Famine, poverty, and property rights

Steven Scalet, David Schmidtz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


What causes famine? President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe blames drought. Amartya Sen observes,. Blaming nature can, of course, be very consoling and comforting. It can be of great use especially to those in positions of power and responsibility. Comfortable inaction is, however, typically purchased at a very heavy price - a price that is paid by others, often with their lives. …The points of overriding importance are: that there is no real evidence to doubt that all famines in the modern world are preventable by human action; that many countries - even some very poor ones - manage consistently to prevent them; that when people die of starvation there is almost inevitably some massive social failure (whether or not a natural phenomenon had an initiating role in the causal process); and that the responsibilities for that failure deserve explicit attention and analysis, not evasion. There is, of course, much more to be said, but we have to say the first things first. (Drèze and Sen 1989: 4 Of course, Mugabe has his reasons for wanting to blame nature rather than his own policies. If Amartya Sen's analysis of causes of famine is right, though, we should suspect that the real problem lies in a collapse of Zimbabwe's system of property rights. This chapter explains and evaluates Sen's analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAmartya Sen
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780511800511
ISBN (Print)9780521852913
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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