Why do we not have a human rights economics?
Feminists have articulated a concept of feminist economics which is broadly recognized and which has infused many areas of economic policy. Similarly, ecologists have developed ecological economics.
But the human rights community has failed to do articulate human rights principles and values in economics in anywhere near such a clear and influential way.
Yet more people would probably say they are in favour of human rights than would say they are feminists (or ecologists for that matter). Human rights advocates have been working on economic policy issues for years. But the lack of a unified and consistent approach to economics on the part of the human rights community is striking.
There may be a number of reasons for this. To name but a few, human rights advocates tend to be lawyers, for the most part not so well versed in the language and methods of economic thought as to be able to influence it. Conversely, the human rights framework is often misunderstood, particularly as economic, social and cultural rights are concerned. The historical focus on civil and political human rights has contributed to this. Political perceptions and sensitivities around human rights is a another obstacle.
The human rights community can and should become more involved in economic policy. As a movement it should develop its economic literacy. It should clarify the foundations and principles of human rights for economists, and formulate its thinking so as to pro-actively engage with economics with the influence that human rights principles and approaches deserve.
Through teasing out some of the key insights from human rights principles that should guide economics, the Human Rights Economics inquiry intends to contribute to more fruitful interactions between human rights and economics. This could be through articulating a separate concept of human rights economics or by better positioning human rights in economic debates.
In this sense, this inquiry poses a conceptual, a strategic and an advocacy challenge.