Inequality Reexamined

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As democratization spreads through much of the world, nations become increasingly concerned over ideals of equality among humans. Sen studies closely what equality and inequality are in varying contexts. He urges his readers to think the matter through both practically and theoretically. His rallying cry, oft-repeated in this book, is “Equality of what?”: Sen takes this cry as the title of his first chapter.

As in his earlier treatises, notably POVERTY AND FAMINE (1981) and ON ETHICS AND ECONOMICS (1987), Sen is concerned here with what entitlements societies allow their people. He reminds us that famine does not always stem directly from an absence of food. Distribution and equality of opportunity to obtain food are political and, often, moral issues with which nations, particularly those in the Third World, constantly grapple.

Sen notes that starvation occurs dramatically and with lightning speed in settings where food is unavailable, but that in many Third World countries, such as his native India, undernutrition accounts for more death and disability than outright starvation. In such settings, food is available, but, because it is nutritionally wanting and is insufficient in quantity, segments of the society waste away, dying slowly over extended periods.

Sen promotes the “capability approach” to solving some of the problems about which he is writing. This approach allows individuals the right and the power to pursue their own well-being within their societies. The equality Sen promulgates stems largely from political and ethical empowerment: It is an equality of opportunity.

Sources for Further Study

The Times Higher Education Supplement. October 30, 1992, p. 26.

The Times Literary Supplement. March 12, 1993, p. 23.