Sen Cautiously Praises Economy

In his Commencement speech before Harvard graduates, Lamont University Professor Amartya K. Sen spoke enthusiastically about world trade but stressed that students must "confront the consequences of global inequality."

President Neil L. Rudenstine introduced Sen as a "purposeful explorer and humanist" and praised his "well-tempered idealism."

The Nobel laureate then launched into a broad, general speech entitled "Global Doubts." Sen expounded on many of the questions that have won him renown in both economic and philosophical circles.

Sen first lauded the increase in economic prosperity that international trade has brought.

"The case for global trade is strong," he said. "There is extensive evidence that the global economy has brought prosperity to many areas of the globe."

Sen then went on to describe the ethical and moral doubts and questions that have been raised by globalization, which have been a hallmark of his work.

"We must also acknowledge the inequality between and within countries," Sen said.

Describing the current trend towards globalization as an intensification of several processes--migration and technological advancement among them--Sen embraced the idea of free markets but said that "a well-functioning market mechanism does not obviate the need for democracy and civil rights."

A comprehensive world view, he said, "needs not rejection of the market mechanism, but the recognition that the market mechanism works in a world with many other institutions--the press, democracy, health care, education and women's rights."

Sen endorsed an expanded role for the United Nations in the future and even took a few potshots at the U.S. Senate.

"[In the future]existing institutions can address existing doubts more fully and the U.N. can increase its influence more than it has," he said. "The U.N. has been kept in a precarious financial situation by member countries refusing to pay their dues--especially one."

When asked if he was referring to Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a primary opponent of paying U.N. dues, Sen denied that he intended to focus on any particular senator.

Sen also addressed concerns about other international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

"It is necessary to reexamine the balance of power of international finance," he said. "After World War II these institutions have helped create prosperity, but they have not helped with redistribution."

"The world has changed much since the 1940s," Sen said, alluding to the increased understanding of the global economy and the spread of democracy.

"The world of Bretton Woods is not the world in which we live today," he said.

In his 30-minute long speech, Sen also made several pointed criticisms of the inequality within the U.S. While African-Americans in the U.S. are poorer than whites, he said, they are richer than people in developing countries.

But, he said, blacks in America have a lower life expectancy due to the lack of medical insurance and other inner city institutions, which the current economic boom has not fixed.

In spite of these doubts, however, Sen carefully avoided indicting the process of global integration.

"The opposite of globalization is seclusion and autarky," he said.

Sen summoned the image of a frog, living in a well, who is suspicious of everything outside.

"The frog has a worldview, but it's just inside the well," he said.

Several members of the audience regarded Sen's speech warmly.

"It was very interesting," said Warren M. Little '55. "He balanced the need for globalization with the problems that can come with it."

A member of the Committee for the Happy Observance of Commencement, he also said that "[Sen] is a good, loyal Harvard man to have to speak to us."