Economic Rights as Group Rights
University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, Vol. 15, p. 87, 2011
23 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2011 Last revised: 5 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 5, 2011
This article considers the moral claim that all persons have a human right to the material necessities of life, and that governments are obligated to assure them to individuals who have no other way to obtain them. It assesses that claim by exploring three questions. First, does the redistribution potentially required by even the most minimal economic right violate other rights, as libertarians say it does? Second, if redistribution is not barred by libertarian constraints, is a state obligated to provide a safety net against severe deprivation, or may it elect whether to do so? And finally, if there is a human right to the necessities of life, what are its parameters? I conclude that that there is a human right to material necessities, but that typical formulations of the right misconstrue it. Economic rights are commonly described and promulgated as individual rights analogous to liberty rights. The arguments herein endeavor to show that, on the contrary, an economic right makes moral and practical sense only when framed as a group right by which the worst-off group collectively has a claim to essential resources that, with limited exceptions, prevails over any alternative, non-essential individual or societal use.
Keywords: human rights, law and economics, law and philosophy, moral philosophy, distributive justice, libertarianism, economic rights, social rights
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