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"A second, and less obvious way, of changing the entitlement structure is to think critically about the rules and institutions that underlie the current structure of entitlements. Why, for example, do we allow credit card companies to charge interest rates that would once have been illegal under usury laws? Why aren't credit rating agencies, which exercise such control over people's entitlements, better regulated? When do landlords have the right to evict tenants, and what is a reasonable penalty for being unable to pay rent?"

Literally every economic policy or lack of policy influences people's real income and wealth. The word entitlement is not standard economic terminology, at least in North America, and I don't see why we should adopt it. Every work in the economics literature is about these questions, including the many that consider usury laws. His weird use of terminology to try to make banal observations that have been made in a hundred places before seem unique and important reminds me a lot of reading Karl Marx's economic work, where much of Capital consists of him badly reproducing classical economic thought with his own tortured definitions and terminology.

Trevor - you do have a point about the excessive formalism of some of Sen's work. But complaining about formalism in 1970s-style economics is like complaining about long self-indulgent guitar solos in 1970s-style music. That was just the way they rocked things back then.

In terms of the banality of Sen's observations - they seem banal now in part because Sen's ideas have become so widely accepted. In the 1970s and 80s, the idea that famines should be addressed through economic policy rather than technocratic food-aid type solutions was new and radical.

It would be nice to think that Sen's observations have no relevance for today's crisis. It would also be nice to think that the fact that people will starve if they don't have any income or way of earning income would be so obvious that it doesn't need stating. But when I look at the joblessness numbers, and some countries' policy responses, I'm not so sure this is the case.

Beautifully put, Frances. (I initially shared Trevor's reaction.)

Declan - thanks!

When Sen was writing, the response to famine was led by agricultural experts who focused there *being* enough food and ignored the economic and social forces meant people sometimes didn't *have* enough food, even if food was available.

I wouldn't want to press the analogy with today's situation too far, but I do think it's important to have economists, sociologists and psychologists in the room, as well as epidemiologists (irrespective of any of those groups GRE scores!), when policy is being made.

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