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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Human Rights and Economy
A critical reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reveals that there are two kinds of rights discussed there:

Basic Rights: These are the rights that are naturally existent. There is no need to provide them in order to ensure them; the society only needs to ensure that they are not taken away. In many ways these rights are the most fundamental of all human rights. The rights to various freedoms fall in this category. Article 1 of UDHR declares, "All human beings are born free...," so obviously there is no need to provide freedom for human beings; they already have it. The institutions that are needed to ensure the protection of basic rights are mainly political in nature. They do not need to engage in economic activities directly; their connection to the economy is made through the legal framework they require. For instance economic freedom in making mutually voluntary transactions that do not involve demonstrable third-party effects, is itself a freedom to be protected under UDHR's first article. In order to do so, the law has to ban its violationsl. The ban affects the economy by setting the framework of legitimate economic activities. But the law does not require any direct intervention in the economy and its detailed processes. Another general feature of basic rights is that they are easy to define and understand. This is of course because they are essentially related to individual life. It is easy to understand what freedom is, even though it is usually hard to convince or require people to respect it.

Provisional Rights: These are the rights that need to be provided. These are usually important qualities of life that we would like to see or have in the society. Article 23(1) of UDHR declares: "Everyone has the right to work, ..., and to protection against unemployment." The first part still spells out a basic right, and is basically equivalent to the right to freedom to work; that is, no one should be allowed to prevent someone else from working. But a protection against unemployment is not naturally existent, and the society needs to provide it in some way. Such rights have a much closer connection with the economy. Often those who call for their provision also call for the government to provide and guarantee them by directly engaging in economic activities. Many democratic governments run sectors of the economy that they consider of importance in providing such negative rights, such as the health care and education, but also whole industries, such as steel in Britain and telephone companies in France. In contrast with the primary rights, a general feature of the provisional rights is that they are not easy to define or understand, let alone agree on. This arises because these are related to social life, and thus include its complexities in their character. That is also why providing them is not a straightforward matter of mandating their provision.

Just by the nature of these two categories of recognized rights, there arises a natural order. It is by no means certain that economic activities of governments, though aimed at providing the provisional rights, actually do so. However, the government guarantees to punish violations of basic rights are often very effective. Also, they do not hinder the provision of other rights, while the opposite is often not true. On the social aspect, it has been the collective human experience that the systematic government violations of basic rights justified by providing other "rights" have had very serious consequences. Even if it were guaranteed, the matter basically would come down to the question, whether the society will benefit as a whole by losing some or all of its freedoms in order to obtain some social security. The answer from the history of the alternative answers to this question weighs in favor of a firm "no!" This wisdom was beautifully put together more than two hundred fifty years ago by Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

On these considerations, the economic role of the government in providing the recognized rights of citizens should be subject to the protection of basic rights from the outset. If a proposed method of providing health care, for instance, violates basic rights of people to their freedoms, including the freedom of deciding whether to go ahead or not with a mutually voluntary transaction, it should be discarded. This qualification will then immediately reject a law that, say, bans private clinics that work outside the government's health care system, quite seperately from its adverse practical effects
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