A Hierarchy of Comfort? The CESCR's Approach to the 2008 Economic Crisis
in Gillian MacNaughten and Diane F. Frey (eds), Economic and Social Rights in a Neoliberal World (CUP 2018)
22 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2018
Date Written: 2018
A financial crisis followed by a sustained period of economic crisis hit parts of the world in 2007/2008. It was not long before this crisis, spawned from spreadsheets and financial devices, landed with full force in the tangible world of health, housing, food, water, work, and other socioeconomic basics. The response of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) – the international body tasked with protecting individuals’ rights to basic socioeconomic goods – was suboptimal.
By looking at its outputs in the eight years both before and after the crisis, this chapter unpacks the details of the Committee’s approach(es) to the crisis in full. The chapter argues that the CESCR’s approaches can be seen in its changing application of the international human rights laws of which it is custodian. By analyzing changing patterns of the CESCR’s use of these obligations, a clearer picture about what the Committee did in response to the crisis can be formed. Ultimately, drawing on what the Committee did and why it might have done it, the chapter concludes that the ways the CESCR applied the various obligations derived from the ICESCR can be mapped onto what is termed a “hierarchy of comfort.” The mapping reveals apparent trends in the CESCR’s application of key legal obligations, showing that it uses those obligations it is most comfortable with most often. Further, the mapping shows that the obligations most readily used by the CESCR (such as nondiscrimination and immediate obligations) are also those that are most consistent with neoliberalism. Thus, the CESCR’s hierarchy of comfort corresponds in certain ways with the priorities of neoliberalism.
Keywords: human rights, economic and social rights, austerity, neoliberalism, UN, international law
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