Nobel Laureate Who Began Career As Accountant in Calcutta
Amartya Sen is perhaps one of the most renowned economists of our time. A Nobel laureate, he has significantly contributed to social choice theory, welfare economics, and development economics. Many might not know Sen was an accountant in Calcutta before becoming an economist. In this article, we will look closer at Sen’s life and career and explore how his early experiences as an accountant shaped his later work as an economist.
Early Life and Education
Born in Santiniketan, India, in 1933, Amartya Sen grew up in an academic family. His father was a professor of chemistry at Dhaka University, and his mother was a teacher. Sen attended school in Dhaka and later in Calcutta, where he excelled academically. In 1951, he went to Presidency College in Calcutta to study economics, and it was during this time that he began working as an accountant to support himself.
Accounting and Economics
Sen’s early experiences as an accountant profoundly impacted his later work as an economist. In an interview with The Economist, he noted that “accounting is about the allocation of resources, and that’s what economics is about.” As an accountant, Sen was intimately familiar with the day-to-day workings of businesses and the challenges they faced in managing their finances. This experience gave him a unique economic perspective and informed his later research on poverty, inequality, and development.
Sen completed his Ph.D. in economics at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he worked with renowned economists such as Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor. His dissertation, “The Choice of Techniques,” examined how firms decide which production techniques to use and how they affect profitability. This research laid the groundwork for Sen’s later work on social choice theory, which explores how individuals make decisions collectively.
Career and Accomplishments
After completing his Ph.D., Sen held teaching positions at the Universities of Jadavpur, Delhi, and Oxford before joining Harvard University in 1988. He has significantly contributed to social choice theory, welfare economics, and development economics.
Sen’s most influential contribution to economics is his work on the capability approach. This approach emphasizes the importance of individual capabilities, or the ability to do and be what one values, as a measure of well-being. Sen argued that traditional measures of well-being, such as income or GDP per capita, do not capture the full range of human capabilities and, therefore, provide an incomplete picture of development.
Sen’s work on the capability approach has significantly impacted development policy and practice, particularly in human development. He has also been a strong advocate for social justice and has worked to promote gender equality, reduce poverty, and improve access to healthcare and education.
Q: What is social choice theory?
A: Social choice theory is a branch of economics exploring how individuals make decisions collectively. It examines how different voting systems and decision-making procedures can lead to different outcomes and how to measure the welfare of society as a whole.
Q: What is welfare economics?
A: Welfare economics is a branch of economics that seeks to evaluate the well-being of individuals and society. It examines how different policies and institutions affect the distribution of income and resources and how to maximize social welfare.
Q: What is the capability approach?
A: The capability approach is a framework for thinking about human development that emphasizes the importance of individual capabilities, or the ability to do and be what one values, as a measure of well-being. It argues that traditional measures of well-being, such as income or GDP per capita, do not capture the full range of human capabilities and, therefore, provide an incomplete picture of development.
Q: What did Amartya Sen win the Nobel Prize in Economics for?
A: Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 for his contributions to welfare economics and his work on the capability approach.
Q: What other awards and honors have Amartya Sen received?
A: Amartya Sen has received numerous other awards and honors besides the Nobel Prize. These include the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, the National Humanities Medal in the United States, and honorary degrees from universities worldwide.
Q: What is Amartya Sen’s stance on globalization?
A: Amartya Sen has been a vocal critic of some aspects of globalization, mainly focusing on economic growth at the expense of social welfare. He has argued that globalization should be more inclusive and that policies should be put in place to ensure that the benefits of globalization are shared more equitably.
Amartya Sen’s early experiences as an accountant in Calcutta played a crucial role in shaping his later work as an economist. His intimate knowledge of businesses’ day-to-day workings and challenges gave him a unique economic perspective. It informed his last research on poverty, inequality, and development. Sen has made significant contributions to economics throughout his career, particularly in social choice theory, welfare economics, and development economics. His work on the capability approach has significantly impacted development policy and practice, and he has been a strong advocate for social justice and human development.
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