Economic philosophy of Amartya Sen Social choice as public reasoning and the capability approach. Reiko Gotoh

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1 Welfare theory, public action and ethical values: Re-evaluating the history of welfare economics in the twentieth century Backhouse/Baujard/Nishizawa Eds. Economic philosophy of Amartya Sen Social choice as public reasoning and the capability approach Reiko Gotoh

2 1. Introduction Why is it important to study Amartya Sen now? Research in history today tends to focus less on a particular hero but more on giving a fair description of achievements by countless individuals behind a historic trend or capturing those contributions by academic circles that cannot be attributed to particular individuals. One of the most distinguishing features of Sen's economic philosophy is its openness to collaboration with other academic disciplines and policy practices while also fostering public discussion, in contrast with mainstream economics that operates in a closed circle and tends to be possessed by its internal logic.

3 Sen's economic philosophy has marked a clear sign of normative science (normative economics) in the field apparently regarded as a positive science (positive economics). Sen continued to seek for an alternative methodological framework for economics while 'New Welfare Economics,' a direct descendant of neoclassical economics, was establishing itself. Sen discussed some key concepts of liberalism such as freedom, rights, equality, and fairness, in connection with classic themes in economics such as wealth and value. There is an important issue in Sen's criticism against John Rawls. That is, a potential conflict between (a) political liberalism represented by Rawls's theory of justice and the universal welfare state and (b) diversity-oriented, inclusive democracy represented by Sen's social choice model.

4 New welfare economics, represented by the words of the following Kenneth Arrow, based on interpersonal non-comparability and completeness gives a logical support to the political idea of liberal equality, which requires non-discrimination for the empirically indistinguishable. Value judgments may equate empirically distinguishable phenomena, but they cannot differentiate empirically indistiinguishable states (Arrow, 1963, 112, Sen, 2002, 369). 4

5 This phrase appears in the context of explaining why he adopts interpersonally non-comparable and ordinal indexes when he formulates social welfare functions which associate social preferences to individual values. This represents well the underlying idea of the new welfare economics and the political idea of liberal equality, which require non-discrimination in access to fair employment and political office. Yet, concerning empirically distinguishable phenomena, he maintains that Value judgments may equate. 5

6 Rawls's theory of justice had a perspective of 'democratic equality' that would go beyond a formal equality, liberal equality. Rawlsian social welfare function (the difference principle) based on inter-personal complete ordering brings about the political idea of democratic equality, which requires maximization of the lowest level of utility or income. It is certain that these theories support the ethics of the market mechanism as well as universal welfare policies.

7 Yet, these theories tend to close their eyes to diversities in society without dealing with various injustices suffered by diverse people with disability, illness, gender problems, etc. Even Rawls's perspective of democratic equality, which focus on the position of the least advantaged, looked the disadvantaged only in a highly abstract form It limits people s imagination to non-discrimination among equals and gives them an illusion of fully exchangeable social positions. It results in inviting a fear of reverse discrimination and cannot avoid critiques of social transfer policies in terms of work incentive morals on the one hand, and on the other hand, it cannot give a good reason to secure attainable equality for persons with severe physical and mental disabilities. 7

8 In contrast, the Capability Approach has helped Sen's social choice model make a major theoretical breakthrough towards taking into account equality together with diversity. Surely these achievements would have been impossible without Sen. However, as he himself has clearly noted too often, numerous people have influenced him and vice versa. It is obvious that Sen's economic philosophy cannot be complete with Sen alone. Any study of Sen would therefore have to include achievements and possibilities of a school of thought in a specific period (an informal circle of people) that Sen has engaged.

9 2. Outline He started his classical economic studies on wealth and value in the 1950s, concentrated more or less on social choice theory (culminated in his 1970 book) and analytical philosophy in the 1960s, and continued working on wealth and value in the 1970s. His vigorous criticism of New Welfare Economics in the 1970s attracted many social choice theorists to 'normative economics,' albeit within the framework of logical positivism, and crystalized into the alternative approach, whose main pillars were his social choice model (of public discussion) and the capability approach.

10 Arrow's social choice theory provided a perspective to critically examine procedures for forming Bergson=Samuelson social welfare functions. Arrow adopted an axiomatic approach and made clear that his theory used assumptions of unrestricted domain, independence, transitivity, completeness (of individual preferences), and interpersonally incomparable ordinal utility, etc. The axiomatic approach was to be qualified as a 'science,' according to Karl Popper, as it allowed explicit criticism and hence showed 'falsifiability.' Sen adopted Arrow's axiomatic approach and, perhaps as expected by Arrow, critically examined assumptions used in the standard ('Arrovian') social choice theory to pursue an alternative way. It included, for example, actual or normative restriction of the domain, replacing transitivity by acyclicality, questioning not only sufficiency but also necessity of Pareto condition, and paying attention to the relevance of incomplete social relation functions.

11 These efforts helped Sen to construct his own social choice model as a basis for the theory of public reasoning (public discussion) that cannot be reduced to a voting theory. Not a few economists criticize the kind of egalitarianism that does not take growth of wealth into account. There are a lot of economists too who criticize the growth of wealth without distributive justice. However, there are few economists who criticize the appropriateness of Pareto efficiency criterion itself. Sen was among them. He clarified potential problems of welfarism underlying Pareto efficiency criterion by formulating individual decisions on personal matters as a right to freedom. It resulted in a theorem called Paretian Liberal paradox.

12 The paradox called a great attention but most people were interested in how to solve the logical inconsistency and other disciplines like philosophy were referred to only occasionally. Their purpose was mostly limited to supporting intuitions quickly and the concept of liberty and freedom itself was not investigated. Most economists were loyal to Samuelson who argued that their job was to analyze how economy would work under given concepts and exogenous conditions. The only exception was Sen himself, who triggered the debate in the beginning. He points out the danger for economists of relying on their own intuitions. Sen was aware that the logical structure of his paradox itself was not far from that of Prisoner's Dilemma or Arrow's impossibility theorem.

13 He soon moved away from the circle of logical positivism and began his philosophical inquiry into the concept of liberty. On the one hand he sought for a realistic approach to the right to freedom from an economic perspective. On the other hand he began reexamining methodological assumptions (such as profit maximization) of economics itself. Sen got clues for these ideas from Immanuel Kant, whom he discovered in the course of discussion with his contemporary philosophers including Richard Hare, Bernard Williams, Isaiah Berlin, and John Rawls. Ethics and freedom are closely related to each other in Sen's arguments and in this respect Sen inherits Kant's moral theory. Ethics matters only when there is room for an individual to choose his/her own acts based on free will without being forced by legal norms nor induced by economic interests.

14 The assumption of a rational homo economicus maximizing his/her selfinterest is criticized not only because it fails to consider the other human incentives of various sorts described by Adam Smith. It is criticized also as the assumption does not allow us to regard a person as a free being. If his/her acts are always induced by interests, there is nothing but rational calculation of interests and no individual freedom exists beyond that. Poverty is a big problem not only because severe constraints on income or wealth make people easily controlled by market fluctuations but also because they leave little room for people to choose their own acts based on motivations other than economic interests.

15 Sen pursued a possibility to make public judgements on a level different from that of human psychological dispositions. It had to be based on a fine balance among various non-basic or non-coercive principles which were reasonable in themselves to some extent (Sen 1969, 1970a). For example, utilitarianism had to be criticized for working as a basic and coercive principle, i.e., being regarded as applicable to the universal domain and as the only legitimate criterion (monism).

16 Furthermore, Sen went on to criticize even John Rawls' political liberalism, which had attacked the uni-dimensionality of utilitarianism and incorporated multi-dimensional features, because Rawlsian political liberalism allowed a universalistic interpretation after all. As a result, Sen looked to a method to go beyond New Welfare Economics, Arrovian social choice theory, and even Rawlsian political liberalism. At its core was the capability approach to care about diverse individual beings equally and Sen's social choice model to consider diverse individual evaluations equally.

17 The capability approach, which shares the philosophy of freedom with political liberalism, but which approaches more concrete individuals difficulties in the space of basic well-being freedoms, and which helps us to recognize the fundamental differences (non-exchangeability) and the fundamental equality (contingencies in our existences), starts from diversity as a fact and goes towards equality as a norm. The plurality of spaces and incompleteness of judgement, which are the methodological assumptions of the capability approach, bring about strong reasons, why we should accept equality as a norm, why we should respect every individual as an agency evaluating his/her own freedoms as well as why we should protect his/her own existence (basic freedoms) through resource transfers in society (at the local, national and global levels). 17

18 It is very difficult to prove, both empirically and logically, the validity of theories in social sciences, let alone to falsify them (as Popper noted). When their purpose is to achieve improved consequences for people's well-being, the process of their judgements inevitably depends on people's evaluation of their own well-being. If respect of people's free will imposes restrictions on the achievement process, the result varies according to individual choices as a matter of fact. The capability approach and Sen's social choice model go beyond the conventional view of science in making clear the indeterminancy and incompleteness while aiming to provide people with a guidance for practices. What kinds of consequences a theory can actually bring about depends on many people's current and future activities, which are influenced by that theory.

19 3. Economic philosophy Let me share my view in placing Sen's economics in terms of 'economic philosophy.' Another economic philosopher, Yuichi Shionoya, reexamined assumptions of neoclassical economics from three perspectives of epistemology, ontology, and value theory when searching for a new methodological framework for economics (Shionoya 2004). His framework can help clarify that neoclassical economics provides a logic to give an undifferentiated explanation for all three perspectives without clearly distinguishing them. That is, according to neoclassical economics, an individual's situation is nothing but a direct consequence of his/her own act of maximizing self-interest based on his/her own preferences (however they were formed) under certain constraints (whatever they are) and given market prices.

20 Epistemology Ontology Value theory Undifferentiated Neo-Classical Theory Under free market competitions In equilibrium, (the optimal condition) Marginal Rate of Substitution = Marginal Rate of Transformation = Market Prices Optimal Outcomes with Individual Preferences, given Market Prices New Methodology of Economics Reconstruction of welfare state How should we make right judgements? How can human beings live well? What kinds of values Should we pursue, why?

21 We can borrow Shionoya's framework to classify Sen's wide-ranging contributions and obtain the following bird-view of his economic philosophy. The rows represent six themes in economic philosophy derived inductively from Sen's works and his methodological research ('science and literature') underlying them. The columns have three perspectives of economic philosophy. An asterisk (*) shows which theme has been studied from which perspective(s). The more asterisks one has, the stronger Sen's commitment is to the theme and perspective. (A Borda scoring method is used here.)

22 The universe of Amartya Sen s Economic Philosophy Philosophical Angles Themes Epistemology Information & Judgment Equity and Justice Ontology Individuality and Value Theory Prices Moral values Positionality Wealth and Income * ** *** Poverty and Inequality *** ** * Rationality and Reasoning *** ** * Freedom and Rights ** *** * Market and Democracy ** * *** Ethics, Law and Philosophy * * * Science and Literature (mathematics, logics, poems, fables)

23 We don't attempt to classify Sen's countless works into these cells now (I have done in my book, Gotoh, 2017 in Japanese) but let me just point out the following: Each cell signifies an academic discipline with an independent theme and perspective. Hence there can be eighteen areas of study (six themes and three perspectives). To each we can add its applied, practical, or empirical field and Sen's economic philosophy can be a loose association of at least thirty-six areas of inquiry. Finally, the methodology ('science and literature') supporting these areas may possibly include different methodological issues to be studied. Only three themes among these, i.e., 'Wealth and Income,' 'Poverty and Inequality,' and 'Rationality and Reasoning' belong to narrowly-defined welfare economics.

24 However, a person's life, well-being, and freedom cannot be reduced to these elements only. It is inevitably related to rights, ethics, laws, institutions, and customs. Sen's economic philosophy has shown abundant possibilities of economic study, whose goal has required collaboration with many different disciplines and people in practice. Such a broad scope of his economics mirrors his personality and interests very well. At the same time, however, we have to bear in mind that this reflects thoughts and experiences of countless people in the past and the historical present that people today want to hand over to the future.

25 Appendix 1 With the concept of positional objectivity, we can have an angle to loosen the dichotomy of choice or opportunity relative to subjectivity or objectivity. Logically, four cases can be derived from the combination of individuality or positionality and subjectivity or objectivity as Figure shows. A person, who simultaneously belongs to multiple positions such as social class, gender, citizenship, or profession, can examine each positionsituated evaluation through the eyes of other position-situated evaluations. The capability approach can provide a framework to analyze such a transpositional assessment (Sen, 2002, 467), which consists of individuals reflective activities in public discussion.

26 Figure The Structure of an Individual s Identity or Self Subjectivity Objectivity Individuality Positionality Pure subjectivity i.e. autonomous and responsible preference and choice Free from intervene Positional objectivity i.e. adaptive preference Count as a factor of capability Can be intervened Individual Characteristics i.e. (natural) basic skill Count as a factor of capability Free from intervene Group Characteristics i.e. social disadvantages Count as a factor of capability Can be intervened Interpersonally non-comparable Interpersonally comparable

27 Appendix 2 Sen s Social Choice Model with the capability theory How to reconstruct Rawlsian original position as well as Arrovian social choice theory

28 Rawls s Original Position Original position Agenda: principles of justice The range of evaluators: Parties: persons who have the rational and the reason Symmetric voting power Epistemological condition: Impartiality: detached from any information other than general facts of human society Informational condition: possible positional differences of individuals and labor incentives in society The index of position: possession of social primary goods (endogenous to the model) Formal constraints on the concept of right: universality; generality; publicity, ordering, finality well-ordered society The range of recipients: all members in society Society: society as cooperation, with certain political ideas, certain public frameworks of thought Actual society Individual Positions are different but fully interchangeable relative to distribution rules Equality in primary goods is realized but Inequality in spaces other than primary goods remains. Puts off the problem to the following stages (constitutions, laws, practices): keeps theoretically silent (negatively allows the problem to be neglected with the excuse of equality in primary goods)

29 Modification of Rawls s Original Position towards Sen s idea (A) Reach of constitution of liberty : including right to well-being freedom; equality in capability Original position Agenda: rank institutions and social states for realization of individual freedom and equality Range of evaluators: all individuals in different positions Symmetrical decision power (with support regarding the differences in exercising this power) Epistemological condition: Impartiality: detached from any information other than general facts of human society Informational condition: possible positional differences of individuals Index of position: capability (exogenous to the model) Formal constraints of the concept of right: incomplete universality, generality, publicity, ranking Incompletely wellordered society Range of recipients: all members in society Society: Individual positions are different and not interchangeable relative to social institutions Equality in the concept of basic capability with difference in the conception of basic capability Beyond the constitution of liberty Actual social society realization of individual freedom and equality beyond institution The problem of institution: If equality in a space of capability is targeted to achieve, inequality in other spaces of capability remains. However, the conception of capability goes beyond institutional arrangements. It requires identifying the basic capability of each individual, which should be secured by society, according to each individual (name).

30 A Modification of Rawls s Original Position by Sen s Idea of Justice: (a social choice rule which associates each n-tuples of individual values to a social value) Pre-original position Decide a social choice rule used in original position: exp. the following (A) or (B) Symmetrical decision power (with support regarding differences in exercising decision power) Impartiality: detached from any information other than general facts of human society, exp. differences in positions: The index of position: primary goods or capability Original position Given social choice rule (A) or (B), each individual evaluates social policies predicting the consequences in the actual society (A)Symmetrical decision power: but individuals are requested to provide particular information on their positions (B)Asymmetrical decision power: according to differences in positions. That is, individuals are expected to decide based on particular information about their positions. Actual social society realization of individual freedom and equality beyond the framework of institution Asymmetrical distribution rule -- regarding differences of capability might be chosen and be implemented conception of capability goes beyond institutional arrangement

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