between eugenics and population control and access to reproductive rights.

Amartya Sen:                
By the way, I have a paper exactly on that subject written thirty years ago, I'm afraid, in the Chicago Law Review, called "Population and Coercion". It was a lecture in the Chicago Law School.

Question 4: I'll have to check it out.

Amartya Sen: Pardon?

Question 4: I'll have to check it out.

Amartya Sen: Please check it out, yeah. Absolutely. That's the right attitude. I think there're three problems here. First of all, why is a smaller population and a lower population good, important? It's not a rhetorical question. I'm asking for what reason. Certainly, not for Malthusian reasons. There's absolutely no evidence that that's a problem. For example, if you're looking at ... I mean, Malthus thought that 1800, the earth would already have ... well, he said a billion people, and more people than it could possibly sustain.

Amartya Sen:
If you look at the population today, it's seven times that. On the other hand, if you look at food, in particular, the relative price of food compared with non-food products, industrial goods, for example, is over the century enormously low. So if you consider an economic incentive, if you raise the food prices, we can generate a lot more food than we have right now.

Amartya Sen:
The difficulty isn't with food. The difficulty is with the environment, and the way it generates global warming and so forth. And ultimately the reasoning would lead one to the idea that reducing the population growth rate is by and large in most circumstances a good idea.

Amartya Sen:                
Secondly, how could you do it? Now, one of the things we do know from the history of population control in the world, that coercing people to cut down population growth rate has never been successful anywhere. I wrote a paper in the New York Times when the Chines abolished the one-child policy to point out that the Chinese never got the slightest benefit in reducing the population growth by [inaudible 01:07:52] one-child policy. The population growth rate, the fertility rate, came down from about five to about 2.4 in the decade preceding the one-child policy's introduction. And since then it's gone down from 2.4 to 1.7 or 1.8 over four or five decades.

Amartya Sen:                
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Amartya Sen:                
So as it happens, women's literacy and women's gainful employment have many other benefits other than population growth rate. So it becomes a part of a story of a good thing that development and freedom, as we keep quoting the title of my book ... it includes those things in a big way even without bringing in the population. So happens, it also has tremendously powerful effects in reducing the population growth rate.

Amartya Sen: So that's the way I will answer your question. Does that answer your question?

Question 4: Yeah, definitely. Thank you.

Amartya Sen: Okay, thank you.

Ilan Stavans: Next one? We have two more.

Question 5:                  
Hi, professor. I'm a Singaporean, and I grew up reading your arguments with Lee Kuan Yew. So currently after a period of liberalization in Singapore, it feels like politics in Singapore is turning more right wing, and we're embracing more ... the government is returning to its more older, authoritarian roots in some ways. And it seems like in India as well, you see the rise of more authoritarian, right wing politics. And I'm curious to know if right-wingmore liberal politics is on the way for Asia, or if ultimately Lee Kuan Yew kind of won that debate on whether Asians embrace liberalism or illiberalism.

Amartya Sen:                
It's a very good question. I would distinguish between the different ways in which the authoritarianism has come. I'm very critical of the government of India, but still ... it is the case, which I celebrate, that I can publish an article criticizing the government of India in at least four or five newspapers with wide circulation, which is not easy in Singapore. But on the other hand, if you look at the way Singapore has treated the ethnic question, the way the minorities are treated, it's completely ... dramatically better than what's happening to the minorities in India today, especially Muslims, but not only Muslims. And in the past, the same, the caste question is also a minority question often.

Amartya Sen:                
So authoritarianism has taken many different forms. There's no reason why we cannot have non-authoritarian governments of all kinds. So we don't have to praise India for allowing free newspapers, and Indians read more newspaper than any other country in the world by a long, long margin ... you cannot excuse India on grounds that, "Well, maybe the ethnic issue they haven't engaged well, but the other things ..." That's not a good enough argument. You should be able to have both. The same applies in Singapore. The fact that they have been ethnically such a jewel, really. There are very few countries, even compared with Europe, where minorities have as much facility as Singaporean minorities have.

Amartya Sen:                
And so I would say we have to think of authoritarianism with the kind of diversity that authoritarianism requires. [inaudible 01:13:38] to my gender question. Namely, gender bias, gender inequality, can take many different forms, and so can authoritarianism, and we have to be against each of them.

Ilan Stavans: Wonderful. Last question?

Question 6:                  
Sorry to disappoint, but my question has been asked in various forms, so thank you very much for your talk.

Ilan Stavans: Okay.

Amartya Sen:  Okay, thanks.

Ilan Stavans:                 
Amartya, this has been extraordinary. If there was any doubt that conversations like this enable us to understand how minds work, you have given us that opportunity to see how you think, how you process, how you engage, and how you build argument. It has been a real pleasure. Thank you for coming.

Amartya Sen: Thank you very much.