Three children — Anne, Bob and Carla — are quarrelling over a flute: Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it; Bob demands it on the basis that he is so poor that — unlike others — he has no other toys to play with and it would therefore mean a lot to him if the flute were given to him; and Carla says that it belongs to her because she has made it with her own labour.
I think the best solution is for Carla to sell her flute to Anne for a price and thereby get rewarded for her efforts. In the interest of justice, Carla should probably teach Bob how to make his own flute. That way Bob gains a flute as well as the skill to make and sell more flutes, which in turn will hopefully make him ‘rich enough’ to buy other kinds of toys as well. Sen believes there is no perfect solution.
I think this solution structure fits in well with the reservation debate in India. Meritorious students claim that they deserve seats in the best institutions owing to their demonstrated capabilities. The supporters of reservations argue that reserving seats (on non-merit based criteria) is the only way in which backward castes can get into the mainstream of society. The government of course actually creates or facilitates the creation of seats. So, what the government must do is to sell these seats to the meritorious for a price, and invest aggressively in the skill enhancement of the so called backward communities so that they can play on a level playing field with the others.
Instead the government is arbitrarily giving away seats to individuals who may not yet have developed adequate skills to compete with the mainstream, thereby ensuring that these people have a symbolic tag of education, but not necessarily skills that will lead to employment or any improvement in their quality of life.