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[Report] Dr. Amartya Kumar Sen says, “Do not wait for others to take action”

Waseda University conferred an honorary doctorate to Dr. Amartya Kumar Sen, the Thomas W. Lamont Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. He received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions in various academic areas, especially welfare economics and social choice theory.

Preceding the conferral ceremony, a roundtable talk was held on April 23,2018, where a group of nearly 40 Waseda students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to personally ask Dr. Sen questions on different topics, ranging from technical subjects such as the Nash social welfare function to the idea of empowerment and how it can take many forms. This talk was organized by the Center of Positive/Empirical Analysis of Political Economy ,Global Asia Research Center and Faculty of Political Science and Economics.

One doctoral student asked about the connection between democracy and poverty, pointing out that democracy today is producing a rather serious inequality instead of trying to avoid critical issues such as poverty and famine. He expressed his concern that there are some people who claim highly educated individuals should have more rights and better compensation compared to the poor.

To this, Dr. Sen replied that though democracy may have been compatible with inequality, when a country gives up on democracy, it could end up in civil wars, naming Sudan and Somalia as examples. “It is important not to throw a baby out of the bathwater, democracy in this case. If people are well-informed, they can make good decisions. There is a need for democracy with an open, public discussion where anyone could participate.”

Professor Masaru Kohno, who facilitated the talk, expanded the conversation by commenting that social media could take advantage of free speech in a malicious way, illustrated by the spread of fake news worldwide. Dr. Sen expressed his opinion that though open social media is called for in some ways, there are risks of social media being exploited, and intelligent regulation would become necessary.

During the talk, Dr. Sen advised future researchers to conduct research not only based on importance but also because it interests them, and spoke about ideals and justice. He said that ideals, though sometimes not realizable immediately, are what move and inspire people, helping them to think and strive for something bigger. Lastly, he concluded the talk, saying, “Do not wait for others to take action. If you know something is good for the world and have the power to do it, you should not wait but just go ahead with it.”

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