Development Theory and Actors:
Defining the term “international development” is a difficult thing. A lot of theorists have many different opinions about what constitutes “development.” Most people feel like countries such as the United States, Denmark, the UK, and others are “developed” even though people in those countries still face many challenges. That is why Amartya Sen gives the most comprehensive view of international development in his book Development as a Freedom. Sen begins his book by talking about development as “the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy”(p.3). This is very different from the other theories of development that mostly focus on economic growth. Focusing on just GDP per capita or the average income in a specific country does not show the entire picture of a countries level of development.
The argument of Sen’s that really caught my attention was when he criticized the “real income approach.” The real income approach characterizes development by comparing individual’s utilities. This means evaluating the outcome if people were to receive the same “commodity bundle.” While in theory giving everyone the same exact commodity bundle sounds like a good idea, it ignores the differences between humans. As Sen puts in, “Differences in age, gender, special talents, disability, proneness to illness, and so on can make two different persons have quite divergent opportunities of quality of life even when they share exactly the same commodity bundle”(p.69). Sen is speaking about the difference between equality and equity and how that plays into development. It’s not enough to simply give everyone the same thing; you must ensure that they have equity in their opportunities. For example perhaps you give everyone the same amount of money to travel, but for a persons with a physical disability it may be more expensive because of the public transportation and time. This is still denying the person with a disability their right to freedoms. While researching my capstone project on microfinance I noticed that this issue could appear quite often. When giving microfinance loans it is always important to keep in mind an individual’s capabilities and needs.
I personally like Sen’s capabilities model of development because it is the most equitable form of international development theory. Instead of inserting ideals on other countries, it emphasizes that each country aims to give all the possible rights to citizens to allow them the equal opportunities to live their lives as they choose. It also does not assume that one country is perfect or does not need improvements. Even though some countries are more developed than others in terms of granting freedoms to people, countries like the United States have people that are deprived of some basic rights.