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Human Rights and Capitalism

A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Globalisation

Edited by Janet Dine and Andrew Fagan

Human Rights and Capitalism brings together two important facets of the globalisation debate and examines the complex relationship between human rights, property rights and capitalist economies.
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Chapter 1: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism

Michael Freeman


Michael Freeman 1. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION, HISTORY AND CRITIQUE Linking the concepts of ‘human rights’ and ‘capitalism’ suggests something obvious and something else that is puzzling. Advocates of capitalism believe it to be the most efficient known method for the production and distribution of goods, the creator of employment and prosperity, and friend to the rule of law. As such, it is the economic system most likely to fulfil economic and social rights, and, in doing so, to promote civil and political rights. Its critics believe, to the contrary, that capitalism creates enormous inequalities, exploits its workers, ‘hollows out’ the state with consequent violation of social and economic rights, corrupts political and economic elites in the developing countries, and cooperates with authoritarian governments in the repression of dissent, with consequent violation of civil and political rights. These ideas are familiar and clear enough, and it is plausible to suppose that capitalism and human rights are related in all these ways quite often. The fact that it is possible to tell plausible ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ stories about the empirical relations between human rights and capitalism suggests that they are complex, but that empirical research could, in principle, describe that complexity. What is more puzzling is that the concepts of ‘human rights’ and ‘capitalism’ derive from different theoretical discourses, and therefore relating them systematically may be conceptually difficult. The concept of human rights derives primarily from international law, which in turn took it from the philosophy of natural law. This...

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