One of law’s central concerns is equality of rights, yet law is conspicuous by its absence from the debate about global inequality. Extraordinary numbers of people have inadequate access to the basic necessities of life: food, water, education, health and a decent environment. For billions of people, this is a disaster. At a time of unparalleled global affluence, when the need for sharing global wealth and opportunity is more important than ever, the gap between rich and poor is expanding. How should we explain this process? This chapter considers Karl Polanyi’s contribution to our understanding of social rights and the ways in which public interests evolved during the last century. The discussion examines how subsequent norms of global capitalism have encouraged private interests to undermine collective welfare and the consequences of the law’s failure to engage itself with the problem.
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