Let Them Eat Cake: Socio-Economic Rights in an Age of Austerity
HUMAN RIGHTS AND PUBLIC FINANCE, Nolan, O’Connell & Harvey, eds., Hart Publishing, 2012
18 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2011 Last revised: 24 Aug 2013
Date Written: August 23, 2011
The argument advanced here, in a nutshell, is that this current age of austerity should not be viewed, as it is often cast, as exceptional, but should instead be understood as the natural order with respect to government attitudes to socio-economic rights. To put it slightly differently: in the context of an economic and social system which invariably privileges numerically small, elite groups within society, both at the domestic and global level, commitments to socio-economic rights are only ever formal, and honoured in the most grudging and limited of ways. Or, returning to the title of this chapter, in an economic and political order premised on the privileging of the few at the expense of the many, governments are happy to agree to allow everyone to “eat cake”, so long as each atomistic market actor is ready to secure it for his or herself. One important consequence of this, is that the language of socio-economic rights, and consequently the various interests related to and protected by them, tends not to feature in decision-making processes about the size and share of the national resources cake. Therefore, in seeking to take what silver lining their may be from the current crisis, we need to look at ways of democratising such decision-making processes, to provide at least the possibility that socio-economic rights, and the interests associated with them, will figure in the calculus.
Keywords: socio-economic rights, neoliberalism, Global Financial Crisis, budgetary decision making, participatory budgeting
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