Da he, this 86-year-old scholar, sits in front of a white fireplace, in a gray suit, red tie, dark horn-rimmed glasses and beaming like a child. When one of the honorable speakers has spoken, Amartya Sen folds his hands in thanks. The Indian economist and state philosopher carries more than a hundred honorary doctorates and has won countless prizes, but this is the “citizen’s crown of humanity”, formulated Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his laudation. Since the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was awarded, for the first time there have been neither prize winners nor laudators and fewer than seventy guests in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche because of the pandemic. But the dignity of the “citizen’s crown” shines in a living room in Boston.
Editor in business, responsible for “People and Business”.
Even as a young economics student in Calcutta, he was gripped by the ambition to crack the seemingly insoluble theorem of impossibility. It says that one cannot consistently draw conclusions from individual preferences about collective decisions. He was also shaped by the first-hand death of a Muslim who fell victim to the religious war in post-colonial India, and the famine in West Bengal. Sen is a world economist who stands firmly on the foundations of Adam Smith, Antoine de Condorcet and Kenneth Arrow, who values the market, considers growth desirable, but puts freedom above everything. “The positive effect of the market mechanism on economic growth is without question important,” he wrote in 1999 in “Development as Freedom”. “But this consideration is secondary and only takes effect after the immediate meaning of freedom – namely to exchange words, goods, gifts – has been recognized.”
As firmly as Amartya Sen is firmly rooted in economic theory, he has formulated criticism of it clearly. The gross domestic product is an insufficient measure for development. From this thought he derived an indicator that includes health and education and is the basis of the United Nations Human Development Index. He solved the problem of individual preferences in social choice and helped to make welfare measurable. With the skills approach, he provided a multidimensional model to operationalize development. For all of this he received the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.
Against the “pandemic of authoritarianism”
“Today we honor a person who is connected like no other with the idea of global justice,” said the actor Burghart Klaußner from Steinmeier’s laudation, whose bodyguard had tested positive for the virus. Sen is a world citizen, a “public intellectual” and a moral authority. Global justice can only be achieved if the world is divided. Sen has made it clear that autocratic regimes can be rich, but they are inferior to liberal states. For Sen, democracy is not a luxury item, Steinmeier put it. “It is a worldwide longing and a universal promise. The demonstrators on the streets of Caracas, Minsk and Hong Kong also remind us of this. “
Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, head of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, particularly went into Sens’s remarks on religious and political identity. If people like Kader Mia, the Muslim victim from Sens’s childhood, were reduced to belonging to a religion, beliefs would be placed above human rights. With the in-depth reading of Sens’s books, it was confirmed that he was the worthy winner for the Corona year. He gave a voice to distributive justice and feminism and opposed a “war of cultures”.
Sen himself spoke about economic issues in a press conference on Thursday. The pandemic could promote solidarity and even have a positive effect on life expectancy. Thinking about climate change could be useful for the survival of mankind because, for the first time, it doesn’t just have to think about itself. In his award speech, on the other hand, he seemed to want to erase any remaining doubts that Corona and “Black Lives Matter” honored the right person in the year. From the Indian Hindu nationalists to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary to the governments of Brazil and the Philippines, he painted the picture of a “pandemic of authoritarianism”: “Today there is hardly anything more urgent in society than global resistance to increasing authoritarianism all over the world” said Sen.