Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate argues, “in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.”[1] According to Sen, severe famine does not happen if a country is autonomous (independent), fair and accountable (democratic), and encourages free exchange of ideas (free press). Autonomous government has the power to allocate resources according to domestic concerns, and democratic government has duty to accommodate societal concerns guided by the rule of law. Relatively free press allows citizens to express their concerns freely and notifies government with challenges in society.

The Great Leap Famine in China could also have been prevented if China at the time was independent, democratic, with a relatively free press, as Sen suggested. The Great Leap Famine was led by three key factors: Mao ignoring precautionary alarm suggested by the political elites; Mao silencing intellectuals from suggesting alternative agricultural-scientific theories; and top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was not informed about the villagers dying of famine. These could have been easily prevented under the Sen’s conditions because democratic institutionalization allows political elites to freely discuss policies, freedom of expression encourages intellectuals to freely criticize scientific theories, and democratic election and mass media coverage motivates citizens to freely address their concerns. In addition to Sen’s argument, authoritarian government can also prevent substantial famine if the government is autonomous, fair, accountable, and encourages free exchange of ideas such as China today.

[1] Sen 3-17.

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