Capability perspective

The world “capability” consists of ability and potentiality of a person. Thus, capability of person is to move, to be clothed and sheltered, to meet nutritional level, to be in good health, and to have power to participate in the social process. Access to goods and services (e.g. education, health, and transportation) may not benefit people because of lacking physical and financial capacity and social opportunity. The three major components of capability which are complementary to each other are,

1. Endowment (commodities and assets)

2. Individual capacity

3. Social opportunities

Ability helps people to escape from poverty. When person does not have adequate ability, potentiality (i.e. constitution of endowment) may prevent the person from falling into poverty. Thus, ability helps to act against poverty and potentiality works for protection towards risk. In reality both components of capability (ability and potentiality) depends on individual capacity. People may not utilize endowments and assets because of lack of information, education, awareness, illness and so on.

A true development intervention should work for uplifting vulnerable labors from capability poverty, which means improved capability of a labor can improve his or her income. Therefore, development interventions need focus towards improving adequate standard of living of a person and eventually improving capability rather raising income only. RBA intends to ensure minimum standard of living, which includes right to food, health, education, adequate housing etc., which are fundamental needs for having capable persons. According to Rodrik, focusing on poverty is also warranted from the perspective of a broader, capabilities-oriented approach to development. He notes that an exclusive focus on consumption or income levels constitutes too narrow an approach to development. Sen (1999: 19) has explained the complex relationship between income and capabilities. Low income can cause illiteracy, ill health, hunger, and lack of well being. On the contrary, better health and education may help a person to earn well. In my opinion, Income poverty leads to potentiality poverty. Potentiality poverty leads to capability poverty. The cycle may occur in reverse way too, for example, capability deprivation – potentiality poverty- income poverty. According to Sen, if we shift our focus from “income poverty” to “capability deprivation”, it would help us to understand freedom of human lives from poverty.

Capability and Distributive justice for adequate standard of living

When human well-being and capability is the objective, distributive justice could be the means for fulfilling basic needs. Living standard and quality of life is higher in affluent and wealthy state than poor nations. Similarly, wealthy and rich people have improved quality life than poor within a poor state. Thus, poor countries with limited resources and poor having no resources are deprived of quality life, which in turn deprives capability of the people. If need is based on consumption of commodities, concept of need could be changed over time. Number of consumption may increase and become necessary need for tomorrow. Thus, basic need concept of development paradigm is now becoming obsolete. On the other hand, human capability for better functioning and enjoying freedom is now on the stage[i].

Adequate standard of living need to be justified. I claim that adequate house, health, education, food, and work could be the requirements to capable a person for functioning. Fulfillment of these fundamental rights creates atmosphere and opportunities for people to function. According to Dubois & Rousseau (2003), through design of human development strategies and capabilities the process, “…leads to the improvement of access to health and education services, to adequate nutrition and safe water supply, thus improving the level of human capital. It also helps to fight against social exclusion by increasing empowerment and participation in public decisions, therefore reinforcing the level of social capital.”

Here, we are not taking in to account consumption of commodities and luxuries, which are relative in the context of wealth and culture. Television set, car, refrigerator, air conditions, oven, etc. could be essential stuff for households in rich country, where these commodities may be luxuries and may not be relevant for poor of poor countries. Therefore, adequate standard of living could be minimum human essentials to function, to earn, to take part in social life, which could be universally acceptable for living with human dignity. We do not elaborate here comparing “need” and “want” of human being. Minimum nutrition and food is a need for human survival. Want could be extended for better food, nice restaurants, and music and more. Thus, increased income and wealth lead human for consuming more luxuries. Our focus area is marginalized poor of third world countries and so as focus is on “adequate standard of living” for them.

Distributive justice means the just allocation of goods in a society. Thoughts relating wealth disparity and inequality of living standard go in line with distribution justice. Egalitarianism version means people should be treated equal in some respect.

Development cooperation and aid once dominated by 1960s and 70s basic need theories is now shifting focus towards rights, people centered, capability, and functioning. As noted in Hellsten (2003),

The capability approach then gives alternative moral criteria for global distribution and particularly for the issues of development cooperation, development aid and globalized economy in general. We should make sure that whatever resources, commodities, services we provide to the poor countries, these countries can use these benefits to realize human capital and human resources, by realizing human functionings and human capabilities.

Poor is the object of development agenda whether their capability enhancement is a development subject. According to Alexander (2004), theory of human rights helps to effectively address many contemporary issues of social justice. Human rights has provided inspiration and guide lines to governments, national courts, parliaments, nongovernmental organizations, professionals and social activists for effectively combating atrocities and unjust social practices in different parts of the world. Thus, theory of human rights also came up with an agenda for equitable society. This theory takes side to the oppressed and disadvantaged whose rights are deprived and violated.

John Rawl’s two principles are[ii],

1) Principle of Equal Liberty: Each person has an equal right to the most extensive liberties compatible with similar liberties for all. (Egalitarian.)

2) Difference Principle: Social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged persons, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of equality of opportunity.

Rawl’s principle 2 (a) clearly points towards “least advantaged persons”. There are some criticisms about the contradiction of principles, which end in confusion and this paper has little scope to revisit these areas. However, distributive justice is useful at combating food insecurity and hunger.

End notes:
[i] According to Dr. Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten ,“ Meeting needs for individual freedom or social confinement: Capability ethics, basic needs and Redistribution of Justice”, approach moves from mere need satisfaction to human flourishing by defending the moral appropriateness of the concept of human well being measured in terms of human capabilities. Human capabilities provide fundamental moral categories for the evaluation of resources distribution. It concentrates on our freedom to promote objectives we have reason to value, such as participation/democracy, human rights and equality would be. In summary basic functionings and capabilities are life and health, and more advanced ones capabilities to personal integrity, thought, emotions, practical reason, affiliation/participation, control over one’s fate/environment.

[ii] for detail see


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