Sunday 31 October, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies
20 years ago the UN published the first and hugely influential Human Development Report. Drawing on the work of philosopher and economist Amartya Sen, it had the ‘single goal of putting people back at the centre of the development process… going beyond income to assess the level of people’s long-term well-being’. Today the resulting measures are familiar: literacy, female schooling, urbanisation, equality and even happiness are argued to be at least as important as GDP and income. Last year, Sen’s Idea of Justice expanded on his view that it is human ‘capabilities’ - the range of things we can do or be in life - that is core to our notion of justice, explicitly rejecting the attempts of thinkers like John Rawls to develop an objective standard of justice based on things we can all agree on.
From the late 1940s to the late 1970s there was a broad consensus that development meant transforming poor rural countries into rich urban ones through increased industrialisation and economic growth. Often this went hand in hand with a belief that justice would be best served by affording people more freedom. Today, in the context of widespread acceptance of economic and natural limits, development more often refers to the alleviation of the most extreme forms of poverty and to reducing inequality. In the context of fast-growing middle-income countries like China, Brazil and India, there is great stress placed on the need for inclusive or harmonious development. In these countries, increasing prosperity seems to shine an embarrassing light on the persistence of social inequality, leading to demands for governments to redistribute wealth and ensure basic levels of provision.
The battle lines in the contemporary debate on social justice appear to be drawn between those who argue for a focus on felt injustices, happiness and lived experience, and those who insist on the relevance of statistical indicators, model building and transcendental abstractions like Justice. Between those who rail at the excesses of wealth in the hands of the few and those who believe more growth can still benefit the poor as well.
Is it right to focus our efforts on tackling what appear to be obvious and immediate cases of injustice? Poverty, disease, oppression? Lack of basic education and healthcare? Through redistribution of wealth and granting of entitlements? Or should we try to raise up the standards of all? Is the challenge to build capabilities in relation to actual material circumstances or to transform those material circumstances and maybe ourselves in the process? Must we become happy with our lot or let our unhappiness be a spur to get what we haven’t got? When we talk of justice do we need to ask, justice for whom?
INTRODUCED BY: Sujata Sen, director East India British Council, programme leader, projects related to Intercultural Dialogue and Literature
Listen to session audio:
executive director, Centre for Development and Enterprise, South Africa; author, The Case for Business in Developing Economies
director, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI); author, Valuing Freedoms: Sen’s capability approach and poverty reduction
professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; founder, Honey Bee Network; executive vice chair, National Innovation Foundation
executive director, new economics foundation (nef); author, A Radical New Vision for World Trade
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
The growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity are increasingly seen as problematic rather than positive - a trend Daniel Ben-Ami has termed 'growth scepticism'. Prosperity is accused of encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities. Ferraris for all is a rejoinder to the growth sceptics.
Daniel Ben-Ami, Policy Press, 14 March 2012
Students from poor backgrounds will receive help to attend university as part of a wider £7 billion “fairness premium” announced today by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.Simon Baker, Times Higher Education, 15 October 2010
Cuts are hitting the poorest hardest – don't make it impossible for us to form coalition with Labour at next election, left warnsAllegra Stratton, Guardian, 20 September 2010
The race against global poverty and deprivation should by now be entering the home straight. When hundreds of ministers and aid agencies meet at the UN next Monday, they ought to be preparing for a final five-year push to achieve the organisation’s 2015 “millennium development goals” and celebrate the improvement of billions of lives across the developing world.Alan Beattie, Financial Times, 15 September 2010
Nelson Mandela implicitly challenged many of the assumptions of those who attacked companies in South Africa for operating within a racially discriminatory system when he called on SA business to invest in China – the world’s largest authoritarian state and human rights abuser. Bernstein posits that business leaders need to stop playing defence and instead stand up for markets, free trade and globalisation.
Ann Bernstein, Penguin, 26 August 2010
It has become a truism, buttressed by the hard realities of economic performance, that the 21st century will belong to Asia.Kevin Brown, Financial Times, 1 July 2010
Academic argues in new book that society has the widest divide since the days of slaveryRandeep Ramesh, Guardian, 21 April 2010
Few would dispute that we live in an unequal and unjust world, but what causes this inequality to persist? Leading social commentator and academic Danny Dorling claims in this timely book that, as the five social evils identified by Beveridge are gradually being eradicated, they are being replaced by five new tenets of injustice, viz: elitism is efficient; exclusion is necessary; prejudice is natural; greed is good; and despair is inevitable.
Danny Dorling, Policy Press, 20 April 2010
People of different persuasions—for example, utilitarians, economic egalitarians, labor right theorists, no -nonsense libertarians—might each reasonably see a clear and straightforward resolution to questions of justice; and yet, these clear and straightforward resolutions would be completely different. In light of this, Sen argues for a comparative perspective on justice that can guide us in the choice between alternatives that we inevitably face.
Amartya Sen, Allen Lane, 30 July 2009