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On Economic Inequality$

Amartya Sen

Print publication date: 1973

Print ISBN-13: 9780198281931

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198281935.001.0001

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A.1.3 Further Issues

A.1.3 Further Issues

Source:
On Economic Inequality
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

The listing, in the previous section, of problems that received attention in OEI‐1973 is, of course, quite incomplete, but it captures some of the focal concentrations in that project. However, some of the issues briefly identified in OEI‐1973 did not receive any substantial exploration there, and some important matters were not even identified. A substantial part of this annexe will be devoted to explorations that have occurred since then in these fields. These issues include, among other problems, the implications for inequality evaluation of variations of mean income (briefly referred to on pp. 36–7, 60–1 in OEI‐1973), requirements of transfer sensitivity (discussed generally, but not in an axiomatically systematic way, on pp. 27–33 in OEI‐1973), and demands of decomposability and subgroup consistency (briefly considered and rather rapidly ‘dismissed’ on pp. 31–4, 39–41 in OEI‐1973). These problems (p.124) are not only important in their own right, they also relate to the general strategy of inequality evaluation pursued in OEI‐1973. In sections A.2–A.5 these issues will be considered, inter alia, in the context of general discussions of the post‐1973 literature.

There is also the related subject of poverty evaluation, which was not explicitly taken up in OEI‐1973, even though the discussions on the measurement and appraisal of inequality have a clear bearing on poverty studies. In Sen (1976b) some of the considerations involved in inequality evaluation, as discussed in OEI‐1973, were applied to the measurement and appraisal of income poverty, and many interesting and important contributions in this general field have occurred in contemporary poverty studies. Section A.6 will examine the main lines of work.

A major problem that received only indirect attention concerns the implications of the variability of needs between different people. This subject made recurrent appearances in OEI‐1973 (see, for example, pp. 16–23, 77–91), but did not get translated into a decisive move away from judging inequality only in the space of incomes or utilities. Further, the characterization of needs may require us to go beyond the utility‐oriented framework to which the 1973 book was more or less entirely confined. In particular, the ‘space’ in which inequality is to be assessed becomes specifically important to consider.

These matters are of central relevance to concepts of justice and equity, and they lie very close to the normative measurement of inequality. Different ways of judging individual advantage other than incomes (including ‘primary goods’, ‘resources’, ‘functionings’, ‘capabilities’, ‘opportunities for welfare’, and so on) have received much attention in the contemporary theories of justice, and their bearing on the evaluation of inequality and poverty will be considered in section A.7.