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Friday, 23 April 2010

Giving rights a bad name...

Pete Henriot, a strong proponent of ESC rights, has another piece in The Post where he bemoans the recent decision by the NCC to reject these rights. Towards the end he raises some rhetorical questions  :

And so we come at this point to some very basic questions. Are the fundamental economic, social and cultural rights of Zambian citizens simply to be ignored in the new constitution? Can Zambia go forward to become the desired “middle income” nation by 2030 by ignoring these rights? Are the NCC commissioners - especially those filled with such mirth when the rights are discussed - simply saying no, and arguing that such good things realistically have no place in this wonderful country?
The answer to these questions  is simple. There's no causal link between these rights and income. Guaranteeing these rights can not be justified on economic grounds. I am not saying, I necessarily share the NCC decision, but those that justify these rights based on achieving "middle income" status are misguided. It is better to anchor such pursuits in another philosophical framework. We have previously discussed the issue in the context of Mozambique's right to food flirtation.  I also don't think that these ESC rights qualify as "human rights" - but that is a subject for another time...

5 comments:

  1. I am not saying, I necessarily share the NCC decision, but those that justify these rights based on achieving "middle income" status are misguided.

    I would disagree. Having a healthy, educated workforce may not cause prosperity, but it greatly adds to it, and to the quality of life.

    When Ronald Reagan started his pro-corporate project in 1980, after cutting taxes for the rich, his first priority was to cut social spending and programs for the poor. It was then, that all of a sudden all the people with mental illnesses started to pile out of institutions and onto the streets. Even people in work were not safe, as they could be robbed by someone looking for a few dollars for their habit, or for no reason at all. It greatly added to the fear citizens had of eachother - which is another social and economic cost.

    Famously, one individual at the NCC scoffed that "Even an insane person can come and say - give me shelter". Well doing so would improve everyone's quality of life. Let alone it being the ethical and humane thing to do.

    This neoliberal 'Gordon Gekko' ideology has rotted these individuals brains. The 'on your bike' and 'I've got mine, Jack' mental-ity of the Thatcher era has only damaged society, including in the UK.

    This is the origin of selfishness and petty and grand corruption, that those who now have a little money, think that they are better than those who do not.

    This is why those in power don't believe they have an obligation to anyone who has no power.

    And it is costing the nation, not only in the billions that the country loses every year from the mining industry, but in the awarding of contracts to friends and family, irrespective of whether they're up to the task. There is no perceived obligation to have a positive outcome for these projects.

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  2. MrK,

    "I would disagree. Having a healthy, educated workforce may not cause prosperity, but it greatly adds to it, and to the quality of life."

    I think we may be talking cross purposes here. Not sure how you have formulated your argument based on what i have WRITTEN.

    Enshrining ESC rights does not equate to "having a healthy, educated workforce". These rights are what we call "claim rights". As such it does not logically follow that because I X rights therefore I claim and am fully accorded those things. In practice they depend on the ability of individuals to claim the rights and the ability of the state to enforce them. In short too many "ifs" just getting from "claim rights" to the a priori you assert of "healthy, educated workforce".

    Now beyond that there's also the question of what comes first - a healthy, educated workforce or being a middle income country.

    In short, I think your comment jumps many oops and does not directly address the fundamental points I make in the post.

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  3. Cho,

    We can disagree on how effective and applicable these rights are. However, just having them in itself sends the right message to government, the civil service, etc. and would change the atmosphere from the present 'I have mine' mentality.

    There's no causal link between these rights and income. Guaranteeing these rights can not be justified on economic grounds.

    I also wouldn't say that the one statement follows the other.

    For instance, let's say (as happened during the Great Depression) that someone is caught stealing a can of beans, to feed themselves and their starving family. A jury found the person not guilty of theft - because they believed that feeding starving people was a greater good than property rights, in that particular situation.

    It is a matter of setting priorities, and that is where these rights come in.

    What we have seen so far, is the elevation of the property rights and the rights of foreign corporations to make a profit, over and above the obligation of the state to feed, clothe and educate it's population.

    I think having an obligation to put the people first would have a huge economic impact on the kind of society one lives in, and the development of human 'capital'.

    ReplyDelete
  4. MrK,

    The example you give is actually quite complex.

    For one thing the judges always do take into account mitigating circumstances. There's nothing wrong with judges taking on board the fact that someone had no choice but to use another person's property in a lifesaving situation.

    The other issue is that we have to consider who these rights are "claimed" against. These would be rights against the State. There are therefore situations in which the Court may rule government failed to fulfil its duty but the individual company did its best.

    Its important to be clear on how such rights would be applied.

    In short, I still hold that there's no signalling benefit.

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  5. Cho,

    For one thing the judges always do take into account mitigating circumstances. There's nothing wrong with judges taking on board the fact that someone had no choice but to use another person's property in a lifesaving situation.

    It goes beyond mere mitigating circumstances, because behing hungry is not a one-off event. The person who stole the can of beans would be able to feed his family for a day, but then he would be hungry again.

    And if he came before a jury again after having stolen another can of beans, the verdict would have to be the same, if they were consistent.

    It is a matter of putting the right to life before the right to property.

    And that is what the proposed rights represent. A setting of priorities in case there are choices to be made.

    I think it would go very far in pushing back corruption as well. If someone has the right to an education, and a civil servant won't give them the right forms to fill in unless he/she gets paid something on the side, such a person could go to the courts and claim that their right to be educated would supercede the civil servant's stalling their forms.

    It would put a lot of pressure on the government and state to perform for the benefit of the people, not the benefit of foreign investors and by implication, their own pocket book.

    And if the civil servant then defended him/herself with the claim that they have to take bribes in order to provide for their families, it would put a lot of pressure on the government to pay civil servants a living wage and pay them on time.

    So in my opinion, it would only have positive effects.

    ReplyDelete

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