Why Do We Need Human Rights? (4): Economic Rights

Of Equality–as if it harm’d me, giving others the same chances and rights as myself–as if it were not indispensable to my own rights that others possess the same. Walt Whitman

Whitman was probably not thinking of economic rights, but let’s assume he was. There are two reasons why economic rights should be applied universally and why my economic rights depend on yours and vice versa: they address the universal problem of poverty, and they are prerequisites for cultural, public and political life. Poverty hampers public and political life in several ways:

  1. A poor individual has insufficient access to cultural, public and political life because he or she lacks the time, the means, the education and the information necessary for this kind of life. A certain level of detachment from the urgencies and necessities of nature, from basic biological needs and from the struggle to survive, as well as a certain predictable supply of food, a house, good health etc. are prerequisites for cultural, public and political life.
  2. Cultural, public and political life in general, for all individuals, whether poor or not, presupposes the equal participation of everybody. The more participants, the better and richer our cultural, public and political life will be.
  3. Poverty leads to violence, revolt and hate, and this destabilizes the institutions necessary for the protection of public and political life (this is true also at an international level: economic development of less advanced classes and countries is in the interest of everybody, because it takes away the causes of national or international destabilization).

So economic rights protect everybody’s cultural, public and political life, not only the public and political life of those who need economic rights to satisfy their immediate basic needs. Everybody, the rich included, benefit from economic rights because they benefit from maximum participation in cultural, public and political life and from the absence of violent revolt.

Of course, economic rights are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for public and political life. Classical rights are needed as well.

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