NEOLIBERALISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS: WHEN THE NEW ADOPTS THE CLOTHES OF THE OLD. (Harriet Friedmann)

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Human rights: Food for a thought in old clothes

 

Human Rights Reader 425

 

Nothing disappears until it is truly replaced. (Auguste Comte)

 

  1. Neoliberalism is not really new. It is actually an even more anti-social version of 20th century capitalism some of us were born into; it actually is the yet most ‘sophisticated’ predatory version and instrument of capitalist accumulation, i.e., Financial Capitalism. The latter, you know, has now been under attack. But capitalism, mobilizing its survival instinct, continuously makes the necessary concessions (taxation, social regulation, small human rights (HR) ‘concessions’ to labor and to peasants…) in order not to jeopardize and guarantee its reproduction. If the attack alternatives being proposed collapse and are no longer a threat, capitalism will certainly cease to fear its enemies and will return to its unabated predatory, wealth-concentrating madness even beyond its thirst for accumulation that already is extremely aggressive. (Boaventura de Souza)

 

Economic growth, if not accompanied by real social and moral progress eventually turns against (the rights of) human beings (Pope Paul VI)

 

The global economic system promotes market fundamentalism (really a form of super capitalism) that reorders social and political priorities away from social welfare. (Gillian McNaughton)

 

  1. Economics is driven (dogged?) by ideology –and it is ideology, not nearly as much as science that drives capitalist economists to assert that, for instance, bank bailouts are tolerable, but policies that protect the inalienable rights of those rendered poor are not. Unsurprisingly, flawed thinking like this is a great comfort to financial elites —explaining why so many economists are hired and funded by big banks, corporations and the wealthy. And this also explains why their words and ideas are repeated by the media outlets that faithfully serve the status-quo –or by the establishment. Why should we be surprised? Markets –in money, labor and goods– have always been subordinated to the interests of elites, those with power in society, who also govern society.* It is not so recently as many think that markets, especially financial markets, have been elevated to a god-like role, governing whole societies and determining the rights, the life chances and the future of millions of people. (Ann Pettifor).

*: Because ‘efficiency’ is what is most often used as an argument to privilege small elite groups, the collective (biased) understanding of the world by elites will simply never be enough to meet the challenges ahead. (Andrew Berg)

 

Transnational corporations are nothing really new either

 

  1. You know: There are transnational corporations (TNCs) that, even long before today, have had more power than many states; this has made them into a modern form of colonies** that violate the sovereignty of poor nations. (Albino Gomez)

**: Never forget: In the Americas, illegal immigration started in 1492. (A. Gomez)

 

  1. Leaving the pharmaceutical industry aside for a while, look at how the monopolistic concentration of foreign trade in commodities has led to the appalling accumulation of huge profits by the sectors that control agribusiness. It is our responsibility to make this fact, which is already common knowledge, much more widely known. (Miryam Gorban)

 

  1. Transnational corporations’ self-proclaimed rights are protected by hard laws with strong enforcement tools, while their obligations –such as they are right now– are, at best, backed only by soft laws and voluntary guidelines. How to correct this imbalance is one of the greatest challenges that needs to be addressed to defend public goods and peoples’ rights. The task becomes more arduous the more TNCs assume regulatory responsibility and enter into global (UN) and national governance spaces. What steps can be taken to contrast the spread of this perverse multilateralism? Fighting against the conceptual wooliness on which corporate infiltration of governance thrives is a prime necessity. Resisting the tricky corporate capture of the HR framework is another necessity. Because they are depoliticizing HR concerns by translating them into standardized technical language, TNCs are deflecting attention from the issues of inequality and oppression that they are not intent to address. It is thus imperative to insist on the distinction between states-as-the-duty-bearers in the HR framework and businesses-as-potential-HR-violators colluding with states. (Be aware: A growing range of research has demonstrates that multistakeholder mechanisms are not as neutral as is often presumed since they tend to negate the complex power mechanisms at play). (Nora Mc Keon)

Ah, yes, and then there are ‘free’ trade agreements…

 

  1. FTAs are nothing new either. You also know that not all HR impacts are identified before a trade agreement takes force. Accordingly, clauses concerning aspects that directly serve to protect HR are needed in them. Such clauses are to ensure that states have the policy space they need to protect the HR of their citizen. (Armin Paasch) But under the current circumstances, is this a realistic demand? A challenge for claim holders the world over…

 

  1. The question is often posed about whether trade is to be a zero sum game among nations, but I do not think that nations are the correct focus here. I do not think it is nations that lose or gain. It is people, workers, farmers, and corporations, and banks and their accolades.  So, perhaps we should focus more on different segments rather than nations as a whole. In other words, we should move from a nations-based analysis of globalization to a class-based analysis of globalization. (Yilmas Akyuz)

 

…and furthermore there are some of the favorite toys of economists: Models

 

Through economic modeling, economists mistake beauty and elegance for truth. (Paul Krugman)

 

  1. Mainstream economic theory took a disastrous turn 140 years ago, when it attempted to use calculus to explain human behavior. A real economy involves people who are not variables in equations. (J. Legge)

 

  1. ‘GIGO’ (garbage in, garbage out) also applies to econometric models; just because something can be computed –offering a variety of models concerning business cycles and other such like– does not mean it makes economic (much less HR) sense to do so. Keynes resisted the mathematization of economics.*** Yes, economics is a cultural product; it is a social science, but one marked by controversial debate.

***: The excessive mathematization of economics since the 1970s is to be deplored. Assuming that ‘rational’ economic mathematical models are risk-neutral is gratuitous.

Let’s face it: The purpose of these composite models is communication. No one is pretending that they are very precise.

 

  1. To many of us, economists that spend their time constructing sophisticated models are absolutely off; they promote theories that make it impossible to understand the real world. The only thing they can claim to have is what it is: a mathematical model. But for them that model represents ‘reality’. But if it happens that that model does not work, it is not because the model is wrong: it is that reality plays tricks –and the function of reality is to always challenge models! (Manfred Max-Neef)

 

As a general problem, then, our era is characterized by us knowing a lot, but understanding little

 

  1. We do not need to know more. What we need is to start understanding –and to do that, we have to immerse ourselves into ongoing processes. Alone, each of us can do nothing for people who have been rendered poor and whose rights are being violated; we can only do if we do with them. “Get into the field, see what potentials there are in poor communities and together build based on those potentials”. But making plans from the comfort of our air-conditioned offices where we have all the statistics (like the World Bank does) is good for nothing. Let us understand: growth and development are two completely different things. Development does not necessarily need growth. Growth is an aggregate of quantitative magnitudes and development an aggregate of qualitative and creative elements grounded on HR. Development has no limits; growth does –there is nothing that can grow forever. And as Kenneth Boulding said: “He who thinks that in a finite world perpetual growth is possible is either crazy or he is an economist”. (M. M. Neef)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Why are most of the reforms this Reader proposes unacceptable to capitalism and cannot be realized within capitalism? If we cannot reform capitalism, any more than we could reform the EU, does capitalism need replacing rather than rethinking? (Will Podmore)

– Nihilism is described as the negation of any belief, any moral, any religious, any political or any social principle. I do not know why, but this definition that basically purports to say that nihilists suffer from an absolute loss of ‘the value of values’, reminds me of the equations used by economists working on models. (Louis Casado)

 

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