Food for an unfettered yet flagrant thought


Human Rights Reader 297


-Social and economic climbing is so often accompanied by moral degradation. (C. Fuentes)

-We know, ten times over, that free markets stand for the  primacy of shareholder value over long term social values, for investing in speculative assets over investing in real productive economic activity with all what this entails for an impact on ordinary people’s rights.


1. The global market is a sick patient suffering from unequal distribution and excessive liberalization. Its human rights (HR) consequences are far-reaching. It is thus urgently in need of restraining controls. Free markets are arenas of conflict in which actors with totally different bargaining powers interact; they invariably reflect the influence of the more powerful interests of duty bearers. The nature of claim holders-duty bearers power relations in free markets is crucial to understand who wins and who loses, precisely because markets keep the poor stuck in poverty traps.


2. The have-less of the world are simply tired of the top-down, undemocratic impositions of the international market that keeps-on promising that grand-solutions-are-about-to-descend-on-people (C. Geerling)


3. The worldwide programs implemented by market fundamentalists have, for several decades now, imposed severe constraints on the freedom of national governments to proactively intervene in their domestic economies. National governments are gratuitously expected to give-up on their responsibilities. There is no justification to imposing this on supposedly sovereign states. But market fundamentalism supports the view that nation states are outmoded and that their role will be progressively supplanted by supranational institutions. The policy autonomy for individual countries has actually been lost since the Bretton Woods summit in the 1940s. (The latter system and the free market system were then shaped by the United States and its richer allies in line with their very own priorities in mind).  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights dates from around the same period –and look at what system got the upper hand… Capitalism subsequently moved to its imperialist and then to its neoliberal stage, a stage where we are now stuck.


So let us now look at Capitalism and Neoliberalism and how they score in the era of unfettered globalization and flagrant disregard of human rights.


For conservative capitalists, “A lutta continua” comes to mean “Looting continues”. (D. Sanders)

If Capitalism is a regime in which the legality imposed by the haves dominates man, is Socialism then a regime in which man dominates legality…?


4. I will let you respond to the question above. But what I am sure-of is that less democratic regimes have been and are good for the economic liberalization called for by market fundamentalism. We have been deadly wrong thinking that economic liberalization will eventually spark political liberalization! (This will disappoint those who believe that economic engagement with autocracies will eventually spark political change…).


5. Already early on, with the coming of Capitalism we witnessed the confrontation between the principles of its political economy and those of humans rights. This, since the engine of every capitalist economic process forces decision makers to sacrifice a good part of HR –like the right to employment and to a fair salary. This has too often lead to the exploitation of labor with substandard salaries being paid to perform skilled and unskilled jobs.


6. Furthermore, we all know that, among other:

  • It is in the scintillating screens of the world bourses/stock exchanges where capitalist power now lies. (A. Gomez)
  • Growth is a built-in necessity of Capitalism that forces itself upon us as a growth compulsion. Its lure is based on a distortion of our perceptions. We feel that our growth allows to satisfy our needs, at the same time that we fail to see that our growth compulsion leads us to the continuous multiplication of needs; to the general spreading of scarcity; to deepening inequalities and to the violation of HR. (So the first step is to face our growth compulsion, and start resisting it! We should instead focus on those aspects of social life that are disregarded or even negated and rendered invisible by market ideology). (H. Molenaar)
  • Growth of any kind does free up money for investment, true; but what to invest-it-in remains the prerogative of those in power….and that is where all goes wrong. (N. Pouw)
  • It is powerful interest groups that block reforms when they are worried about a wider distribution of benefits.
  • Autocratic rulers tend to be predatory, have an interest in postponing reforms and do not break up monopolies run by their cronies, and that
  • Capitalism, left to its own devices, has shown to run to excesses so that the government’s role is to act as a countervailing force against extravagance. But, the other side of the coin is that the disgraceful worship of finances has lead to a move away from the view that the government is (or can be) our friend.


We need to lay to rest “the long and sad neoliberal night” we have been through.  (R. Correa)

7. Neoliberalism is nothing but a conservative tactical manual of recipes followed to uphold the whims of big capital. (F. Arellano) Or, neoliberalism is nothing but the social order that keeps the bourgeois class in power. (A. Gomez). Pick your choice. Either conceptualization leaves HR out in the cold.


8. The peak of globalization roughly spans from 1986 to 2007… and no end is yet in sight.


9. Neoliberalism has flourished in the era of globalization (or, if you prefer as I do, the era of global marketization or of neoliberal global restructuring).


10. Globalization has been rightly characterized as ‘accumulation by dispossession’. It has led to new antagonisms that have had negative manifestations in the global community –HR violations in a grand scale being just one of them. Why? Because the process of globalization basically privatizes the gains and socializes the losses.


11. Globalization is complicated, granted; it encompasses intractable issues that require further exploration and present challenges for the type of demands we need to make in HR work. But the intractability of the issues does not confirm the deceptive view that economic, social and cultural rights, as articulated in international HR law, are merely aspirational –since this would represent an abandonment of the ideal of a more just international order. (T. Schrecker)


12. The transnational corporation is the epitome of globalization. Among them, international banks * (and the pharma and food/beverages industry) have become our favorites to rightly pick-on.  As this Reader has said before, in last instance, too often insincere attempts at corporate social responsibility (CSR) are nothing but incentive-driven initiatives that white-wash the conscience and expand the role of business across national borders. These corporate attempts invariably purport to ‘support’ or ‘protect’ human rights (and the environment) –rather than ending up de-facto ‘respecting’ them. Bottom line, CSR foresees no sanctions for corporate failure to comply with its own stated core principles and provisions.Just look at Nestle… (IBFAN)

*: Bankers have been hoodwinking (duping) the rest of us for too long.  As street wisdom says:

‘The government lies; the banks steal; the rich laugh’. (Graffiti in the early Occupy Wallstreet days)


So where does this put us? [We will start exploring this here and then continue in part 2]


No excessive wealth is innocent. Our being neutral towards it is unacceptable. (E. Galeano)


13. As Albino Gomez said: We already defeated the worst in communism; now we have to defeat the worst in capitalism.


14. As a starter, today, we have to demand from our governments that they reinstate the essential conditions for the respect of HR. We are doing this at a time when the world suffers from a crisis of values ** and the economic system strongly and stubbornly resists putting workers back in the spot they never should have left when HR were a more widely accepted moral obligation of society as a whole. (F. Vergara)

**: When we loose our values, we call ‘pragmatism’ what in reality only is a flagrant lack of ethics. (A. Gomez)  So, if you cannot be a good example, at least try to be a good warning. (Woody Allen)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Partly adapted from The Broker, Issue 23, Dec.2010/Jan2011, F&D, 47:4, Dec.2010; F&D, 48:1, March 2011; and  F&D, 48:2, June 2011.


Postscript: Hide behind locked doors?
How does one stay not involved?
Outside a storm rages.

Foresight requires thought,
Hindsight belongs to critics (like you and me…)
Who more often than others get it.  (Adapted from two haikus by J. Koenig)


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  1. 1Shulamith Koenig

    Thus in you excellent analysis culminated in poetry inspired
    by J.koenig Haikus — we should remember what was told to me
    by a high official at the OHCHR: we have done all we can
    We now need a HR movement ..
    Learning and integrating the meaning of HR as a way of life
    Throughout societies — a never ending process can have Poole
    Learn to belong in dignity in community with others
    Having Human right develop as a “world view “-S.Marks
    That equips us all to make the right choices as we define
    Our horizons guided by the owenershio of Human rights as a way of life

  2. 2Shulamith Koenig

    What a large step forward towards developing a think tank
    ” it is not capitalism — it is not socialism — neither is it
    Patriarcy — it is human rights as a way of life ”
    HR most do not even know it as a value system — a holistic
    Practical way to recognize the humanity of the other ( with all it’s
    Implication ) as ours .
    With the enormity of populations and social networking
    confusing the hell out of every one it is our duty a d imperative
    To introduce a dislogue at all levels of society of the meaning
    of trust respect and dignity as in Human rights as a way of life

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