The Power of Freedom – Uniting Development and Human Rights


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This new book makes the case that applying freedom in all its dimensions to international development is the only way to make real headway in alleviating poverty.

Are the quests for human rights and economic development compatible? In this thought-provoking book, Jean-Pierre Chauffour argues that the answer depends on the place given to freedom in both human rights and development. When freedom advances, prosperity and human rights progress. When freedom is threatened—especially economic and civil liberties—fundamental human rights are violated and economic development suffers.

Yet although the connection between rights and development has long been recognized, practice has not followed principle. Human rights advocates and economic development experts rarely engage each other and often work at cross purposes. Moreover, the proposition that freedom plays a central role in both agendas challenges a number of human rights and development orthodoxies as well as practices developed over the last 60 years.

Proponents of international human rights often peddle formulas with a high moral ground that ignore economic principles and, because they set up an assortment of positive claims on other individuals, undermine basic human rights. Taking the United Nations “Declaration on the Right to Development” as his object of examination, Chauffour thus explains why the right to development, once seen as a powerful paradigm for lifting people out of poverty, has remained a controversial intellectual construct with little practical application.

Development experts often advocate incoherent approaches to development. The author shows how top-down poverty-reduction and growth strategies supported by aid agencies tend to eclipse the fundamental role of freedom in development and end up breaching basic rights, including personal choice, thereby promoting inappropriate institutions and policies.

A reconciliation of the human rights and development communities is possible. It requires highlighting the role that freedom plays in both. Rights advocates must recognize economic liberty as an essential component of human rights, and development experts must recognize the broad range of institutions and economic policies consistent with human rights. With his engaging style, Chauffour makes clear that empowering people with economic freedom, civil rights, and political liberties is the best way to ensure development and respect for the individual. This book provides major lessons to meet the challenges of securing freedom, peace, and prosperity.

2009, Published by the Cato Institute, ISBN 978 1 933995 24 3, 208pp, HB

It takes a courageous writer to take on the compassionate hearts and high hopes of those who argue there is a ‘human right to development,’ now enshrined in many United Nations agreements. Chauffour is such a writer. He points out that this idea of human rights is an intellectual dead end and has had no practical benefit for the world’s poor. Worse, he argues, the ‘right to development’ violates individual human rights in a way that makes development less likely rather than more. Nobody who has ever paid attention to the many concepts of human rights can afford not to read this book, which itself displays both a compassionate heart and a tough and incisive mind. Chauffour is admirably determined to be brutally honest about which ideas really do further the cause of poverty reduction and which do not.’ Professor William Easterly, New York University

‘The interface between human rights and development is an important part of the current discourse, surfacing in various agitations such as demands for trade sanctions against regimes that violate human rights, for the imposition of mandatory corporate social responsibility standards on multinationals, and for the inclusion of labor standards in trade treaties and institutions. Activism often overrides analysis, leading to harm rather than good. This splendid book by Jean-Pierre Chauffour, written by a distinguished economist who does not accept uncritically the popular demands in the name of human rights, marks, therefore, an important contribution that all policymakers should read.’ Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University

See Also:
Paths to Property by Karol Boudreaux and Paul Dragos Aligica
Africa Left Behind edited by Paul Collier