Institutional Change and Human Rights: What Economics for the Right to Work?

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
648 Evans (Evans Hall)
Manuel Couret Branco, University of Évora, Évora, Portugal
If one accepts institutions as being systems of established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions one can thus consider economics as an institution. Unlike meteorology that studies weather but does not influence weather, economics not only studies social interactions but also determines them. If economics determines social interactions it can therefore be designed to achieve a social purpose. In this view we question whether economics can promote human rights in general, and the human right to work, in other words the right to people to have a decent job, in particular? First we will posit that mainstream economics not only cannot achieve this purpose but also stands as one of the major obstacles to that achievement. If one considers that promoting human rights is important then economics must change. In other words institutional change here as in many other occasions is necessary to achieve relevant human goals.

Second we will discuss potential alternative views in order to construct a human rights based political economy, that is a conceptual framework for socioeconomic analysis that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting them. In achieving the right to work this economics must avoid two major misconceptions found in mainstream economics’ discourse about employment. First, promoting the right to work is not a synonym for fighting against the unemployment rate. Second, promoting the right to work is about work as much as it is about people. Individuals are not mere resources holding productive specifications but citizens holding rights. Finally, employment policies proceeding from several economic theories will be examined in the light of the principles of a human rights based political economy. This examination will show that most of these theories seem to face a dead end and that the right to work is most likely to be secured through a politically embedded economics.