Sen's deepest enemy in this book is the so-called "Lee thesis," attributed to Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, to the effect that in the Third World, those political systems that suppress democracy and civil liberties are likely to grow faster. Democracy and political rights, according to the Lee thesis, are luxuries that must await affluence. By contrast, Sen asserts that freedom is the very goal of economic development, and economic development will not occur without a parallel development of economic freedom.
Sen's argument was formulated in the mid-1990's, when there was some serious question as to whether authoritarian development, as in Singapore and China, was indeed superior to democratic development, as in India. Some ten or fifteen years later, the attractiveness of the Lee thesis has waned. Without democracy and political rights, governments inevitably become corrupt and inefficient, the result being neither development of freedom or wealth. We must admire Sen for staking out in a completely uncompromising way a reasonable position on the relationship between freedom and development. Sen stresses not only the evils of corruption and the short-sightedness of thinking of wealth in purely material terms, but also the intensely liberating effects of gender equality in not only empowering women, but in undermining the tribal and patriarchal roots of backwardness.
This book reads like an official United Nations document. It is formal and repetitive. The book could be cut to 80 pages instead of its current 366, and it would be an exciting read. Sen is also a bit tedious and pompous, ever playing the role of the wise patrician. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful work that deserves to be respected.