Abstract: Economic inequality is increasingly recognized as one of the main problems of our time. But what human rights have to say about it? Are human rights effective tools for tackling inequality, as human rights practitioners have argued, or are they powerless and inadequate tools to challenge inequality in the age of neoliberalism, as stated recently by Yale’s professor Samuel Moyn? This article examines the complex relations between economic inequality and human rights, especially economic and social rights (ESR), by exploring the arguments behind these two opposite views. We propose an intermediate position: while human rights and discussions about inequality predominantly take place in autonomous fields, it is not only possible but crucial to overcome some of the pitfalls of human rights law in relation to inequality in order to use it as an equalizing instrument. Extreme inequality poses not only strong empirical obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights but also undermines core tenets of human rights law, such as the principle of equality of opportunity.These links allow us to bridge the gap between the two fields and to speak of inequality as a human rights issue. We explore five paths to reinforce the equalizing potential of human rights law: 1) moving towards ‘empirical based normative standards,’ 2) advancing interpretations of human rights law more sensitive to economic inequality, 3) enhancing the equalizing potential of human rights accountability mechanisms; 4) incorporating human rights concerns across different regimes of internationaleconomic law, and 5) providing strategies and arguments for supporting redistributive policies between and within countries.
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In our new issue we have essays on the anarchist contribution to human rights and saving children from child labor. We also feature a dossier on human rights and economic inequality, with contributions on social rights, structural inequalities, redistribution and ecological overshoot, the New International Economic Order, the UN, debt, taxation and poetics.View entire issue >
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