Nobel Prize Winning Economist Praises Pope Francis’ Approach

August 6, 2015

At a series of conferences in Milan, the Nobel Prize-winning economist underlined how Pope Francis is helping people to understand and discuss problems and to create awareness about many current social issues. “He is the only person who is in a recognized position of authority and who helps people to reason about issues regarding Humanity”. “He is not only the head of the Catholic Church, but also the head speaking for Humanity”.  Author of Individual Freedom as Social Engagement (1990), Sen, one of the most influential eminent voice in these very important issues regarding poverty and inequalities, has shown that the first thing to be clear about in understanding hunger and its persistence.  There is the need to see food deprivation as an economic problem rather than as a narrowly defined “food problem”.  

In his book Poverty and Famine published in 1981 and in his studies more than 40 years ago, he tried to use a concept that he called “food entitlement”, in order to understand and to explain the causation behind or the preceding phases and the characteristic which are at the basis of hunger and famine.  This same idea is linked to the theme of availability of goods in general and to the availability of food in particular and is therefore relevant in understanding the persistence of hunger.  The basic idea of food entitlement is extremely simple and elementary. Since food and other commodities are not distributed freely to people, their consumption in general – and the ability to consume food in particular – must depend on the basket of goods and services that people can respectively buy or have entitlement to.

In a market economy, the crucial variable is the amount of food that a person can buy in the market, or directly own by having produced in one’s own plot of land.  What we can buy on the market would depend on the level of the income, or the goods produced and sold, or from the services that can be offered or the labour power that can be sold through wage and employment, it depends from our status and from our labour situation.

Hunger and starvation result from some people not having enough food to eat – it is not a characteristic of there not being enough food to eat in the country or the region.  Sen said the crucial variable to understand is the relevance of the entitlement set, the ability to command food and  alternative basket of goods within the entitlement’s borders.  In a market economy, entitlements depends on what resources we have, what the endowments are, and on initial or basic asset that can be used directly for production or for sell in the market, on real opportunity the markets offer for our labor and from prices and availability of food and other commodities that can be bought on the market.

Hunger and food deprivation arise primarily from entitlement failure plus underdevelopment of public health facilities with all the consequences in terms of critical health problems, education levels, for the role the education has to enable people to get a job in the market and earn an income. The above mentioned underdevelopment of public health facilities and educations systems contribute and determine various problems and the widespread of undernourishment is one of these.

On this point there are the words of Pope Francis from the Address to Participants in the 39th Session of the F.A.O. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) in the Clementine Hall:  “In this perspective I hope that in the planning of the tasks the Member States will operate following the inspiration that the right to food can be guaranteed if only we take care of the real subject – the man who suffers the effects of hunger and undernourishment. The real subject!”.  Francis underlines that if poverty in one country is a social problem to which solutions can be found in other contexts it is a structural problem where beyond social policies it is necessary to address it putting back solidarity at the heart of international relations, moving it from vocabulary to policy options: “the politics of the other”.   The idea of entitlements opens up the door to many areas of concerns, and connects a variety of complex interconnected factors.

Commenting on what citizens have at their disposal:  Amartya Sen answers that a way to have influence is certainly “speaking up” and “let our voice be heard” as there is no other way to be heard than “demand attention”. “Only if people, citizen together demand attention here comes the attention and that is why reasoning, public debate and mobilization can be important, gather together to let the voice be heard, when you can leverage on this you should use it to reach these goals, that is very important”.