13 May

Freedom vs. poverty

Freedom vs. poverty

Amartya Sen, Indian economist who won the Nobel prize for economics in 1998, a year later, in 1999, published his book "Development as Freedom", in which he expressed: "... development can be conceived (...) as a process of expansion of the real freedoms enjoyed by individuals ".

The first impression generated by reading this powerful phrase, is that this book speaks of "liberalism" or "neoliberalism" ... but no; Amartya Sen is not referring to the limited "laissez faire, laissez passer" of classical liberalism, he distinguishes at least five types of freedom:

  1. Political freedoms, that is to say, the full exercise of democracy, the capacity of "agency" of people to influence the political life of their community, their city, their country, and particularly in the decision-making regarding the use of public resources.
  2. Economic freedoms, which refer to the full exercise of the right of people to prosper and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity, an aspect that Sen always analyzes related to the redistribution of wealth and access to financial services.
  3. Social opportunities, which are nothing other than access to public services available to a state to improve its human capital, such is the case of educational services.
  4. Guarantees of transparency, that is, access to and the free use of information by people, as well as the establishment of the necessary and sufficient mechanisms to guarantee that the corrupt and fraudulent practices of individuals, companies and institutions are reduced. the time to disappear.
  5. Protective security, which refers to access to protection elements provided by society as a whole to the most vulnerable and least favored groups, either permanently as subsidies or exceptionally in cases of catastrophes.

Amartya Sen moves away from the classical conception of development directly and almost exclusively related to the growth of the product; resorting to Aristotle-who in the Nicomachean Ethics maintains: "... wealth can not be an end in itself ..." - considers that economic growth is a means to reach freedom, which is first and foremost the main goal of development (here we can distinguish the constitutive role of freedom as development), but also, together with economic growth, an important element of economic freedom, the other liberties must be increased in parallel to achieve true development (this is the instrumental role of the freedom in development), in this way Sen conceives freedom as an end and as a means.

At the international level, the human development approach of the UN has been (and is) strongly influenced by Amartya Sen's approach, especially in the multidimensional conception of poverty, and - in contrast, if development is considered an increment of liberties - in the understanding of poverty as the increase of restrictions to the generation of capacities.

On the other hand, from the year 2005 with the Declaration of Paris, in which the donor countries of funds destined to the ODA (Official Development Assistance) question the effectiveness of this aid, since despite a flow of resources that averaged 120,000 million dollars per year, no significant effects were observed in the reduction of poverty at the global level (this aid, by the way, should exceed 420,000 million dollars annually, but few donor countries comply with the commitment to allocate 0.07% of its GDP to ODA), 175 countries, as well as the main IFIs (International Financial Institutions) of the world are committed to increasing the freedoms with which the countries receiving ODA resources define their needs and goals of development, through the commitments of "Appropriation", "Alignment", "Harmonization", and "Stewardship" that are reflected in this declaration, a position different from the traditional "recipes" of development of the IMF and the IDB that in past decades had disastrous results when imposed in several developing countries.

Therefore, in the international panorama it is observed that, at least nominally, there are signs tending to increase the freedoms so that the developing countries can accelerate their step towards this long-awaited goal; However, at the national level, centralism represents a tremendous obstacle for subnational governments to freely define their needs, their solution alternatives, their goals, implement their programs, increase their capacities and generate local development.

Hundreds, even billions of dollars from international aid and own resources (royalties and taxes) stagnate in central government departments, are devoured by bureaucratic systems in the form of current administrative expenditure, programs dependent on ministries and vice-ministries dilapidate large amounts of resources without generating significant effects at departmental, provincial or municipal level, much less at sub-municipal levels (at the level of cities or communities); Many of these resources are reverted to their funding sources due to the limited capacity to execute these programs and others are the subject of corruption scandals.

Special mention deserves the absolutely null capacity of agency on the part of the Bolivians in making decisions regarding the use of public resources, while the population calls for greater investment in health, education, employment, justice, culture, urban mobility, citizen security , and a long list of etceteras, resources are spent on projects not publicly agreed, such as the Orinoca museum, the so-called "Casa del Pueblo", the satellite "Tupac Katari" among many others.

How much does centralism cost our country? How many of the five categories of freedom identified by Amartya Sen have Bolivians conquered? In which we have at least some progress and which have not even started? Can we really say that our development indexes have improved in the last thirteen years, or on the contrary, are we still obsessed by the neoliberal mirage of GDP growth? How many years of development would we have advanced with a more decentralized use of resources in the last decade? are only some questions that come to mind, the answers will arise from research efforts that of course will not come from state agencies, because it is very likely that they are not to the full liking of those who currently administer our country.

Marco Villarroel is an economist, specialist in preparation, monitoring and evaluation of social impact programs and projects.