Microfinance and the Human Condition

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Microfinance and the Human Condition: A Bottom-Up Approach towards Promoting Freedom and Development — published on the World Poverty & Human Rights Online website as part of my WPHR class this Spring.

The published HTML version can be found on the site and a PDF version is also available for those interested.

Development as Freedom

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I rarely recommend textbooks as good reads. Not that they aren’t, of course, but they often tend to be academic in nature and therefore of little interest to anyone other than academics (and unfortunate students).

However, I’m taking a class by Professor Stephen P. Marks on World Poverty & Human Rights this Spring, and one of the textbooks is Amartya Sen‘s rather excellent book Development as Freedom.

The book was such an engaging read that I finished reading it even before the start of my semester. Sen’s writing is very humanist in nature, peppered with a wry sense of humor in parts, all the while maintaining a tone that is at once both philosophical and pragmatic to the world’s problems.

Amartya Sen: Development as Freedom

Sen starts out addressing the question of whether or not freedom is conducive to development. He feels that such a question is at best defectively formulated, for reasons given below.

Sen ponders over how freedom is often dissociated from development, and considered a pleasant consequence thereof. However, Sen counters that freedom in itself should be the goal of development, and it is both constitutive and instrumental to development. He makes the argument that freedom (political, economic or societal) is central to achieving development; while freedom may result from such development, it would be unwise to ignore the inverse relationship, and true development will only happen through the proliferation of such freedoms. Furthermore, if the definition of development is to move beyond GNP and include freedom, unfree societies aren’t really quite developed.

Sen also argues against the “Lee Hypothesis”, named after the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. The idea behind the “Lee Hypothesis” is that democracy and freedom are luxuries that only developed societies can afford, and to become developed, less-developed societies will need to push forth agendas that may be at odds with democracy and freedom. Furthermore, a more ardent view would be that “non-democratic systems are better in bringing about economic development” for such societies.

In the same vein, he also takes to task the interpretation that “Asian Values” are inherently unsuitable and unfit for democracy, where Asia is defined not by region but through culture. The argument goes that discipline and obedience are critical traits to the Asian cultural psyche and as such, democracy is at odds with such a principle. This particular notion has had the unfortunate reputation of being exploited by authoritarian governments across Asia.

Sen counters both the “Lee Hypothesis” and the “Asian Values” argument by offering the example of the biggest democracy in Asia — India. While India has made several economic mistakes through the years, the fact that it continues to be free democracy hsa helped its economy grow while preserving the freedoms of its citizens. Sen also counters that the “Asian Values” argument isn’t necessarily unique to Asia, and that even within Asia, there have been differing schools of thought, including those that question blind allegiance to the state.

And of course, this book also touches upon Sen’s (now-famous) insight on famines and democracies. He argues that famines are not necessarily caused by lack of declines in food production but rather due to instability in the political, economic, or societal structures that leaves sections of the population unable to fend for themselves. Sen further proposes that countries that are “free” in the economic sense would have citizenry with a consistent income flow, and this income can be used to borrow or import basic necessities in times of need.

But at the end of the day, Sen concludes that true development cannot be measured through mere tangibles (e.g. GNP). Freedom remains the only true measure of development, and when there is freedom, development will follow.

World Poverty & Human Rights

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As part of a class that I’m taking this semester, there’s a supporting website call World Poverty and Human Rights Online.

The goal of WPHR.ORG is to act a forum for discussion on topics related to human rights and development, and provide a real-time repository for human rights violations.

Highly recommended.

IPE Research Paper: Asian Financial Crisis & Exchange Rate Regimes

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The topic and abstract for my IPE term paper that I had originally planned turned out to be a little too broad in its scope. As a result, my final paper had a much tighter focus.

Fluctuation & Flexibility: A Case Study of Exchange Rate Regimes from the 1997-1998 East Asian Crisis

The choice between fixed and flexible exchange rate regimes has long-lasting impacts on a nation’s economic security, and consequently, its political outlook. However, such a freedom of choice is almost always limited by the fiscal and monetary health of the nation. This paper evaluates the extent of such a freedom, and how choices in exchange rate regimes affect a country’s economic performance. Specifically, this paper uses the East Asian economic crisis as a case study to examine the effects of exchange rate policies.

The case study was performed on the basis of an exchange rate regime model by Patrick Osakwe, and was built using data before and after the Asian Crisis. The data and the results from the model were then utilized to review the original assumptions, and this laid the foundation for the conclusions drawn from the case study.

You can find my paper — Fluctuation & Flexibility: A Case Study of Exchange Rate Regimes from the 1997-1998 East Asian Crisis — and the referenced Patrick Osakwe’s paper on choice of exchange rate regimes in emerging markets.

Finally, a quick caveat that this was a class term paper that’s effectively going to be a working paper to extend and validate Osakwe’s model. So, please treat it as such.

Minnesota’s Carbon Tariff

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I’d written a blog post on my other blog on Minnesota introducing the world’s first carbon tariff.

Since that is more of an IPE topic than anything else, a friend has suggested that I cross-post the same here — so here it is!

IPE Research Proposal

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My International Political Economy Research Proposal topic for Professor Jeff Frieden’s class:

Should developing countries peg their currencies in recessionary conditions?

There are several supporting data points available, such as recessions in Asian “Tiger economies”, depressions in the Latin American countries, and the economic policies of BRIC economies under poor economic conditions.

This topic also provides sufficient breadth to address not merely the economic policies, but also the domestic and international policies of various nations under those conditions. Particular case studies would include countries with liberal economies, as well as protectionist regimes, and countries with diverse domestic socio-economic policies (e.g. nations with socialist, communist and Marxist policies). In addition, the paper would also look at the domestic and international political climate of the economies under consideration and the roles that they played in fostering economic policies under recessionary conditions.

Currency was chosen as a specific example for consideration because it provides a quantitative and empirical measure to compare successful policies against the rest.

Introduction

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Graduate student with a focus on International Relations.

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