Inequality, Debt, and Human Rights: What Can We Learn from the Data?

Abstract: What can we learn from the data on economic inequality? First, that comparisons should be made very carefully. That said, inequality connects to human rights in many ways that may elude precise measurement but not common sense. For example, oligarchy is the enemy of the demos, as the Athenians have known since Socrates. An inherent imbalance stems from the fact that wealth is power, which creditors exercise over debtors. In considering how to reduce this power, when it comes to mobilizing people, high theory Continue reading → Continue reading →

Taxation and Equality: The Implications for Redressing Inequality and the Promotion of Human Rights

Abstract: This essay examines the relationship between national tax policy and inequality. Tax policy changed dramatically in the last two decades of the 20th century with the rise of neoliberal economic policy insisting on a dramatic reduction of maximum marginal rates of income tax and a lowering of corporate tax rates. The essay deconstructs the justification for these policies, and argues that they have helped to increase levels of inequality.It also addresses the tax problems that have arisen by virtue of the globalization of economic Continue reading → Continue reading →

“I Don’t Want to Live in a World Where People Die Every Day Simply Because They Are Poor”: From the Treatment Action Campaign to Equal Education, from Stories of Human Rights to the Poetics of Inequality

Abstract: This essay explores the rhetorical and genre differences between human rights arguments and inequality arguments, speculating that the former privileges narrative as a dominant mode of representation and that the latter frequently require a poetics—paradoxically the poetics of numbers. Two South African NGOs—the Treatment Action Campaign, whose rationale deployed a health and human rights framework, and Equal Education, an organization deeply invested in arguments about inequalities in education and opportunity—are presented as examples of the defining contrast between the ways that human rights and Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Political Imaginary of the World Tribunal on Iraq

The following speech was delivered at the plenary—“Political and Revolutionary Imaginaries from Past to Present”—of the 16th Annual Historical Materialism conference held in London on November 9, 2019. When the conference organizers invited me to participate in this plenary some moons ago, I agreed rather hesitantly. What revolutionary imaginaries had the World Tribunal on Iraq developed at the turn of the twenty-first century? Which of the tribunal’s many aspirations, inspirations, and implications could I convey? Did the World Tribunal on Iraq deserve to be called Continue reading →

The Right to Remedies: On Human Rights Critiques and Peoples’ Recourses

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Across the Americas, peoples (let’s keep them multiple) live in exhausted worlds. Worlds on the edge of autocracy, of financial collapse, of infrastructural breakdown and environmental tipping points—mediated by extreme populism and state and corporate efforts to dismantle piecemeal, though meaningful, agendas of socioeconomic rights. Violence and deadly health disparities are persistent realities that, time and Continue reading →

Human Rights against Dominium

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Amy Kapczynski’s essay, “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism,” is a persuasive and provocative retort to recent claims by Naomi Klein and others that human rights discourse is an impotent weapon against neoliberalism, if not a complement to it. Through the specific example of the human right to medicines guaranteed by law in Continue reading →

Is the Right to Medicines a Canary in the Human Rights Coalmine?

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Introduction Amy Kapczynski’s article presciently points out the weaknesses of the judicialization of the right to medicines, and its failure “to engage a foundational aspect of [these cases]: the political economy of medicines that they assume.”[1] Kapczynski argues that these cases suggest that a right to medicines “imbricated” within the prevailing neoliberal regime is plausibly regressive: Continue reading →

Rights, Politics and the Political Economy of Medicines

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism” is part of a growing scholarship on the apparently paradoxical situation where human rights are mainstreamed globally as the lingua franca to discuss issues of justice while inequalities increase and the capacity of states to provide social protection and promote redistribution is reduced. Some Continue reading →

Human Rights and the Political Economy

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. It is refreshing to read a critique of human rights that is neither overly deterministic nor overly grounded in the experience and concerns of the Northwest quadrant of the globe. Amy Kapczynksi’s call for an approach to human rights that attacks the political economy of a problem is an excellent contribution to the current debate about Continue reading →

Political Economy and Human Rights: Paths Forward

This post is part of a symposium on Amy Kapczynski’s essay “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism.” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. The most elemental claim I make in “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism” is that questions of political economy should be central to the analysis and practice of contemporary human rights. I read this superb set of responses as essentially in agreement, and I will focus here on how they speak to a Continue reading →