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writing for godot

So Close to markets far from human righs. (Riccardo Petrella)

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Saturday, 27 February 2021 14:56

Human rights: Food for dispelling a thought  ‘HR and neoliberal dogmas’


Human Rights Reader 566



[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about the flaws of powerful neoliberal market ideology and the rise of public outrage as a counterbalance with the implications this has for human rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-Was Montesquieu, the father of classical liberalism (1689-1755), right when he proclaimed: “There, where there is commerce, there are kind and gentle cultures”?

-Unlike capitalism, the market has been with us for several millennia and has happily co-existed with us. But these days, we keep hearing that ‘free’ markets add value to societies. Yet, is it adding or grabbing value in the value chain? Perfect functioning markets only exist in the minds and writings of some stubborn economists. (Jomo Sundaram)


1. Neoliberal capitalism has been defined as ‘a socioeconomic and political project that places the market at the center of all human interactions --all in the pursuit of economic growth. (FEMNET) The market alluded here is understood as a neutral arbiter that should seldom be interfered with. But consider: In neoliberal markets, unrestrained ‘competition’ is purported to be good. However, it pits groups against each other in a false zero-sum game.* (Kate Donald et al, A Rights-Based Economy: Putting People and Planet First, CESR, 2020)

*: For your information: Market failure is defined as the situation in which market imperfections make it impossible for market forces to achieve an efficient allocation of resources --human rights (HR) consequences not even considered in this definition…


The problem: Neoliberal regimes resist demands for redistribution; it is what they have to do to retain the political authority, the influence and the power those rendered rich enjoy (J. Sundaram)


-Global power has been in Northern hands for centuries; now, with neoliberalism, the world has become perhaps more unipolar in that sense. Has this unilateral power corrupted global governance? Yes, indeed.


2. The neoliberal dominance and control over world affairs has begun to shrink though. Almost seamlessly, a U-turn from a victorious to a defensive posture is growing. A new world order is slowly driving geopolitics.


3. When the UN Charter was signed in 1945, none of the five ‘great’ powers fulfilled the ideals of the Charter or of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and ideological differences among them ran deep. Do not these differences still exist? Ideological differences are the norm across the wider UN membership. Can we argue that the world is divided between democracies and autocratic regimes --i.e., between good and bad from the HR perspective? Definitely yes, with qualifications, of course... and this is not a simplification. Do not be fooled though: Both cooperation and confrontation will be needed to reach global inclusiveness at the UN so that the universality of its Charter, with HR as one of its pillars, is eventually achieved. (adapted from Michael von der Schulenburg)


4. The economy and the market are definitively not outside of wider social aspirations with its norms and values; they are part of the same fabric. But reclaiming the economy requires a dismantling of the systems, of the structures and narratives that have been built up over decades to deceptively divert the economic and financial power in the direction of private interests. It will thus require us to fight private power and build public counterpower as a counterbalance. Understood comprehensively, HR standards, principles and values can and will help us to achieve this. (K. Donald et al, ibid)

Dogmas set by economic models become instruments of domination

5. A heresy is the adoption of a belief that is contrary to the revealed truth, that is contrary to dogma. A hegemonic model that purports to reveal the ‘truth’ becomes one that needs neither proof nor demonstration. This reminds us of the Washington Consensus with its own dogmas, carrots and sticks. Very few economists were brave enough to row against the current… Personally, I believe neither in the death of dogmas nor in the conversion of the ‘dogmatics’; dogmatics are bullies --wither HR… (Louis Casado)


6. Econometric models used by economists are often variations of models arrived-at before. This means that, if along the line, one model screws up, all the rest are worth zilch. Irresponsible, dreamed-up calculations so often never really start from a blank page, they rely on decades of lies, dogmas and insubstantial truths uncritically learned by heart. (L. Casado)


7.  So many economists are not asking the difficult questions; they calculate. -They do not reflect; -they voice strong opinions. -They do not doubt; -they dogmatize. -They do not discover anything; -they discover the invented. Like that, all becomes easier for them… (L. Casado) Furthermore, economists have forever been uneasy with the issue of power (what cannot be quantified cannot be used in their fancy models!). But it is power imbalances (and accompanying HR violations) that are at the center of both micro- and macroeconomics; these two dictate the framing of particular problems. So, overlooking the power issue forecloses coming up with alternatives to the status-quo. (Jody Harris)


8. I am not alone being weary about the ignorance of some econometric economists; they do not get it; they tend to invent, speculate, enunciate laws backed by obscure theorems. The truth is that much of what they come up with is based on thin air. It seems they do not address the real economy and instead spend time on their theories. Some cling to the neoclassical dogma, others desperately try to pull economic theory from a past bottomless pit. I gather they do not see it as their priority to understand plain facts as they are --plain. Instead, they tamper with reality to make it fit their models paying less attention to ‘what is’ and more to ‘what it ought to be’. It is thus fair to ask: Why do these economists not ‘discover’ anything? (Some of them win Nobel Prizes…) In the words of Bernard Maris, pure economic theory is as sterile as theology. If economists do not know what moves human beings (or, as they say, ‘economic agents’), it is legitimate to ask what is it that moves these economists? Is it a discourse that justifies the concentration of wealth in a few hands, as well as denouncing the public sector as incompetent? This would mean they are there to serve extra-scientific interests… (L. Casado, Andre Orlean, Edmond Malivaud)


9. A good example: Common people are ahead of many an economist (and many a politician) in considering the GDP an obsolete indicator. There is a growing recognition in all countries that global problems facing humanity may be exacerbated by reliance on the GDP. The GDP ignores HR violations, pollution, dwindling freshwater, climate-driven floods, fires, superstorms, rising sea levels, job losses, insecurity and wage stagnation. …all this as corporations dominate human affairs. GDP-measured progress sanctifies balancing government budgets, limiting public spending and deficits, as well fostering austerity. At least since the year 2000, many new ways now measure society’s progress as people understand the need to overhaul the GDP religion before it steers societies even closer to precipices of unsustainability!** (Hazel Henderson)

**: GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as ‘debt’ while ignoring the value of the assets these expenditures created. All countries are thus judged by investors, bondholders, and other governments by their debt-to-GDP ratios. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset accounts, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% --with just a few keystrokes! (H. Henderson)


Beware: Universal Basic Income (UBI) is not necessarily human rights aligned


10. In a rights-based economy, a UBI scheme would have to be implemented as part of a fuller suite of redistributive measures --including a comprehensive and fair social protection system,*** as well as quality public services (healthcare, education, social housing…) that are accessible to all.

***: In the neoliberal view, social protection is a tool to provide minor palliative compensation, elevating people out of extreme poverty into non-extreme poverty by distributing the crumbs left over after the ‘winners’ of the free market have already eaten their fill. This paradigm prioritizes targeted interventions that are meant to reach the poorest of the poor but, in fact, do not necessarily reach those who most need them thus perpetuating shame, stigma and the idea of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. Neoliberal policies further tend to dramatically reduce the economic and social security of workers. We must start by dismantling the neoliberal dogmas and narratives that are so foundational to the status-quo. (K. Donald et al, ibid)


11. Unfortunately, faith in public services started to decline, because of decades of underinvestment (often through externally imposed austerity measures) that led to declining quality.**** Privatization and commodification began to creep-in, as private actors sensed a new way to make profits. Public services have thus become less ‘public’, less accessible and less accountable, with the most disadvantaged suffering most from these shifts. Finally, to ensure that public services are as effective as possible, they must be democratically governed and stringently protected from commodification and privatization, in line with governments’ HR obligations! (K. Donald et al, ibid)

****: We too often fail to look at the transformative impact of public services:

-One extra year of education is associated with a reduction of the Gini coefficient (a common measure of inequality) by 1.4 percentage points.

-100 million people would be prevented from falling into poverty each year if universal healthcare were publicly funded and free of charge to patients.

-An estimated 443 million school days are lost each year because of illnesses related to unsafe, unclean water.

-It is estimated that women globally spend 200 million hours every day collecting water.

-The ‘virtual income’ provided by public services reduces income inequality in OECD countries by an average of 20%. (K. Donald et al, ibid)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-The false ‘people-vs-the-economy’ dichotomy overlooks a fundamental truth: People are the economy. There is no healthy economy without a healthy population where everyone can enjoy their social, economic and cultural rights such as to housing, health, food, education and decent work. Human rights and the economy have not traditionally been spoken about in the same sentence. Slowly, this is changing. (CESR)

-Referring to bankers, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “They are unanimous in their hate for me --and I welcome their hatred.” your social media marketing partner
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