Sunday, November 17, 2013

More on the Rights-based Approach

Feminist Out Of Water had a good post about the "rights-based approach" and I wanted to respond to a few points.  She starts by articulating several of the critiques of the rights-based approach made by Easterly and Blattman.  She counters these critiques several arguments about freedom and inequality and about the importance of consulting the poor in policymaking:
We are trying to alleviate poverty because poverty is bad. When we say poverty is bad, what we mean is that it is wrong. When we say it is wrong, what we mean is that it is unjust, unfair, unequal, and inhibits freedom. WHOA, I know, nobody likes to make this jump because now we are talking about normative things instead of meaningless things like “efficiency.” 
But I think these motivations for eliminating poverty are too broad and all-encompassing.  Eliminating poverty is not a way to redress all of the world's wrongs, just one very specific and important wrong.  In fact, I believe that defining poverty as a combination of vast and mushy concepts like injustice, inequity, inequality and lack of freedom is more likely to make the conversation "meaningless," than discussing "meaningless things like 'efficiency.'"

FOOW also devotes significant time to the argument of freedom as non-domination, an argument that I also find too broad:
The reason we humans want to alleviate poverty is because we want to increase freedom for all humans. This is because poverty undermines democratic equality and creates the ability for the wealthy to dominate and oppress (whether directly or indirectly) the poor. This means that the poor are not free if you see freedom as non-domination, which I think is a great way to understand freedom. You can be dominated by your government, through torture or imprisonment. Or, you can be dominated by a multinational corporation, that, with vast wealth and power, can take land away from you without your permission. Or, you can be dominated by your husband, if you are a victim of domestic abuse. There are many way to be dominated. The point is that people should not be so unequal in net-worth or in social standing that they can dominate each other or be dominated by each other or by institutions. It is up to us humans to design institutions that make this a reality.
FOOW says that domination undermines freedom and notes that "there are many ways to be dominated."  But I would argue that there are too many ways to be dominated for "domination" to denote a lack of freedom.  She seems to be arguing that if you live in a society where some people's land has been taken away by a multinational corporation, this does not mean that you yourself are unfree.  Or is it just the person whose land was taken away?  Or him and his neighbors?  Or him and his neighbors and everyone else whose property could possible be taken (now we're up to most of society).  This seems like an awfully big leap.  I don't believe that the existence of companies or people who do bad things shows that the people of that society are unfree.  This would mean that basically all of humanity is unfree.

She also criticizes economic arguments to policy, in which policymakers take into account silly considerations such as cost-benefit analysis.  
We cannot just say, well there is more freedom being enhanced than taken away, and call it “efficient.” Like good – bad > 0. These are human lives we are talking about not mathematical calculations. Moreover, this kind of calculation is not an abstract and morally neutral or practical or pragmatic solution, this is a clear adherence to a moral philosophy that is called utilitarianism. It is one moral philosophy among many, and has not been the premier moral philosophy for the past half-century in any other field than in economics, where efficiency as a moral concept still reigns supreme. I think it is absolutely nuts that economics claims to be value neutral while holding up utilitarianism as their moral dogma, but whatever, that is for another post.
FOOW seems to be arguing for a "do no harm approach" to policy, which I think is extreme and unrealistic.  All government policy does harm to one group or another.  Even a lack of policymaking or a delay in policymaking does harm to one group or another (see United States Congress).  In a world of limited government budgets, a right to health care or a right to a speedy trial, inherently limits the right to clean water or the right to adequate housing.  The only real conclusion that she seems to be making is that it is important to consult the poor more.

And this, for me, is the main problem with FOOW's argument.  There are lots of interesting arguments about freedom and inequality, but no real compelling argument for the rights-based approach.  She seem to be arguing for consulting the poor more, without really do not provide any arguments for why the rights-based approach does this more effectively.  

1 comment:

  1. hey nice post mehn. I love your style of blogging here. The way you writes reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: How To Live Your Dream Life .
    keep up the good work.