Economic and social rights provide a fundamental standard of decency for evaluating our economic system and holding governments and private actors to account. These human rights are inalienable – individuals cannot have their rights taken away due to political changes or economic crises. The current global economic crisis is evidence that the economic policies of the past three decades have not worked. In fact, they now threaten the security of basic human rights. The devastation that the crisis has already wrought on the most vulnerable households in the Global North and the Global South is a reminder that the formulation of economic policy and the realization of human rights have, for too long, been divorced from one another.
Over the past three decades, economic policy, both globally and in the U.S., has been geared toward a single target - economic growth – with little attention paid to issues of distribution. Economic policy making has proceeded with the assertion that economic growth, no matter how skewed in favor of a few, will ultimately benefit all by eventually providing more resources for the realization of human rights. Efficiency, rather than securing the basic well-being of all, has been the mainstay of these policies. Yet, the same policies adopted to achieve economic growth have, in many instances, eroded basic social and economic rights. These rights have even been depicted as inefficient costs that slow growth. It is clearly time to assess economic policy using the ethical lens of the universally-recognized human rights framework.