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Student Essay: Exploring Implications for Understanding of the Process of Development in Myanmar

Development as Freedom, Part I is a course taught by Dr. Mark Brown, a full-time faculty in Social Science at Parami in the 2021 Parami fall semester. The students of this class actively engaged in reading Development as Freedom, a book by Amartya Sen, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Through this in-depth reading, students learned to interpret, reflect, discuss and write insightful essays no each chapter of the book they read. 

Here is an essay by Nay Myo Zaw, a student from the course, discussing how the substantive freedom of people has far-reaching implications for understanding the development process in Myanmar and the ways and means of promoting it. 

In chapter 1 of the Development as Freedom, Sen argues that we often overlook some factors when we think about the process of development that prevents us from a broader understanding of the development and how to promote it in a meaningful way. 

Sen said, "there are far-reaching implications for our understanding of the process of development." In my understanding, those implications are incomes and capabilities, poverty and inequality, and income and mortality. We usually think of income and wealth whenever we discuss the development of a country or even the development of individuals. In our society, we primarily measure income with a person's capabilities. For example, if a person holds a higher position in the corporate hierarchy, we conclude that they must be capable and make a higher salary. Sen pointed out that the income factor cannot tell enough of the capabilities factor. Like the example he mentioned above, someone with higher capability may be ignored by a bad manager and get a lower salary than incapable employees. We should be aware that we cannot just look at the data of incomes and define the capabilities.

Secondly, we often overlook the inequality issues in poverty. Sen said, "we need to analyze poverty with the demographic, medical and social information rather than in terms of low income because it tells us a little about inequality issues." For example, in Myanmar, primarily men are getting more paid than women not because of their capabilities but the unconscious bias of society. We only see a few women in the senior management positions at Myanmar companies. He pointed out that when we see the economic development of Myanmar, we rarely see the gender pay gap in Myanmar companies. We see the overall eradication of poverty or the country's GDP. Sen concludes that we also need to focus on individual freedom, initiative, and skills rather than just fighting against poverty.

The last implication is income and mortality. Sen explained that even in higher-income countries like America, some groups such as African Americans are likely to have shorter lifespans than Chinese or Indians born in lower-income countries. And it is because we looked at the overall income level with the whole population, and we forgot to analyze the well-being of the specific groups. For example, in Myanmar, we rarely consider minority groups' well-being when discussing public health or healthcare facilities. We just looked at the overall income level of people and did not try to create social arrangements and community relations like Sen mentioned. It is crucial to consider the medical coverage, school education, law, and order for the minority groups.

In conclusion, those implications are misleading us in the wrong direction of the process of development. As mentioned in the examples, most people believe that only the income level tells the story of development. But Sen beautifully wrote that this is not the whole story; it is just part of it. We need to consider capabilities, inequalities, social arrangements, community relations, and the broader perspectives of the process of development.

Nay Myo Zaw has been joining modular courses at Parami since the 2021 fall semester. He works as Organizational Development & HR Project Manager in Yangon Region.

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