Sunday, February 03, 2008

Famine without Free Press

Amartya Sen pointed out in his essay The Value of Democracy that "in the terrible history of famines in the world, no sustainable famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press."

Human Rights Watch was taking press rights seriously when it accepted this proposition and agreed that the best way to prevent famine today is secure the rights of a free press. They go on to say that free press can also prevent outbreaks of HIV/AIDS.

Except that press freedom entails a class system. In countries where the ability to publish is prevented by substantial economic barriers, important information may not get out from deep beneath the social strata. When Sen and HRW say press freedoms, then, we can assume they mean more broadly to secure the right to free expression and free information. Otherwise, while I think this analysis is interesting and thought provoking, a free press class is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to prevent famine or AIDS, whereas free information and expression are. Sen's work is entirely empirical.

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