Category Archives: Economic and Social Rights

U.S. and EU Sanctions Are Punishing Ordinary Syrians and Crippling Aid Work, U.N. Report Reveals

U.S. and EU Sanctions Are Punishing Ordinary Syrians and Crippling Aid Work, U.N. Report Reveals

Dania Khalek,  The Intercept,  28 September 2016

Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.

The sanctions and war have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. But aid is hard to come by, with sanctions blocking access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.

In a 40-page internal assessment commissioned to analyze the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the U.N. describes the U.S. and EU measures as “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Detailing a complex system of “unpredictable and time-consuming” financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh “regarding provision of humanitarian aid.”

U.S. sanctions on Syrian banks have made the transfer of funds into the country nearly impossible. Even when a transaction is legal, banks are reluctant to process funds related to Syria for risk of incurring violation fees. This has given rise to an unofficial and unregulated network of money exchanges that lacks transparency, making it easier for extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda to divert funds undetected. The difficulty of transferring money is also preventing aid groups from paying local staff and suppliers, which has “delayed or prevented the delivery of development assistance in both government and besieged areas,” according to the report.

Trade restrictions on Syria are even more convoluted. Items that contain 10 percent or more of U.S. content, including medical devices, are banned from export to Syria. Aid groups wishing to bypass this rule have to apply for a special license, but the licensing bureaucracy is a nightmare to navigate, often requiring expensive lawyers that cost far more than the items being exported.

Syria was first subjected to sanctions in 1979, after the U.S. designated the Syrian government as a state sponsor of terrorism. More sanctions were added in subsequent years, though none more extreme than the restrictions imposed in 2011 in response to the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on protesters.

In 2013 the sanctions were eased but only in opposition areas. Around the same time, the CIA began directly shipping weapons to armed insurgents at a colossal cost of nearly $1 billion a year, effectively adding fuel to the conflict while U.S. sanctions obstructed emergency assistance to civilians caught in the crossfire.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY SAMMY KETZA banker stacks packed Syrian lira bills at the Central Bank in Damascus on August 25, 2011. US sanctions have forced Syria to stop all transactions in US dollars, with the country turning completely to euro deals, the governor of the Central Bank Adib Mayaleh told the AFP during an interview. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A man stacks packed Syrian lira bills at the Central Bank in Damascus on Aug. 25, 2011.

Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

An internal U.N. email obtained by The Intercept also faults U.S. and EU sanctions for contributing to food shortages and deteriorations in health care. The August email from a key U.N. official warned that sanctions had contributed to a doubling in fuel prices in 18 months and a 40 percent drop in wheat production since 2010, causing the price of wheat flour to soar by 300 percent and rice by 650 percent. The email went on to cite sanctions as a “principal factor” in the erosion of Syria’s health care system. Medicine-producing factories that haven’t been completely destroyed by the fighting have been forced to close because of sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency, the email said.As one NGO worker in Damascus told The Intercept, there are cars, buses, water systems, and power stations that are in serious need of repair all across the country, but it takes months to procure spare parts and there’s no time to wait. So aid groups opt for cheap Chinese options or big suppliers that have the proper licensing, but the big suppliers can charge as much as they want. If the price is unaffordable, systems break down and more and more people die from dirty water, preventable diseases, and a reduced quality of life.

Such conditions would be devastating for any country. In war-torn Syria, where an estimated 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance, the sanctions are compounding the chaos.

In an emailed statement to The Intercept, the State Department denied that the sanctions are hurting civilians.

“U.S. sanctions against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], his backers, and the regime deprive these actors of resources that could be used to further the bloody campaign Assad continues to wage against his own people,” said the statement, which recycled talking points that justified sanctions against Iraq in 1990s. The U.S. continued to rationalize the Iraq sanctions even after a report was released by UNICEF in 1999 that showed a doubling in mortality rates for children under the age of 5 after sanctions were imposed in the wake of the Gulf War, and the death of 500,000 children.

“The true responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation lies squarely with Assad, who has repeatedly denied access and attacked aid workers,” the U.S. statement on Syria continued. “He has the ability to relieve this suffering at any time, should he meet his commitment to provide full, sustained access for delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas that the U.N. has determined need it.”

Meanwhile, in cities controlled by ISIS, the U.S. has employed some of the same tactics it condemns. For example, U.S.-backed ground forces laid siege to Manbij, a city in northern Syria not far from Aleppo that is home to tens of thousands of civilians. U.S. airstrikes pounded the city over the summer, killing up to 125 civilians in a single attack. The U.S. also used airstrikes to drive ISIS out of KobaneRamadi, and Fallujah, leaving behind flattened neighborhoods. In Fallujah, residents resorted to eating soup made from grass and 140 people reportedly died from lack of food and medicine during the siege.

A Syrian man walks past an empty vegetable market in Aleppo on July 10, 2016, after the regime closed the only remaining supply route into the city.

A Syrian man walks past an empty vegetable market in Aleppo on July 10, 2016, after the regime closed the only remaining supply route into the city.

Photo: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images

Humanitarian concerns aside, the sanctions are not achieving their objectives. Five years of devastating civil war and strict economic sanctions have plunged over 80 percent of Syrians into poverty, up from 28 percent in 2010. Ferdinand Arslanian, a scholar at the Center for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, says that reduction in living standards and aid dependency is empowering the regime.“Aid is now an essential part of the Syrian economy and sanctions give regime cronies in Syria the ability to monopolize access to goods. It makes everyone reliant on the government. This was the case in Iraq, with the food-for-oil system,” explained Arslanian.

“Sanctions have a terrible effect on the people more than the regime and Washington knows this from Iraq,” argues Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “But there’s pressure in Washington to do something and sanctions look like you’re doing something,” he added.

Despite the failure of sanctions, opposition advocates are agitating for even harsher measures that would extend sanctions to anyone who does business with the Syrian government. This, of course, would translate into sanctions against Russia.

“The opposition likes sanctions,” says Landis. “They were the people who advocated them in the beginning because they want to put any pressure they can on the regime. But it’s very clear that the regime is not going to fall, that the sanctions are not working. They’re only immiserating a population that’s already suffered terrible declines in their per capita GDP,” he added.

Read the report:

Hum Impact of Syria Related Res Eco Measures 26 May 2016, 40 pages

Top photo: A Syrian Red Crescent truck, part of a convoy carrying humanitarian aid, is seen in Kafr Batna on the outskirts of Damascus on Feb. 23, 2016, during an operation in cooperation with the U.N. to deliver aid to thousands of besieged Syrians.

Update: September 30, 2016

The wording of a paragraph about U.S. tactics in Syria and Iraq has been altered to clarify that the U.S. used a strategy of airstrikes against Kobane, Ramadi, and Fallujah when they were controlled by ISIS forces

Greece: Truth Committee on Public Debt – Preliminary Report

Truth Committee on Public Debt
 
Preliminary report
 
 
The Truth Committee on Public Debt (Debt Truth Committee) was established on April 4, 2015, by a decision of the President of the Hellenic Parliament, Ms Zoe Konstantopoulou, who confided the Scientific Coordination of its work to Dr. Eric Toussaint and the cooperation of the Committee with the European Parliament and other Parliaments and international organizations to MEP Ms Sofia Sakorafa.
 
Members of the Committee have convened in public and closed sessions, to produce this preliminary report, under the supervision of the scientific coordinator and with the cooperation and input of other members of the Committee, as well as experts and contributors.
 
The preliminary report chapters were coordinated by:
 
Bantekas Ilias
Contargyris Thanos
Fattorelli Maria Lucia
Husson Michel
Laskaridis Christina
Marchetos Spyros
Onaran Ozlem
Tombazos Stavros
Vatikiotis Leonidas
Vivien Renaud
 
With contributions from:
Aktypis Héraclès
Albarracin Daniel
Bonfond Olivier
Borja Diego
Cutillas Sergi
Gonçalves Alves Raphaël
Goutziomitros Fotis
Kasimatis Giorgos
Kazakos Aris
Lumina Cephas
Mitralias Sonia
Saurin Patrick
Sklias Pantelis
Spanou Despoina
Stromblos Nikos
Tzitzikou Sofia
 
The authors are grateful for the advice and input received from other members of the Truth Committee on Public Debt as well as other experts, who contributed to the Committee’s work during the public sessions and hearings and the closed or informal consultations.
 
The authors are grateful for the valuable assistance of Arnaoutis Petros Konstantinos, Aronis Charalambos, Bama Claudia, Karageorgiou Louiza, Makrygianni Antigoni and Papaioannou Stavros.
 
 
Executive Summary
 
In June 2015 Greece stands at a crossroads of choosing between furthering the failed macroeconomic adjustment programmes imposed by the creditors or making a real change to break the chains of debt. Five years since the economic adjustment programme began, the country remains deeply cemented in an economic, social, democratic and ecological crisis. The black box of debt has remained closed, and until a few months ago no authority, Greek or international, had sought to bring to light the truth about how and why Greece was subjected to the Troika regime. The debt, in the name of which nothing has been spared, remains the rule through which neoliberal adjustment is imposed, and the deepest and longest recession experienced in Europe during peacetime.
 
There is an immediate democratic need and social responsibility to address a range of legal, social and economic issues that demand proper consideration. In response, the President of the Hellenic Parliament established the Truth Committee on Public Debt (Debt Truth Committee) in April 2015, mandating the investigation into the creation and the increase of public debt, the way and reasons for which debt was contracted, and the impact that the conditionalities attached to the loans have had on the economy and the population. The Truth Committee has a mandate to raise awareness of issues pertaining to the Greek debt, both domestically and internationally, and to formulate arguments and options concerning the cancellation of the debt.
 
The research of the Committee presented in this preliminary report sheds light on the fact that the entire adjustment programme, to which Greece has been subjugated, was and remains a politically orientated programme. The technical exercise surrounding macroeconomic variables and debt projections, figures directly relating to people’s lives and livelihoods, has enabled discussions around the debt to remain at a technical level mainly revolving around the argument that the policies imposed on Greece will improve its capacity to pay the debt back. The facts presented in this report challenge this argument.
 
All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.
 
It has also come to the understanding of the Committee that the unsustainability of the Greek public debt was evident from the outset to the international creditors, the Greek authorities, and the corporate media. Yet, the Greek authorities, together with some other governments in the EU, conspired against the restructuring of public debt in 2010 in order to protect financial institutions. The corporate media hid the truth from the public by depicting a situation in which the bailout was argued to benefit Greece, whilst spinning a narrative intended to portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoings.
 
Bailout funds provided in both programmes of 2010 and 2012 have been externally managed through complicated schemes, preventing any fiscal autonomy. The use of the bailout money is strictly dictated by the creditors, and so, it is revealing that less than 10% of these funds have been destined to the government’s current expenditure.
 
This preliminary report presents a primary mapping out of the key problems and issues associated with the public debt, and notes key legal violations associated with the contracting of the debt; it also traces out the legal foundations, on which unilateral suspension of the debt payments can be based. The findings are presented in nine chapters structured as follows:
 
Chapter 1, Debt before the Troika, analyses the growth of the Greek public debt since the 1980s. It concludes that the increase in debt was not due to excessive public spending, which in fact remained lower than the public spending of other Eurozone countries, but rather due to the payment of extremely high rates of interest to creditors, excessive and unjustified military spending, loss of tax revenues due to illicit capital outflows, state recapitalization of private banks, and the international imbalances created via the flaws in the design of the Monetary Union itself. Adopting the euro led to a drastic increase of private debt in Greece to which major European private banks as well as the Greek banks were exposed. A growing banking crisis contributed to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. George Papandreou’s government helped to present the elements of a banking crisis as a sovereign debt crisis in 2009 by emphasizing and boosting the public deficit and debt.
 
Chapter 2, Evolution of Greek public debt during 2010-2015, concludes that the first loan agreement of 2010, aimed primarily to rescue the Greek and other European private banks, and to allow the banks to reduce their exposure to Greek government bonds.
 
Chapter 3, Greek public debt by creditor in 2015, presents the contentious nature of Greece’s current debt, delineating the loans’ key characteristics, which are further analysed in Chapter 8.
 
Chapter 4, Debt System Mechanism in Greece reveals the mechanisms devised by the agreements that were implemented since May 2010. They created a substantial amount of new debt to bilateral creditors and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), whilst generating abusive costs thus deepening the crisis further. The mechanisms disclose how the majority of borrowed funds were transferred directly to financial institutions. Rather than benefitting Greece, they have accelerated the privatization process, through the use of financial instruments.
 
Chapter 5, Conditionalities against sustainability, presents how the creditors imposed intrusive conditionalities attached to the loan agreements, which led directly to the economic unviability and unsustainability of debt. These conditionalities, on which the creditors still insist, have not only contributed to lower GDP as well as higher public borrowing, hence a higher public debt/GDP making Greece’s debt more unsustainable, but also engineered dramatic changes in the society, and caused a humanitarian crisis. The Greek public debt can be considered as totally unsustainable at present.
 
Chapter 6, Impact of the “bailout programmes” on human rights, concludes that the measures implemented under the “bailout programmes” have directly affected living conditions of the people and violated human rights, which Greece and its partners are obliged to respect, protect and promote under domestic, regional and international law. The drastic adjustments, imposed on the Greek economy and society as a whole, have brought about a rapid deterioration of living standards, and remain incompatible with social justice, social cohesion, democracy and human rights.
 
Chapter 7, Legal issues surrounding the MoU and Loan Agreements, argues there has been a breach of human rights obligations on the part of Greece itself and the lenders, that is the Euro Area (Lender) Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, who imposed these measures on Greece. All these actors failed to assess the human rights violations as an outcome of the policies they obliged Greece to pursue, and also directly violated the Greek constitution by effectively stripping Greece of most of its sovereign rights. The agreements contain abusive clauses, effectively coercing Greece to surrender significant aspects of its sovereignty. This is imprinted in the choice of the English law as governing law for those agreements, which facilitated the circumvention of the Greek Constitution and international human rights obligations. Conflicts with human rights and customary obligations, several indications of contracting parties acting in bad faith, which together with the unconscionable character of the agreements, render these agreements invalid.
 
Chapter 8, Assessment of the Debts as regards illegitimacy, odiousness, illegality, and unsustainability, provides an assessment of the Greek public debt according to the definitions regarding illegitimate, odious, illegal, and unsustainable debt adopted by the Committee.
 
Chapter 8 concludes that the Greek public debt as of June 2015 is unsustainable, since Greece is currently unable to service its debt without seriously impairing its capacity to fulfill its basic human rights obligations. Furthermore, for each creditor, the report provides evidence of indicative cases of illegal, illegitimate and odious debts.
 
Debt to the IMF should be considered illegal since its concession breached the IMF’s own statutes, and its conditions breached the Greek Constitution, international customary law, and treaties to which Greece is a party. It is also illegitimate, since conditions included policy prescriptions that infringed human rights obligations. Finally, it is odious since the IMF knew that the imposed measures were undemocratic, ineffective, and would lead to serious violations of socio-economic rights.
 
Debts to the ECB should be considered illegal since the ECB over-stepped its mandate by imposing the application of macroeconomic adjustment programmes (e.g. labour market deregulation) via its participation in the Troika. Debts to the ECB are also illegitimate and odious, since the principal raison d’etre of the Securities Market Programme (SMP) was to serve the  interests of the financial institutions, allowing the major European and Greek private banks to dispose of their Greek bonds.
 
The EFSF engages in cash-less loans which should be considered illegal because Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) was violated, and further they breach several socio-economic rights and civil liberties. Moreover, the EFSF Framework Agreement 2010 and the Master Financial Assistance Agreement of 2012 contain several abusive clauses revealing clear misconduct on the part of the lender. The EFSF also acts against democratic principles, rendering these particular debts illegitimate and odious.
 
The bilateral loans should be considered illegal since they violate the procedure provided by the Greek constitution. The loans involved clear misconduct by the lenders, and had conditions that contravened law or public policy. Both EU law and international law were breached in order to sideline human rights in the design of the macroeconomic programmes. The bilateral loans are furthermore illegitimate, since they were not used for the benefit of the population, but merely enabled the private creditors of Greece to be bailed out. Finally, the bilateral loans are odious since the lender states and the European Commission knew of potential violations, but in 2010 and 2012 avoided to assess the human rights impacts of the macroeconomic adjustment and fiscal consolidation that were the conditions for the loans.
 
The debt to private creditors should be considered illegal because private banks conducted themselves irresponsibly before the Troika came into being, failing to observe due diligence, while some private creditors such as hedge funds also acted in bad faith. Parts of the debts to private banks and hedge funds are illegitimate for the same reasons that they are illegal; furthermore, Greek banks were illegitimately recapitalized by tax-payers. Debts to private banks and hedge funds are odious, since major private creditors were aware that these debts were not incurred in the best interests of the population but rather for their own benefit. The report comes to a close with some practical considerations.
 
Chapter 9, Legal foundations for repudiation and suspension of the Greek sovereign debt, presents the options concerning the cancellation of debt, and especially the conditions under which a sovereign state can exercise the right to unilateral act of repudiation or suspension of the payment of debt under international law. Several legal arguments permit a State to unilaterally repudiate its illegal, odious, and illegitimate debt. In the Greek case, such a unilateral act may be based on the following arguments: the bad faith of the creditors that pushed Greece to violate national law and international obligations related to human rights; preeminence of human rights over agreements such as those signed by previous governments with creditors or the Troika; coercion; unfair terms flagrantly violating Greek sovereignty and violating the Constitution; and finally, the right recognized in international law for a State to take countermeasures against illegal acts by its creditors, which purposefully damage its fiscal sovereignty, oblige it to assume odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, violate economic self-determination and fundamental human rights. As far as unsustainable debt is concerned, every state is legally entitled to invoke necessity in exceptional situations in order to safeguard those essential interests threatened by a grave and imminent peril. In such a situation, the State may be dispensed from the fulfilment of those international obligations that augment the peril, as is the case with outstanding loan contracts. Finally, states have the right to declare themselvesunilaterally insolvent where the servicing of their debt is unsustainable, in which case they commit no wrongful act and hence bear no liability.
 
People’s dignity is worth more than illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable debt.
 
Having concluded its preliminary investigation, the Committee considers that Greece has been and still is the victim of an attack premeditated and organized by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. This violent, illegal, and immoral mission aimed exclusively at shifting private debt onto the public sector.
 
Making this preliminary report available to the Greek authorities and the Greek people, the Committee considers to have fulfilled the first part of its mission as defined in the decision of the President of the Hellenic Parliament of 4 April 2015. The Committee hopes that the report will be a useful tool for those who want to exit the destructive logic of austerity and stand up for what is endangered today: human rights, democracy, peoples’ dignity, and the future of generations to come.
 
In response to those who impose unjust measures, the Greek people might invoke what Thucydides mentioned about the constitution of the Athenian people: “As for the name, it is called a democracy, for the administration is run with a view to the interests of the many, not of the few” (Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in the speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War).

Greek Truth Committee on Public Debt – Preliminary Report (Executive Summary)

Truth Committee on Public Debt

Preliminary report

The Truth Committee on Public Debt (Debt Truth Committee) was established on April 4, 2015, by a decision of the President of the Hellenic Parliament, Ms Zoe Konstantopoulou, who confided the Scientific Coordination of its work to Dr. Eric Toussaint and the cooperation of the Committee with the European Parliament and
other Parliaments and international organizations to MEP Ms Sofia Sakorafa.

Members of the Committee have convened in public and closed sessions, to produce this preliminary report, under the supervision of the scientific coordinator and with the cooperation and input of other members of the Committee, as well as experts and contributors.

The preliminary report chapters were coordinated by:

Bantekas Ilias
Contargyris Thanos
Fattorelli Maria Lucia
Husson Michel
Laskaridis Christina
Marchetos Spyros
Onaran Ozlem
Tombazos Stavros
Vatikiotis Leonidas
Vivien Renaud

With contributions from:
Aktypis Héraclès
Albarracin Daniel
Bonfond Olivier
Borja Diego
Cutillas Sergi
Gonçalves Alves Raphaël
Goutziomitros Fotis
Kasimatis Giorgos
Kazakos Aris
Lumina Cephas
Mitralias Sonia
Saurin Patrick
Sklias Pantelis
Spanou Despoina
Stromblos Nikos
Tzitzikou Sofia

The authors are grateful for the advice and input received from other members of the Truth Committee on Public Debt as well as other experts, who contributed to the Committee’s work during the public sessions and hearings and the closed or informal consultations.

The authors are grateful for the valuable assistance of Arnaoutis Petros Konstantinos, Aronis Charalambos, Bama Claudia, Karageorgiou Louiza, Makrygianni Antigoni and Papaioannou Stavros.

Executive Summary

In June 2015 Greece stands at a crossroads of choosing between furthering the failed macroeconomic adjustment programmes imposed by the creditors or making a real change to break the chains of debt. Five years since the economic adjustment programme began, the country remains deeply cemented in an economic, social, democratic and ecological crisis. The black box of debt has remained closed, and until a few months ago no authority, Greek or international, had sought to bring to light the truth about how and why Greece was subjected to the Troika regime. The debt, in the name of which nothing has been spared, remains the rule through which neoliberal adjustment is imposed, and the deepest and longest recession experienced in Europe during peacetime.

There is an immediate democratic need and social responsibility to address a range of legal, social and economic issues that demand proper consideration. In response, the President of the Hellenic Parliament established the Truth Committee on Public Debt (Debt Truth Committee) in April 2015, mandating the investigation into the creation and the increase of public debt, the way and reasons for which debt was contracted, and the impact that the conditionalities attached to the loans have had on the economy and the population. The Truth Committee has a mandate to raise awareness of issues pertaining to the Greek debt, both domestically and internationally, and to formulate arguments and options concerning the cancellation of the debt.

The research of the Committee presented in this preliminary report sheds light on the fact that the entire adjustment programme, to which Greece has been subjugated, was and remains a politically orientated programme. The technical exercise surrounding macroeconomic variables and debt projections, figures directly relating to people’s lives and livelihoods, has enabled discussions around the debt to remain at a technical level mainly revolving around the argument that the policies imposed on Greece will improve its capacity to pay the debt back. The facts presented in
this report challenge this argument.

All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and
odious.

It has also come to the understanding of the Committee that the unsustainability of the Greek public debt was evident from the outset to the international creditors, the Greek authorities, and the corporate media. Yet, the Greek authorities, together with some other governments in the EU, conspired against the restructuring of public debt in 2010 in order to protect financial institutions. The corporate media hid the truth from the public by depicting a situation in which the bailout was argued to benefit Greece, whilst spinning a narrative intended to portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoings.

Bailout funds provided in both programmes of 2010 and 2012 have been externally managed through complicated schemes, preventing any fiscal autonomy. The use of the bailout money is strictly dictated by the creditors, and so, it is revealing that less than 10% of these funds have been destined to the government’s current expenditure.

This preliminary report presents a primary mapping out of the key problems and issues associated with the public debt, and notes key legal violations associated with the contracting of the debt; it also traces out the legal foundations, on which unilateral suspension of the debt payments can be based. The findings are presented in nine chapters structured as follows:

Chapter 1, Debt before the Troika, analyses the growth of the Greek public debt since the 1980s. It concludes that the increase in debt was not due to ex4 cessive public spending, which in fact remained lower than the public spending of other Eurozone countries, but rather due to the payment of extremely high rates of interest to creditors, excessive and unjustified military spending, loss of tax revenues due to illicit capital outflows, state recapitalization of private banks, and the international imbalances created via the flaws in the design of the Monetary Union itself. Adopting
the euro led to a drastic increase of private debt in Greece to which major European private banks as well as the Greek banks were exposed. A growing banking crisis contributed to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. George Papandreou’s government helped to present the elements of a banking crisis as a sovereign debt crisis in 2009 by emphasizing and boosting the public deficit and debt.

Chapter 2, Evolution of Greek public debt during 2010-2015, concludes that the first loan agreement of 2010, aimed primarily to rescue the Greek and other European private banks, and to allow the banks to reduce their exposure to Greek government bonds.

Chapter 3, Greek public debt by creditor in 2015, presents the contentious nature of Greece’s current debt, delineating the loans’ key characteristics, which are further analysed in Chapter 8.

Chapter 4, Debt System Mechanism in Greece reveals the mechanisms devised by the agreements that were implemented since May 2010. They created a substantial amount of new debt to bilateral creditors and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), whilst generating abusive costs thus deepening the crisis further. The mechanisms disclose how the majority of borrowed funds were transferred directly to financial institutions. Rather than benefitting Greece, they have accelerated the privatization process, through the use of financial instruments.

Chapter 5, Conditionalities against sustainability, presents how the creditors imposed intrusive conditionalities attached to the loan agreements, which led directly to the economic unviability and unsustainability of debt. These conditionalities, on which the creditors still insist, have not only contributed to lower GDP as well as higher public borrowing, hence a higher public debt/GDP making Greece’s debt more
unsustainable, but also engineered dramatic changes in the society, and caused a humanitarian crisis. The Greek public debt can be considered as totally unsustainable at present.

Chapter 6, Impact of the “bailout programmes” on human rights, concludes that the measures implemented under the “bailout programmes” have directly affected living conditions of the people and violated human rights, which Greece and its partners are obliged to respect, protect and promote under domestic, regional and international law. The drastic adjustments, imposed on the Greek economy and society as a whole, have brought about a rapid deterioration of living standards, and remain incompatible with social justice, social cohesion, democracy and human rights.

Chapter 7, Legal issues surrounding the MoU and Loan Agreements, argues there has been a breach of human rights obligations on the part of Greece itself and the lenders, that is the Euro Area (Lender) Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, who imposed these measures on Greece. All these actors failed to assess the human rights violations as an outcome of the policies they obliged Greece to pursue, and also directly violated the Greek constitution by effectively stripping Greece of most of its sovereign rights. The agreements contain abusive clauses, effectively coercing Greece to surrender significant aspects of its sovereignty. This is imprinted in the choice of the English law as governing law for those agreements, which facilitated
the circumvention of the Greek Constitution and international human rights obligations. Conflicts with human rights and customary obligations, several indications of contracting parties acting in bad faith, which together with the unconscionable character of the agreements, render these agreements invalid.

Chapter 8, Assessment of the Debts as regards illegitimacy, odiousness, illegality, and unsustainability, provides an assessment of the Greek public debt according to the definitions regarding illegitimate, odious, illegal, and unsustainable debt adopted by the Committee.

Chapter 8 concludes that the Greek public debt as of June 2015 is unsustainable, since Greece is currently unable to service its debt without seriously impairing its capacity to fulfill its basic human rights obligations. Furthermore, for each creditor, the report provides evidence of indicative cases of illegal, illegitimate and odious debts.

Debt to the IMF should be considered illegal since its concession breached the IMF’s own statutes, and its conditions breached the Greek Constitution, international customary law, and treaties to which Greece is a party. It is also illegitimate, since conditions included policy prescriptions that infringed human rights obligations. Finally, it is odious since the IMF knew that the imposed measures were undemocratic, ineffective, and would lead to serious violations of socio-economic rights.

Debts to the ECB should be considered illegal since the ECB over-stepped its mandate by imposing the application of macroeconomic adjustment programmes (e.g. labour market deregulation) via its participation in the Troika. Debts to the ECB are also illegitimate and odious, since the principal raison d’etre of the Securities Market Programme (SMP) was to serve the interests of the financial institutions, allowing the major European and Greek private banks to dispose of their Greek bonds.

The EFSF engages in cash-less loans which should be considered illegal because Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) was violated, and further they breach several socio-economic rights and civil liberties. Moreover, the EFSF Framework Agreement 2010 and the Master Financial Assistance Agreement of 2012 contain several abusive clauses revealing clear misconduct on the part of the lender. The EFSF also acts against democratic principles, rendering these particular debts illegitimate and odious.

The bilateral loans should be considered illegal since they violate the procedure provided by the Greek constitution. The loans involved clear misconduct by the lenders, and had conditions that contravened law or public policy. Both EU law and international law were breached in order to sideline human rights in the design of the macroeconomic programmes. The bilateral loans are furthermore illegitimate, since they were not used for the benefit of the population, but merely enabled the private creditors of Greece to be bailed out. Finally, the bilateral loans are odious since the lender states and the European Commission knew of potential violations, but in 2010 and 2012 avoided to assess the human rights impacts of the macroeconomic adjustment and fiscal consolidation that were the conditions for the loans.

The debt to private creditors should be considered illegal because private banks conducted themselves irresponsibly before the Troika came into being, failing to observe due diligence, while some private creditors such as hedge funds also acted in bad faith. Parts of the debts to private banks and hedge funds are illegitimate for the same reasons that they are illegal; furthermore, Greek banks were illegitimately recapitalized by tax-payers. Debts to private banks and hedge funds are odious, since major private creditors were aware that these debts were not incurred in the best interests of the population but rather for their own benefit. The report comes to a close with some practical considerations.

Chapter 9, Legal foundations for repudiation and suspension of the Greek sovereign debt, presents the options concerning the cancellation of debt, and especially the conditions under which a sovereign state can exercise the right to unilateral act of repudiation or suspension of the payment of debt under international law. Several legal arguments permit a State to unilaterally repudiate its illegal, odious, and illegitimate debt. In the Greek case, such a unilateral act may be based on the following arguments: the bad faith of the creditors that pushed Greece to violate national law and international obligations related to human rights; preeminence of human rights over agreements such as those signed by previous governments with creditors or the Troika; coercion; unfair terms flagrantly violating Greek sovereignty and violating the Constitution; and finally, the right recognized in international law for a State to take countermeasures against illegal acts by its creditors, which purposefully damage its fiscal sovereignty, oblige it to assume odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, violate economic self-determination and fundamental human rights. As far as unsustainable debt is concerned, every state is legally entitled to invoke necessity in exceptional situations in order to safeguard those essential interests threatened by a grave and imminent peril. In such a situation, the State may be dispensed from the fulfilment of those international obligations that augment the peril, as is the case with outstanding loan contracts. Finally, states have the right to declare themselves unilaterally insolvent where the servicing of their debt is unsustainable, in which case they commit no wrongful act and hence bear no liability.

People’s dignity is worth more than illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable debt.

Having concluded its preliminary investigation, the Committee considers that Greece has been and still is the victim of an attack premeditated and organized by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. This violent, illegal, and immoral mission aimed exclusively at shifting private debt onto the public sector.

Making this preliminary report available to the Greek authorities and the Greek people, the Committee considers to have fulfilled the first part of its mission as defined in the decision of the President of the Hellenic Parliament of 4 April 2015. The Committee hopes that the report will be a useful tool for those who want to exit the destructive logic of austerity and stand up for what is endangered today: human rights, democracy, peoples’ dignity, and the future of generations to come.

In response to those who impose unjust measures, the Greek people might invoke what Thucydides mentioned about the constitution of the Athenian people: “As for the name, it is called a democracy, for the administration is run with a view to the interests of the many, not of the few” (Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in the speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War).

The “New Turkey”: Fetishizing Growth with Fatal Results

http://monthlyreview.org/2015/06/01/the-new-turkey-fetishizing-growth-with-fatal-results/

The “New Turkey”: Fetishizing Growth with Fatal Results

by Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz

Zuhal Yeşilyurt Gündüz is an associate professor in Political Science and International Relations at TED University in Ankara, Turkey.

“This is not something that suddenly happened. I can tell you that there are people here who are dying, people who are injured and it’s all because of money…. They send us here like lambs to slaughter. We are not safe doing this job.” —Özcan Cüce, Soma mine disaster survivor1

Turkey’s ruling party has turned the country, which it calls “the new Turkey,” into a capitalist nightmare: a triad of neoliberal economics, political despotism, and Islamist conservatism. This article provides an overview of neoliberalism in Turkey, then looks at the government’s extraction policies, highlighting the Soma mine massacre as one tragic example of the destructive policies of the governing party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party). It also examines the extreme authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (formerly prime minister), and the growing cultural-relgious conservatism, which the AKP has interlaced with Islamist rhetoric. This hegemonic triad of neoliberalism, despotism, and conservatism is an especially dangerous one. However, it is being increasingly criticized, and resistance movements against neoliberal policies are growing. All of this gives some hope for Turkey’s future.

Neoliberalism in Turkey

Turkey used to be an agriculture powerhouse—one of only seven countries that could feed its people without agricultural imports. Turkey used to have state-led industrialization, import substitution, and protectionism, and still registered economic and industrial growth (although it also faced unemployment, high inflation, and debt problems). Turkey used to be all this and much more. After all, Turkey is a beautiful country, surrounded on three sides with seas. It has great lakes and rivers, huge forests, high mountains, and grand water falls.

However, much of this was crushed beginning January 24, 1980, the day neoliberalism entered Turkey and the government instituted a set of drastic economic restructuring measures. The ruling center-right Adalet Partisi (Justice Party) began a neoliberal program, which built upon capital accumulation and export support, opened the Turkish economy to foreign capital penetration, and turned the state into a mere servant of capital accumulation. Export subventions, privatization, deregulation, and finance and trade liberalization continuously increased.2 Eight months later, the military intervened and ran the country for three years, during which it did its best to demolish the left and strengthen the neoliberal regime. Nothing was as it used to be and the changes realized in Turkey fulfilled the wishes and dreams of the Western powers, whether dressed as the IMF, World Bank, United States, or European Union. The neoliberal system was further developed under Turgut Özal, who was first prime minister (1983–1989) and then president (1989–1993). The many economic crises (1994, 1999, 2001, and 2008–2009) did not bring a reversal of neoliberalism; instead, it was further fostered by the very crises it had created.3

Turkey’s neoliberalism culminated in the new millennium with the rise of the AKP, a party with an Islamist background. The party wedded Islamist populism to neoliberalism, which has been critically dubbed “neoliberalism with a Muslim face.”4 By winning over liberal intellectual and economic circles, the AKP has built a historic bloc with Islamic sentiments; İlhan Uzgel calls it “the new hegemonic bloc.”5 Thus, in order to alter Turkey, the AKP initially had to alter itself.6

Under the AKP, the state became a facilitator of a neoliberal market economy and the protector of private capital. It no longer had a role in production, and totally integrated the Turkish economy with global markets. The party also continued the IMF program in full accord with business circles.7 In order to attract the popular classes (and their votes), the AKP connected traditional religious values with liberal ones such as globalization. Though Islam was not constructed as the core reference point, its role is vital to the AKP’s cultural-religious conservatism, and thus the party embodies not only the intersection of Islam and democracy, but also Islam and neoliberalism.8

What the AKP claimed as an “economic miracle” was nothing of the sort. Austerity policies, finance-driven growth, a private capital growth imperative, privatization, commodification of public services, huge rent regions from privatized lands that were formerly commons, decreasing security and living standards, wage cuts, cheap and easy-to-hire-and-fire labor, finance capital inflows, and a high trade deficit—this is not an “economic miracle.” Real production is diminishing and Turkey depends more and more on importing intermediary and capital goods, energy of all kinds, and even agricultural products.9

The AKP’s economic model is built on two pillars. The first is crazed consumption via consumer credit. Turkey, with 74 million people, has 57 million credit cards with a total debt of $45 billion. Giving the public consumer credit en masse was the main factor in Turkey’s growth and “the magic trick that filled empty malls, and the opium that kept the majority of people quiet, happy and obedient.”10 The second pillar is immense rent gains via commercialization of the commons. Lands, rivers, mountains, farmland, historical buildings, forests, parks—nothing is safe from commodification.11

The result of the AKP’s policies was a continuous pauperization of the population and an increase in income injustice. In order to decrease social tensions and conflict, the AKP turned to “charity”—which it painted in Islamist colors. Thus, while weakening social policies and therefore public responsibility, the AKP promoted philanthropy to soften and ease the plight of the poor. By forgoing social welfare practices, the AKP maintained a “mercy economy,” for the very poor.12

Turkey may show signs of aggregate GDP growth. It may now be formally the sixteenth-largest economy, arrogantly pronouncing huge jumps towards “the new Turkey,” and striving towards the Top Ten. But in various global indexes, the country has fared much worse: in the UNDP’s Human Development Index 2013, Turkey was ninetieth; in Transparency International’s 2014 list, sixty-fourth; in the 2014 Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, it was one-hundred twenty fifth; and in the Climate Change Performance Index 2014, Turkey was among those countries considered “very bad.”13

Growth Fetishism with Fatal Results

It is more than a tragic irony that the AKP dubbed 2014 the “year of the environment,” while it more honestly should have called it the year (or decade) of extreme exploitation of the environment!

The AKP’s neoliberalism comes with tragic outcomes. This “merciless growth,” which easily relinquishes humans, environment, and the commons for the “absolute fetish of economic growth,” is driven by the construction sector, whose dynasts have passionate relations with the government.14 People are not given a chance to participate in decision-making, even on issues that concern their lives deeply. Cities are opened up endlessly to the services of capital. It is no surprise, then, that Istanbul is now called “the city, which sold its soul to capital.” Cities resemble huge construction areas and some areas are so full of skyscrapers, apartment blocks, and other huge buildings that it just takes one’s breath away—in the most negative sense of the term. The AKP’s development endeavors—the skyscrapers and business towers—steal even the ability and right to see the sky above.15

The AKP managed to connect consumption and construction closely with each other. Whereas a decade ago there were a few shopping malls in Turkey, by May 2014 the number has reached 329, with Istanbul alone being home to ninety-seven malls. In comparison, London has forty-two, Berlin and Rome have forty-three, Barcelona has forty-five, and Paris “just” fifteen. In the first seventy-nine years of the Republic of Turkey, twenty-six airports were built, and during the twelve years of AKP rule, twenty-six new ones have been added—with more to come.16 Huge skyscrapers, shopping malls, the third bridge over the Bosporus, the third airport in Istanbul, nuclear plants aside hydroelectric and thermal power plants, and many more projects constitute Turkey’s “development.” More income for corporations means the opposite for all others, as people pay the price for this type of “growth.” Some lose their health and others their lives, in addition to environmental destruction such as the loss of forests, land, and clean drinking water. Claudia von Werlhof describes this bluntly: “While a tiny minority reaps enormous benefits from today’s economic liberalism, the vast majority of the earth’s human and non-human population, and the earth itself, suffer hardship to an extent that puts their very survival at risk.”17

The AKP’s program is built upon economic growth and ever-growing capital, and for this reason the government resists increasing workers’ safety regulations. According to the Workers Health and Safety Group, between 2002 and 2014 at least 14,455 workers have lost their lives at work. The report reveals a continuous increase: 811 workers died in 2003, 1,235 in 2013, and 1,600 in the first ten months alone of 2014.18 Turkey ranks first in Europe (eight-and-a-half times higher than the EU average) and third globally in workplace accidents. From 2002 to 2011, workplace accidents have risen by 40 percent—a daily average of 219 accidents, with four deaths and five left unable to work. The mine sector is the most dangerous, with over 10 percent of miners suffering accidents at work. These are the deadly outcomes of three decades of privatization, subcontracting, outsourcing, poor occupational safety and health regulations, and insufficient, pre-arranged, pro-corporate inspections by authorities.19 These factors make Turkey “cheap” and “competitive” globally—perfect to serve Western capitalism.

Extractivism

In order to grow and develop, or so the AKP-written story goes, Turkey needs energy. As the country depends on energy imports while simultaneously “sitting” upon various forms of natural resources, the AKP stimulates the buildup of a “less energy dependent Turkey.” The fairy tales about the “need” for “more energy,” more coal mines and coal extraction, more hydroelectric and thermal power plants—plus the “must” for nuclear energy plants—is repeated over and over again by President Erdoğan and the AKP, who dream of a fossil-fuel dependent energy policy. They ask, “How else could Turkey grow? How else could it get rich?”

Turkey’s energy dependency is indeed quite impressive: it imports 98.6 percent of gas, 93 percent of oil, and 92 percent of coal. In 2012, 75 percent of all energy consumption was imported, while the rest was supplied from lignite (brown coal) production.20 Therefore, the story goes, Turkey should use its “own” resources and extract more of these natural resources from domestic sources.

In “The New Extractivism,” Henry Veltmeyer and James Petras deal with this issue, defining extractivism as a decision by governments and corporations to extract more and more natural resources and to export these primary goods in order to “develop” economically and “cure” global recession, while disregarding the health, social, and environmental costs of this policy. Extractivism as a model of accumulation has a history going back five hundred years. When the capitalist system began to colonize huge parts of the globe, it structured itself around the raw materials found there. Since then, extractivist accumulation has been decided upon as a general policy (indeed a necessity of their existence by the natural-resource hungry centers of capitalism). Alberto Acosta reminds us of “the paradox of plenty” and “the resource curse”—and that it is always transnational corporations that are the “major beneficiaries of these activities.”21 Extractivism goes beyond resource extraction and implies a development model. Fossil energy is not only the basis for capitalist production, but also the major force of capitalism and capitalist growth.22 This indeed is “today’s imperialist plundering.”23

It is here that the AKP joined this neoliberal game, and 2012 was a turning point. Decreasing growth rates, lessening of foreign capital income, and the effect of the global economic crisis were all felt in Turkey. The AKP came up with the idea to decrease Turkey’s energy dependency and to turn to a domestic energy production, built upon domestic coal. The government would privatize land with coal areas, while giving incentives and guarantees to buy the produced goods. Capital meanwhile would build up thermal power plants, diminish workers’ safety and work guarantees, decrease costs of production, and sell their goods, as promised. And the remaining coal would be given away as charity coal bags for the AKP, especially before elections. Agricultural farming land would be part of emergency expropriation. Thus, the AKP loudly claimed it would turn the “crisis into an opportunity”—whereas in reality they created a neoliberal plunder economy.24

Between 2003 and 2011, 66 percent of Turkey’s growth was based on twelve sectors. Half of them were connected to construction and construction-related fossil-fuel sectors, which are all dependent on foreign imports or investments. Imported gas and coal accounts for 55.8 percent of the electricity produced in thermal power plants, and nearly all coal and steel is imported. Thus, Turkey’s growth in these sectors also means a growth in its trade deficit.25

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s November 6, 2014, announcement of Turkey’s tenth development plan for the years 2014–2018 highlights energy as a main priority. Davutoğlu stated that legislation would be finalized soon to boost local construction of hydropower turbines exceeding 50 megawatts, to stimulate coal-fired thermal power plants all over Turkey’s lignite areas by the end of 2015 through public-private cooperation, and to minimize the scrap dependence for raw materials by the iron-steel sector. This will bring an extractivism explosion to Turkey. However, as most of the coal-fired thermal power plants are driven with imported coal, it will by no means bring a lessening of dependency. Given the government’s drive to become a “global energy hub” and a vital geopolitical power “Turkey’s obsession with a fossil-fuel-driven developmentalism” is hardly surprising.26

The development plan highlights an energy production program that leans on local resources and a program to improve energy efficiency, and seeks to increase the amount of national resources in energy production from 27 to 35 percent. As there are no oil and gas reserves in Turkey, what is meant by “national or local resources” is lignite, which has the worst efficiency and highest waste among coal types. And what is meant by “improving efficiency” is to build thermal power stations on lignite areas all over the country. It is obvious that this plan does not take into consideration the well-being of humans or nature. Its main priority is capital maximization, plundering, and marauding—as much and as long as it can.27

However, reports reveal that the government’s projections of energy needs are at least 25 percent higher than they are in reality. Turkey has the potential to have 47 percent of energy consumption come from renewable energy by 2030, at economic costs that are no higher than the current energy policy, and at human and social costs that are much lower than the current ones.28 Turkey has one of the best renewable energy potentials in Europe, with 380 billion kilowatt-hours of energy that could come from solar photovoltaic energy and 48,000 megawatts wind capacity (Turkey’s current capacity is only 2,000 megawatts). Renewable energy resources are clean, safe, and create employment. The European Wind Energy Association stresses that building a 1 megawatt wind turbine creates fifteen new jobs.29 But instead of turning to clean energy, the AKP keeps on insisting on dirty energy policies by repeating the lie that “our country needs energy.”

Besides, what are considered “energy needs” does not include energy used by households. Data reveals that the increase in energy consumption from 2009 to 2010 was close to 15,150,000 megawatt hours. While 15 percent of the increase stemmed from households, the rest was from industry and trade. Similar results can be seen in the increase from 2010 to 2011.30 Thus, not only are the energy increase estimates overestimates, but the AKP refuses to mention the real reason for the increase: industrial production geared to capital accumulation.

Another predicament is the AKP’s “heroism literature” on nuclear energy. Number one on this list is, “If Turkey does not build nuclear plants, it will remain without electricity.” By repeating this lie over and over, the AKP tries to justify its dangerous decision to build nuclear plants. The story goes, “Turkey faces a quick increase in energy and electricity demand and we have to do something.” Experts stress that the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources’ projections do not reflect reality. Özgür Gürbüz points to a failure to confront the issue of inflated electricity demand, saynig the government is “shockingly slow off the mark” in taking measures to decrease losses in energy efficiency associated with the transmission and distribution of electrictity.31 Thus the aim is to build two nuclear power plants, one in Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast (in an earthquake-prone region) and one in Sinop on the Black Sea; both are beautiful places that will be ruined. Regulations about critical issues like security and nuclear waste were not dealt with at all. The government’s disinformation and political repression leaves no hope for court cases against the nuclear plants.

Soma

The Soma district in the Aegean province of Manisa used to be beautiful farm land, rich with crops like tobacco, olives, wine grapes, and wheat.32 It was a prosperous agricultural region until the 1990s, when the state stopped giving agricultural subsidies. Farming became a difficult way to make a living, and many people left for the big cities. Soma was turned into a huge coal-mining district, resulting in deforestation, decreasing fertility of farming land, and the pollution of soil, air, and water. Many of those who stayed in Soma—which is home to nearly 40 percent of Turkey’s two billion ton lignite coal reserve, as well as a lignite-fired thermal power plant—found work in one of the (then state-owned) coal mines. Today, out of a population of 105,000, the mining industry employs 16,000. On the entrance wall of Soma’s state hospital you can read the fatalistic sentence, “For those who give a life for a handful of coal.”

Truly, Turkey has become a country that removes both natural resources and corpses from underneath the earth. Enslaved workers await death while laboring under inhumane conditions for their families’ sheer survival. The AKP’s neoliberal policies minimize agriculture and turn land workers into mine workers; instead of farming above the soil, they are forced to dig underneath the earth.

The tragic mine disaster in Soma on May 13, 2014, was only one of many deadly incidents. What was different was the sheer number of workers killed—301 mine workers in one so-called “accident.” Sendika.org calls it “one of the greatest workplace murders in Turkish history.”33 CEO of Soma Holding Alp Gürkan previously had proclaimed that they had succeeded in reducing production costs from $130 to $24 a ton after privatization in 2005. This “success” was, unsurprisingly, the result of cuts in production costs like wages and safety measures. Most mine workers are insufficiently trained, and are temporary or unregistered workers; some are even underage. Despite this, in July 2013 the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources applauded Soma Holding for creating “exemplary mining complexes that prioritize the safety of miners.” Wages are so dismal that, for shifts as long as twelve hours, the salary a mine worker receives is as low as 420 euros—just above the official hunger line (the amount of money necessary for buying enough food for a family—as opposed to the more common “poverty line,” which includes costs like rent, transportation, and education) for a four-person household of 402 euros. Soma Holding then invested the Soma profits in Istanbul’s high-profit construction sector. Yaşar Adanalı, a researcher of urban development, says:

The capital accumulated by the exploitative working conditions is highly visible in the city [Istanbul], as it fuels the erection of many speculative real estate projects, such as the Spine Tower of Soma Corporation. The Spine Tower in Maslak, the major business district in Istanbul, is the tallest skyscraper in town and one of the most expensive, with its $10,000 price tag per square metre…. After the Soma Massacre, people in Istanbul had organised various protests in front of the Spine Tower Project, stating that “the blood of the workers is dripping from the tower.”34

Remarkably, in October 2013, seven months before the massacre, Özgür Özel, a parliamentarian from the main opposition party Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), had proposed a parliamentary commission to investigate the very high number of workplace accidents and deplorable security measures of the Soma mines, and to improve safety regulations. This was rejected by the AKP on April 29, 2014, with an AKP parliamentarian declaring Turkish mines to be safer than those of most countries! And what else could he say? Soma Holding and the government had such close ties that the wife of the company’s general director was an AKP councilor.

Intimidation is one way the AKP fills large meeting areas all over Turkey. For example, Soma Holding workers were forced to participate in an AKP meeting before the local elections in March 2014. They were told that if they refused to go, they would not be paid that day.35 Some weeks after the disaster, a parliamentary inquiry commission for Soma was finally established with all parties’ consent. This, however, was too little, too late for the victims of the massacre.

Another aspect of the AKP’s conservative Islamist policies is impoverishing and victimizing the people, and then giving them Islamic alms instead of rights-based social welfare. Indeed, it was Soma’s bloodstained coal that was provided as charity coal bags for the earlier local elections—consolation prizes for workers whose benefits had been stolen and jobs destroyed by the same party.

Another Erdoğan method is to dismiss criticism by normalizing workplace accidents. In an “accident” that resulted in thirty dead coal miners in May 2010 in northern Turkey’s Karadon, he used Islamist fatalism to shrug off criticism by stating “death is in the nature of mining” and it is part of the “profession’s fate.” After Soma, Erdoğan referred to the many who died in European and U.S. mine disasters in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to minimize the tragedy. He and his bodyguards also attacked the mourning families directly. National trade union protests after the disaster were ferociously met by police with water cannons and tear gas, and military troops were sent to the region to repress protests by the grieving families.36

Iron despotism is widening all over Turkey. Aslı Iğsız says that the law is “deployed to concentrate power and to promote neoliberal institutionalization, whereas those who are unhappy with these policies are criminalized. This was exemplified in the Gezi protests.”37 During the summer 2013 Gezi resistance increased against privatization of the commons, the destruction of the environment, growing conservatism, and increasing despotic rule. Erdoğan violently suppressed the protests. Police used 130,000 tons of tear gas canisters and water cannons—some of which launched water mixed with chemicals—on the protestors. Well over 2.5 million people, in all but two Turkish cities, participated in the Gezi resistance. Eight young men (including a fourteen-year old) were killed, nearly 5,000 people were taken into custody, and over 4,000 were injured.38 The government’s answer to peaceful protests was as repressive as possible.

Fatalities

On October 28, 2014, just six months after the massacre in Soma, in an Ermenek/Karaman coal mine eighteen miners were trapped 300 meters underground by 11,000 tons of water pressing on a broken wall. The miners were on a lunch break, which they were forced to take underground since the mine owner would not allow them to eat above the earth, as this would take too long—lessening profits. Later it became public that mine workers had sent 124 complaint letters to the Labor Ministry about the mine’s inhuman and unsafe conditions.39

A month later, there was the olive tree murder in Yırca, very close to Soma. The murderer was Kolin Holding, one of the clientelist construction and energy corporations, helping to build Istanbul’s third airport, which will destroy the Kuzey Forests there. Kolin felled 6,000 olive trees overnight—most of them with their fresh olives on their twigs—to build a coal-fired thermal power plant. Public-private cooperation worked perfectly here, and the emergency expropriation of May 10, 2014, occurred without notifying the peasants, whose very survival depends on the olive trees and their lands. Whereas the law states that emergency expropriation can be applied under very exceptional circumstances (such as a war or state of emergency), the AKP prefers this method when seizing peasants’ land to give to comprador companies.40 The next morning the State Council’s decision was made public: Kolin was not given permission to build a thermal power plant at Yırca. Thus, the people of Yırca experienced the most depressing and exhilarating feelings within the span of a few hours. And at the moment of the announcement about the power plant, they picked up their tools and did what they are best at—planting new olive trees.

Soma, Ermenek, and Yırca—these are just a few examples of a much larger story. For many years the Bergama district, close to the city of Izmir, has fought against gold mining and the use of sulfuric acid for extracting gold. In the Çaldağı district of the city of Manisa, the fight against the poisoning of the soil with sulfuric acid to extract nickel has been going on for years, with CHP deputy Hasan Ören helping lead the fight. Two hundred thousand trees have been felled by the company that aims at extracting nickel. Activists protest the mine because it will poison the valuable area close to Gediz Valley, which is vital for agricultural farming. If they fail, two million trees may be felled at this beautiful mountain and Gediz Valley will no longer be home for agriculture.

In September 2014, ten workers were killed when an elevator rocketed to the ground from the thirty-second floor of an under-construction luxury skyscraper in Mecidiyeköy in the Şişli district of Istanbul as safety regulations were disdained. Disregarding a court rule to stop the construction of a mosque in the Validebağ Grove in Istanbul, construction vehicles came in and could not be stopped by those who resisted. Erdoğan declared the protestors as “enemies” of mosques. In Alakır Valley, a natural preservation site, five hydroelectric power plant projects are being built, with hundreds more to come. These are just some examples of what what is happening on a monthly basis in Turkey.

Every single little park, small sea, and tiny forest faces the same fate: someone will come and find a way to make money by destroying it. This growth-at-any-cost policy is obviously not sustainable. What strikes a human being most is the “normalization” of these accidents, injuries, and deaths. What happens in Turkey during a single day should be more than enough for a year, or two, or longer! This leaves us breathless, hopeless, and devastated. However, it is this neoliberal style of privatization, deregulation, and wage declines—so dangerous for humans—that makes Turkey lucrative and attractive for Western capital. This is the reason why the neoliberal Western countries are no less guilty than the AKP itself for keeping this system alive—and enriching themselves, too.

Conclusion

The “new Turkey” is built upon a triad of marauder capitalism, repressive government, and conservative Islamism.41 Any analysis of Turkey needs to understand this first. This also means that resistance is insufficient as long as it does not also include resistance against political repression and Islamist conservatism, as they all feed on each other.

The Gezi resistance against disaster capitalism’s urban and energy projects—which destroy the environment and the commons—and against growing state repression and conservatism was a turning point in Turkey. The Soma protests from May to June 2014 added to awareness of the unscrupulousness of the regime of capital. Michael Hardt says: “This is a turning point in the public recognition of the destruction of Erdoğan’s neo-liberal policies that create wealth for a few and undermine the well-being of the many including the working class.”42 He added, “It is certainly an opportunity but one that must confront numerous hurdles, including not only a powerful government repression and propaganda machine but also the relative lack of existing political and cultural ties among different sectors of the contemporary working class.”43

Currently resistance to the AKP’s policies are going on all over Turkey. One example of months of resistance is Fatsa, on the Black Sea, where people are fighting the use of cyanide in gold mining, which will destroy the forests and farmland. Their slogan is easy to grasp: “What is above the earth is worth much more than what is underneath!” In Turkish, this is play on words: Toprağın üstü altından değerlidir! also means “What is above the earth is worth much more than gold!” This slogan has become a common one in struggles against AKP energy policies. Studies of the Kaz and Çaldağı Mountains reveal that with a more sustainable agriculture and a focus on animal husbandry, a much higher income could be earned, the peasants could keep on producing food, the environment would be saved, and less energy would be needed. Instead the insistence on extracting resources will only destroy the environment and agricultural production, as well as the lives and health of the people. So it is best to keep under the earth what is underground. Indeed, mother earth knows best—otherwise she would have put those assets above ground herself!

The social philosophy that increasingly inspires South America—sumac kawsaym, buen vivir [good living]—is worth considering globally. It is a community-centric, ecologically balanced, and culturally sensitive way of living that is built upon harmony between humans and harmony between humans and nature. Eduardo Gudynas, a leading scholar, stresses the need to consume less, understand the beauty of the small and little, and change production processes.44 But this necessarily entails both resistance and ecological revolution. Ignacio Sabbatella states “even with good intentions, the transition towards an ecological society is no more than a utopia if the foundations of capitalist production and reproduction are not questioned and altered.”45 This then brings us to Joel Kovel’s eco-socialism, aiming at renovating the “integrity of our relationship to nature…. Eco-socialism is the ushering in, then, of a whole mode of production, one in which freely associated labor produces flourishing ecosystems rather than commodities.”46

In spring 2011, peasants from all over Turkey, together with their animals, walked for weeks to Ankara to protest against hydroelectric power plants that harmed the rivers and waterways on which their farms depended. For generations they had worked in flourishing ecosystems and did not harm the earth. Now they came to a point of no return as they lost more and more of their valuable lands and waters to dirty energy policies. After weeks of walking they were not even allowed to enter the Turkish parliament to express their predicament. Their slogan Anadolu’yu vermeyeceğiz (“We will not give away Anatolia”—Anatolia is the greater, Asian part of Turkey) was widely heard, although not by the AKP, but by others. Anadolu (Anatolia) spirit, just like the Gezi spirit, is still felt all over Turkey. It is vital to widen these protests and to make them all-encompassing. This is the only way for us all to survive—buen vivir!

Notes

1 Turkey Coalmine Collapse in Manisa Kills at least 205 and Traps Hundreds Underground,” updated May 14, 2014, http://abc.net.au.

2 Nilgün Onder, “The Turkish Political Economy: Globalization and Regionalism,” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 6 (2007): 231–33.

3 Pınar Bedirhanoğlu, Restrukturierung des türkischen Staates im Kontext der neoliberalen Globalisierung (Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2008), 111.

4 Simten Coşar and Aylin Özman, “Centre-right Politics in Turkey after the November 2002 General Elections: Neoliberalism with a Muslim Face,” Contemporary Politics 10, no. 1 (2004): 57–74. See also Simten Coşar and Gamze Yücesan-Özdemir, eds., Silent Violence: Neoliberalism, Islamist Politics and the AKP Years in Turkey (Ottawa: Red Quill, 2012).

5 İlhan Uzgel, “AKP: Neoliberal dönüşümün yeni aktörü,” in İlhan Uzgel and Bülent Duru, eds., AKP kitabı: Bir dönüşümün bilançosu (Ankara: Phoenix, 2009), 12, 25.

6 Ibid, 12, 27.

7 Onder, “The Turkish Political Economy,” 241.

8 Uzgel, “AKP,” 22–24.

9 T. Sabri Öncü, “The Standing Man of Turkey,” June 21–23, 2013, http://counterpunch.org.

10 Joris Leverink, “‘Today We Resist’: Celebrating Gezi One Year Later,” May 31, 2014, http://roarmag.org.

11 Öncü, “The Standing Man of Turkey.”

12 Metin Altıok, “Neo-liberal Yapısal Uyum Sürecinde Son Evre: AKP Hükümeti,” Toplum ve Demokrasi 1, no. 1 (September–December 2007): 70–71.

13 UNDP, “Turkey Ranks 90th in Human Development Index,” March 15, 2013, http://undp.org; Transparency International, “Corruption by Country,” accessed April 10, 2015, http://transparency.org; World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 (Geneva: WEF, 2014), http://www3.weforum.org, 10, 11, 13, 26; Climate Change Performance Index 2014, various charts, https://germanwatch.org.

14 Halil Gurhanli, “Mass Murder in Soma Mine: Crony Capitalism and Fetish of Growth in Turkey,” June 9, 2014, http://politiikasta.fi.

15 AKP’nin neoliberal çılgınlıkları: Rant, yoksulluk, beton,” November 22, 2014, http://marksist.org.

16 AVM sayısı 329’a ulaştı, 24 il AVM’siz kaldı,” May 25, 2014, http://emlak.haber7.com; “Erdoğan: Hani Mustafa Kemal demir ağlara çok düşkündü,” Sol Gazete, June 19, 2014, http://haber.sol.org.tr.

17 Claudia von Werlhof, “The Globalization of Neoliberalism, Its Consequences, and Some of its Basic Alternatives,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 19, no. 3 (September 2008): 94.

18 AKP’li 12 yılda 14 binden fazla işçi yaşamını yitirdi,” Cumhuriyet, November 3, 2014, http://cumhuriyet.com.tr.

19 Kivanç Eliaçık and Burcu Türkay, “Equal Times: ‘Profits Over People=Murder in the Mines’,” May 18, 2014, http://ifwea.org.

20 Mehveş Evin, “Enerjide hesaplar yanlış, gidiş felaket,” Milliyet, November 24, 2014, http://milliyet.com.tr.

21 Alberto Acosta, “Extractivism and Neoextractivism: Two Sides of the Same Curse,” in Miriam Lang, Lyda Fernando, and Nick Buxton, eds., Beyond Development (Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2013), 61, 67, http://tni.org.

22 Ulrich Brand, “Energy Policy and Resource Extractivism: Resistances and Alternatives,” in Energy Policy and Resource Extractivism: Resistances and Alternatives; Reader of the Seminar in Tunis, 24–26 March 2013, compiled by Marlis Gensler (Brussels: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2013), http://rosalux-europa.info, 3.

23 Cristóbal Kay, book blurb for Henry Veltmeyer and James Petras, The New Extractivism, http://zedbooks.co.uk.

24 Deniz Yıldırım, “Soma, Yatağan, Ermenek: Bütünlüklü saldırı,” Birgün, November 2, 2014, http://birgun.net.

25 Melis Alphan, “Büyüyoruz da, nasıl büyüyoruz ona bakalım,” Hürriyet, June 9, 2014, http://sosyal.hurriyet.com.tr.

26 Ethemcan Turhan, “Soma, Ermenek, Yirca: Can Anti-Coal Activists Defend Coal Miners and Olive Farmers?,” December 18, 2014, http://jadaliyya.com.

27 2015’i örgütlemeye…–Aktüel Gündem,” December 31, 2014, http://sendika.org.

28 Güncelleme Tarihi, “Kömüre Hücum’un Ekonomik Bir Alternatifi Var,” November 17, 2014, http://wwf.org.tr.

29 Özgür Gürbüz, “Which Is More Dangerous: Nuclear Lies or Radiation?,” http://tr.boell.org, 36.

30 “AKP’nin neoliberal çılgınlıkları.”

31 Gürbüz, “Which Is More Dangerous: Nuclear Lies or Radiation?,” 33.

32 Arife Karadag, “Changing Environment and Urban Identity Following Open-cast Mining and Thermic Power Plant in Turkey: Case of Soma,” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 184, no. 3 (March 2012): 1617–32.

33 Turkey’s Neoliberal Death Toll: Hundreds of Miners Died in Great Soma Massacre,” May 14, 2014, http://sendika.org.

34 Gurhanli, “Mass Murder in Soma Mine.”

35 Soma’da AKP mitingi tarifesi,” Cumhuriyet, June 10, 2014, http://cumhuriyet.com.tr.

36 Eliaçık and Türkay, “Equal Times.”

37 Aslı Iğsız, “Brand Turkey and the Gezi Protests: Authoritarianism, Law, and Neoliberalism (Part One),” July 12, 2013, http://jadaliyya.com.

38 2.5 milyon insan 79 ilde sokağa indi,” Milliyet, http://milliyet.com.tr, June 23, 2014; Matze Kasper, “To Survive, the Movement Will Have to Compromise,” January 11, 2014, http://roarmag.org.

39 Burak Bekdil, “Turkey’s Rules for Safety,” November 8, 2014, http://meforum.org.

40 Soma Katliamının Failleri Yırca Zeytinliklerinde!,” October 28, 2014, http://todap.org.

41 Deniz Yıldırım, “Soma’dan Mecidiyeköy’e AKP Rejimi,” Birgün, September 14, 2014, http://birgun.net.

42 Leverink, “‘Today We Resist’.”

43 Michael Hardt, “Innovation and Obstacles in Istanbul One Year After Gezi,” June 4, 2014, http://euronomade.info.

44 Oliver Balch, “Buen Vivir: The Social Philosophy Inspiring Movements in South America,” Guardian, February 4, 2013, http://theguardian.com.

45 Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, “The New Latin American ‘Progresismo’ and the Extractivism of the 21st Century,” Americas Program, February 17, 2011, http://cipamericas.org.

46 Joel Kovel, “Why Ecosocialism Today?,” New Socialist, no. 61, Summer 2007, 11.

 

The nuts and bolts of racial discrimination, Zionist style

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/May-11/297484-israels-west-bank-housing-policy-by-numbers.ashx

Israel’s West Bank housing policy by numbers

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Since seizing the West Bank in 1967, Israel has held full control over all planning matters for both Palestinians and Jewish settlers in an area covering over 60 percent of the territory.

Although settlers can secure building permits with ease, the opposite applies for Palestinians who are forced to build illegally, with Israel bulldozing hundreds of such structures every year, rights groups say.

Villages vs. settlements Over 60 percent – around 360,000 hectares – of the West Bank is classified as Area C, which Israel aims to retain under any final settlement. This is where Israel has full control over security and also civilian affairs which are managed by the Civil Administration.

U.N. figures show there are an estimated 298,000 Palestinians living in Area C, in 532 residential areas. There are also 341,000 Israelis living in 135 settlements and 100 or so unauthorized outposts.

Less than 1 percent of Area C is designated for Palestinian development, compared to 70 percent which falls within the domain of local settlements, the U.N. says. Palestinian construction in the rest of Area C is subject to severe restrictions and almost impossible to carry out.

Demolition orders vs. permitsSince the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords were signed, Israel has issued more than 14,600 demolition orders, according to Israeli planning rights watchdog Bimkom.

So far, about 2,925 structures have actually been demolished.

Bimkom architect Alon Cohen Lifschitz estimates there are an average of two structures per order, meaning that over the past two decades, Israel has issued demolition notices to nearly 30,000 Palestinian-owned structures.

Last year, Israel issued 911 demolition orders on grounds of a lack of building permits. There are currently more than 9,100 outstanding demolition orders which can be implemented, Bimkom says.

Structures can include anything from a house to an animal shed, a road or fence, foundations, infrastructure, cisterns, cemeteries and solar panels. Since 1996, Israel has granted only a few hundred building permits for Palestinian structures.

According to Amnesty International, there were 76 building permits issued to Palestinians between 1996 and 1999. And from 2000-2014, only 206 building permits were issued, Bimkom says. In 2014, Israel granted a single permit.

Two-tier planning system

In Area C, a two-tier planning system operates based on ethnic-national background: a civil and representative system for Jewish settlers, and a military system without representation for Palestinians, Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights says.

In planning for Palestinian villages, the objectives are to limit land use and encourage dense construction, whereas in the settlements, the trend is often the opposite – to include as much area as possible, producing low density, it says.

The long history of blacklisting outspoken workers in the UK

Statewatch article: RefNo# 33255
“Every Man a Capitalist”: The long history of monitoring ‘unsuitable’ workers in the UK by Trevor Hemmings, Statewatch
Statewatch Journal; vol 23 no 2 August 2013
“Blacklisting is the practice of systematically denying individuals employment on the basis of information, accurate or not, held in some kind of database.” [1]

In February 2009, investigators from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided the premises of The Consulting Association (TCA) in Droitwich, West Midlands, confiscating a database comprising 3,213 names that was being used by 43 construction firms to blacklist workers they deemed “unsuitable” for employment. [2] The seized database was only a small fraction of the information held by TCA, but inexplicably the bulk of the data was left behind and subsequently destroyed. Clandestine blacklisting by multinational construction companies, who submitted the names and addresses for vetting by TCA, denied employment to thousands of workers on the basis of their trade union membership, political beliefs and health and safety activities. [3] Information held in the database was often based on little more than “gossip.” As a consequence of the raid, in July 2009 the director of TCA, Ian Kerr, was fined £5,000 after admitting breaching the Data Protection Act, but his fine was paid secretly by Sir Robert McAlpine on condition that the company’s name was not revealed. [4] Kerr died a fortnight later, taking unknown secrets to the grave.

As a result of the high profile raid, the practice of blacklisting was belatedly made illegal in March 2010 by the introduction of the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklisting) Regulations 2010, under which it is unlawful to compile, sell, use or supply a prohibited list (a list which contains details of people who have been members of Trade Unions or have participated in Trade Union activities). The law has been criticised by trade unionists as being too little, too late. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been in force since 1953, protects “the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions.” [5]

In July 2012, 80+ blacklisted workers launched a High Court action against the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine, a Conservative Party donor and builder of the Olympic Stadium, for the firm’s alleged role in creating TCA and cooperating with other firms to keep them out of work. [6] The head of McAlpine’s Human Resources department, David Cochrane, chaired TCA from 2006-2009 and the company effectively set up and funded it. Further insights into this “real live conspiracy” emerged when the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee heard evidence from a number of the key players and their victims in November 2012, some of which was later written up in an interim report published in April 2013. [7] The interim report was highly critical of the companies which failed to take responsibility for their “morally indefensible” blacklisting practices.

In January 2013, a House of Commons debate [8] moved by Labour MP Chukka Umana discussed police and security service collusion in the blacklisting and suggested that at least 200 environmental activists were also among those under surveillance by TCA. Umana told the Guardian newspaper:

“Very serious allegations have been raised, including by a serving ICO official who is himself a former police officer, that information contained on the blacklist files came from police and security services. This only reinforces the need for a full investigation into blacklisting so we can get the full truth of what went on.” [9]

In February 2013, the Metropolitan police reluctantly launched an investigation into allegations of collusion in the blacklisting of construction workers. The Met had previously dismissed a complaint from the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) which claimed the police had been involved in compiling the blacklist that came to light in the ICO raid. [10]

A brief history of the Economic League

The twentieth century was dominated by the role played by the right-wing Economic League (EL) in “countering subversion” between 1919 and 1993. Its early years are opaque, although works by investigative journalists such as Mike Hughes, Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor have thrown some light on this period. [11] The father to TCA, the Economic League was formed in 1919 to fight Bolshevism, combat the “red infection” and “crusade” for unregulated free-market capitalism. The League emerged from various cliques of industrialists, such as National Propaganda (NP), which had close links to the early intelligence services and military. [12] In 1925 the Economic League became a permanent organisation under its first director-general, John Baker White, who had been an intelligence officer and had maintained the security links that formed the basis of the League’s data collection and blacklisting services. As Mike Hughes has pointed out, the Economic League had dual objectives: its council members, pillars of the establishment and other powerful men, opposed socialism overtly, while at a covert level they began to establish the framework of a shadow state. One early anti-democratic activity was a campaign to break the 1926 General Strike under the slogan “Every Man a Capitalist.” [13]

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the EL compiled records on trade union organisers, socialists and communists, sometimes based on information which originated from police files. There is also well-documented evidence that the EL and British intelligence agencies were cooperating at this time. [14] Despite this, the influence the League exerted on the British state over its first two decades had diminished by the Second World War when its model of unregulated free-enterprise came into conflict with the mixed economy supported by the mainstream Conservative Party, which was in government between 1951 and 1964. [15]

From the 1960s, a number of investigations, most notably by the Labour Research team, [16] published details of the blacklisting of workers, a practice the EL continued to deny until the 1969 publication of A Subversive Guide to the Economic League, [17] which revealed that in 1968 the organisation had an annual income of £266,000, £61,000 of which was contributed by 154 companies. Twenty-one known banks and financial institutions contributed as much as 47 manufacturing companies. According to the State Research Bulletin, in 1977 the top industrial donors to the Economic League were: Tate & Lyle; Imperial Group; Shell Petroleum Company; National Westminster Bank; Barclays Bank; Midland Bank and Lloyds Bank. The top four banks of the day were not only among the EL’s donors, four of their directors sat on the organisation’s Council. [18] Hollingsworth and Norton-Taylor cite a figure of £1m in annual income and 2,000 subscribers for the EL in their 1988 work, Blacklist. [19]

The EL’s profile became even more visible in the 1980s as investigative journalists delved deep into its clandestine activities to reveal more names of companies that were vetting the politics of potential employees. This information also showed that the EL worked with MI5 to blacklist more than 22,000 “subversive workers”, who ranged from trade unionists to individuals speaking up for work mates to anti-nuclear activists. [20] In light of these disclosures, in 1990 the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment heard evidence from the Economic League about its blacklist. This enabled campaigners and investigative journalists to exert further pressure on the organisation. The investigative journalist, Paul Foot, managed to obtain a complete copy of the EL’s blacklist and ran a series of pivotal stories in the Daily Mirror newspaper. Its practices exposed to the public, the EL was wound up in 1993. Data protection laws meant that it would have had to open its files to further scrutiny, revealing personal data on thousands of shopfloor workers, prominent trade unionists, journalists, political activists and Labour Party MPs. [21]

A chip off the old block: The Consulting Association

The Consulting Association grew out of the Economic League’s Services Group, whose membership was comprised of construction firms. A key link between the EL and TCA was Ian Kerr, who had played a lead role in the League for many years before becoming TCA’s chief officer. Unlike those he blacklisted and made unemployable (and in some instances destitute), while employed by TCA Kerr earned an annual salary of £50,000 plus bonus, had BUPA medical insurance and drove a Mercedes car. [22] Kerr gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee shortly before he died, stating that TCA was founded in April 1993 with a £10,000 loan from Sir Robert McAlpine:

“[The Consulting Association] was started out of the Services Group (SG), operated by and within the Economic League (EL). A Steering Committee of key people in construction companies of the Services Group drafted a constitution. Key operating features of TCA were decided by representatives of the major construction companies, who were the original members.” [23]

TCA operated from 1993 until 2009. Unfortunately the full extent of its operations may never be known as the ICO seized “only a small proportion of the documentation” held at TCA’s Droitwich office. David Clancy from the ICO told the HSAC that:

“We are talking of between 5% and 10% of what was in the office. What the other 90% or 95% was I can’t comment on because we didn’t go through lots of it.” [24]

Clancy argued that it had been unnecessary to look at anything else because he had “found the blacklist.” However, TCA’s Ian Kerr, giving evidence to the same committee, admitted that other information was held “including some files on environmental activists. These were not taken away by the ICO and were subsequently destroyed.”

Blacklist Support Group vs. Captains of Industry

The Blacklist Support Group (BSG) is a network of construction workers who have been blacklisted because of their trade union activities. [25] The network has run a campaign to “name and shame” the top construction company bosses who have chaired TCA and have also named the construction industry’s ‘main contacts’ with the covert blacklisting organisation. [26] The Group has published a list of company directors that have chaired TCA:

1993-1996 Cullum McAlpine (Sir Robert McAlpine)

1997-1999 Tony Jennings (Laing O’Rourke)

2000-2001 Danny O’Sullivan (Kier)

2002-2003 Stephen Quant (Skanska)

2004-2005 Trevor Watchman (Balfour Beatty)

2006-2009 David Cochrane (Sir Robert McAlpine)

The BSG is seeking to “blacklist the blacklisters” and asks: Where are they working now? Are they involved in publicly funded contracts?
The BSG has also demanded compensation for blacklisted workers and that the companies responsible for their loss of earnings be made accountable for their actions. BSG is demanding:

• A full public apology,

• Compensation for blacklisted workers,

• Denial of public contracts for blacklisting firms,

• Jobs for blacklisted workers on major projects.

Big spenders

The journal Building published a detailed analysis of the spending of 14 of TCA’s main users in a report entitled “Annual Spending by the Consulting Association 1996-2009.” [27] The main players were Sir Robert McAlpine and Skanska, each spending well over £200,000. They were followed by Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty which both spent more than £100,000, with Carillion and Amec both spending around £70,000.

The Scottish Affairs Committee report also details the roles played by three major construction firms: Sir Robert MacAlpine Ltd, Skanska and Balfour Beatty, describing MacAlpine as a “major force” behind the blacklist and Balfour Beatty as a particularly “hard-nosed” user. Balfour Beatty is heavily criticised, with the SAC pointedly remarking:

“…we are sure that [the company] regrets being caught; we were less convinced that management regretted its involvement with TCA.” [28]

The TCA’s database was accessed by construction companies on an annual subscription basis – membership was at the invitation of an existing member – and a further £2.20 was paid for each name checked. The point of contact with TCA was usually through a senior executive in a company’s Human Resources Department who would submit a list of names, to be checked against a card file held by the Association. Over a four-year period, for instance, Skanska vetted 66,000 names of workers to be employed on Ministry of Defence building projects while Balfour Beatty was vetting 15,000 workers a year.

Red, black, blue and green

While the ICO’s flawed investigation seriously undermined attempts to confirm the broader scope of the TCA covert blacklisting service, other lines of inquiry have been more forthcoming. Ian Kerr’s evidence to the SAC described how blacklisted names were given different colours: black (for industrial relations – general); red/orange (mechanical and engineering); green (environmental activists) and blue (everything else). [29] While there is some question as to the veracity of Kerr’s statements, it is worth briefly exploring the scope of TCA’s activities.

Various industrial tribunal claims have resulted from the construction industry’s blacklisting of workers. Two examples will serve here as an illustration of the effects of blacklisting on individual construction workers.

Construction worker, Steve Acheson (58), from Greater Manchester, obtained a copy of his 22-page file following the ICO raid on TCA. Achesons’s trade union activities began in 1996 after the death of a 21-year old colleague at a site on which he was working. This compelled him to ensure that companies for which he worked complied with health and safety legislation. He has won four cases of unfair dismissal at various industrial tribunals. His TCA file began in April 2000 and confirmed that he had been placed on the blacklist because of raising health and safety issues and because of “suspected” trade union membership. The file included his name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, mobile telephone number and a reference to his union membership. As a result of being blacklisted, Acheson was unemployed “for nine of the last 11 years and in the last five years [he] received only 16 pay packets.” On the few occasions when he secured employment he was swiftly removed from the site. This has had a devastating effect on his family and his wife had to work full time to support him.

Engineer, Dave Smith (47) had a 36-page file him held on him by TCA and he was repeatedly victimised for highlighting safety hazards on sites. The file contains many entries regarding Smith’s role as safety officer for the building workers’ union, Ucatt, while working on building sites controlled by John Mowlem and Schal International (both subsidiaries of Carillion) after he raised safety issues relating to the presence of asbestos and working conditions. In 2009, Smith became the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group. In January 2012, he pursued a claim against Carillion through an employment tribunal. Although Carillion accepted that Smith had been blacklisted, the company successfully argued that because he was not employed directly by them, but through a sub-contractor, Carillion was not legally responsible. Smith told the Guardian newspaper:

“This is about human rights. I have not done anything illegal; I am a member of a trade union. I have worked in an attempt to improve health and safety on building sites and yet it appears my employers, the state, security services and the police have been conspiring against me.” [30]

It should be noted that the majority of those who have sought redress through the courts have failed. [31]

The scope of TCA’s blacklisting has recently been shown to have included Irish construction workers; 370 people on the 3,200-name TCA database have typically Irish names. Irish workers were illegally barred from Ministry of Defence projects and the ICO’s David Clancy has alleged state involvement, saying that some information on TCA’s records “must have been supplied by either MI5 or police.” The Labour MP, John McDonnell, who has spent many years highlighting the blacklisting scandal, called for the truth on how Irish workers were targeted and asked “who in the state authorised or turned a blind eye to this organised victimisation.” To this end he called for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting:

“I am calling for an independent public inquiry into blacklisting because many believe that what we have found out so far about the activities of The Consulting Association is just the tip of an iceberg.” [32]

According to the GMB trade union, the TCA’s blacklist also included 582 workers who were living or working in Scotland. Describing the practice of blacklisting as “a deplorable activity that has ruined livelihoods for decades,” Labour MP Jim McGovern called “on authorities to look into whether it remains an ongoing practice.” [33] The GMB has met with officials from the Scottish government, which is considering preventing companies implicated in the blacklisting scandal from bidding for future contracts, worth billions of pounds. A Scottish government spokesman said: “Officials met union representatives to discuss new guidance to update existing public procurement processes and procedures in light of blacklisting of employees by contractors in the construction industry.” [34]

In January 2013, a House of Commons debate on blacklisting discussed police and security service collusion in the practice, suggesting that at least 200 green activists involved in road building protests were among those under surveillance by TCA. TCA’s Ian Kerr had revealed to the parliamentary committee that construction firms wanted information on green protestors after being “badly hit” by their campaigns in the 1990s. He told the MPs:

“In the mid-90s the industry was literally taken unaware by the people who came along and built treehouses, cut the hydraulic lines on the equipment and put sand in tanks, because at the time it was quite easy to win a contract and put a route through an area.” [35]

He went on to say that the construction industry had organised a meeting to debate green activism: “The targets were [activists at] the M11, Twyford Down, the Manchester second runway and the Bath eastern bypass.” [36]

In a recent Panorama television investigation [37] Ian Kerr’s wife, Mary, who worked as a bookkeeper for TCA, described the vetting that occurred during the building of the London “Dome” as extending to acrobats, dancers and entertainers who were seeking employment.

The legal fight back

An estimate of the extent of TCA’s activities can be gauged by legal documents lodged by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC, acting on behalf of 80+ alleged victims of the blacklisting organisation. Their legal claim alleges that TCA’s clandestine database monitored the trade union activity of workers in the construction industry, including compiling details on industrial action, political views and affiliation and membership of unions, with entries frequently being made after workers had made complaints about matters concerning health and safety. Addressing health and safety issues was considered by companies to be likely to delay construction and therefore lessen profits for no discernible benefit. The TCA’s files did not only make recommendations on employment, with entries such as “do not employ” and “not recommended”, but even commented on individual’s relationships and wrongly accused others of criminal activities, such as accusing one man of claiming unemployment benefit while working. Victimised workers say that the conspiracy to run the blacklist caused them to suffer “loss and damage” by preventing them from obtaining employment [38].

The action also claims that Sir Robert McAlpine, and in particular Cullum McAlpine, had a central role in the establishment and operation of TCA.

“[Cullum] McAlpine was the founding chairman at the organisation’s inception in 1993. He was intimately involved in the foundation and operation of TCA. He formally offered Mr Kerr the position of director in August 1993. He finalised the written particulars of Mr Kerr’s employment, sending them to members for approval and obtaining legal advice in relation to them. He oversaw the arrangement of life and health insurance for Mr Kerr as part of his remuneration.” [39]

The legal claim also says that once TCA’s database was exposed in 2009 and Kerr was prosecuted, he was warned that if McAlpine’s name was mentioned the company “might encounter serious difficulty in obtaining major construction contracts.” Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd paid Kerr’s winding up costs, legal costs and the fine imposed by the ICO through cheques not paid to him directly. McAlpine was invoiced by Kerr’s daughter for “services rendered” and Callum McAlpine paid the bill. The company denies that these underhand payments “…were in any way linked to his taking responsibility or protecting Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd or any other member of the Consulting Association.” [40]

However, Mike Hughes, in an article for SpinWatch, has warned that the legal complexities of the case and obscurity of the law “means that it will be hard to see that even if this case is successful it will set sufficiently clear precedents to change recruitment practices in general.”

Commenting on the legal cases against Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, a spokesman said:

“TCA was established by a large group of construction companies. All the member companies contributed to, and accessed information from, the CA from time to time. Directors and representatives of a number of major construction firms chaired CA over the years. These included Mr Cullum McAlpine who was chairman for a period in the 1990s.” [41]

The depth of the company’s state of denial was clear when a spokesman added that it had never operated a “blacklist.”

“We are, and have always been, wholly committed to maintaining good relationships with our workforce and to responsible trade unionism.” [42]


Protests at local and European level

At the local level, members of trade unions such as Unite have been leafleting, petitioning and demonstrating to mobilise public support to prevent local authorities using the companies that blacklisted, and in some cases allegedly continue to blacklist, workers. Unite is calling on local authorities:

“…to desist from using the services of companies proven to have blacklisted workers and in particular those companies, such as Royal Bam and Kier which appear to be continuing to abuse the basic human rights of ordinary working people.” [43]

Hull City Council voted unanimously to remove blacklisting firms from all council contracts at a full council meeting in December 2012. The council also recognised the GMB trade union campaign to win an apology and compensation for those who have been unable to work as a result of being blacklisted. [44] Around a dozen other councils in England, Scotland and Wales are considering moves to exclude blacklisting companies from local government contracts. The Blacklist Support Group has called on other local authorities to follow Hull’s lead:

“…until the blacklisting firms apologise and compensate the workers whose lives they have ruined. They have destroyed careers in order to increase their profits. As profits are the only thing that the blacklisting companies are interested in, perhaps losing publically funded projects will make them own up to their responsibilities.” [45]

The Unite trade union [46] maintains that blacklisting continues to be rife in the UK and that this is evident on the £15 billion publically funded Crossrail project (Europe’s largest railway engineering programme underway in southeast England). The union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has called for a national mobilisation against Crossrail consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK), after alleging that “blacklisting activity is continuing at Crossrail.” [41] The union says that workers’ have been excluded for raising safety issues, an allegation that will be tested at an employment tribunal by electrician, Frank Morris (38), who says that he was dismissed after becoming a union representative and voicing safety concerns.

At the European level, in April 2013 the Unite union led a delegation to Amsterdam to protest outside Royal Bam’s annual general meeting. Bam is the latest major contractor to have its overseas meetings targeted by anti-blacklisting protesters from the UK. Unite is running a campaign against the Crossrail project and its delegation to Holland was protesting at Bam Nuttall’s role in the London scheme. In the same month, the Blacklist Support Group and GMB trade union targeted the Skanska annual shareholders meeting in Stockholm. Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, who attended the protest in Amsterdam said “Blacklisting ruins lives and we believe it is continuing today on Crossrail.” She continued: “Unite believes that the people of Holland and Bam’s shareholders deserve to know about Bam’s behaviour elsewhere in Europe.” [47]

“We are all Thatcherites now”

Following the death of former Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, on 8 April 2013, the current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to her, declaring that “We are all Thatcherites now.” Thatcher, who laid waste to vast swathes of working class communities when taking on the miners and other trade unionists during an earlier programme of privatisation that left generations unemployed and unemployable, stands as an appropriate symbol for the blacklisting scandal. Like Thatcher before him, David Cameron has also targeted workers’ rights and imposed neo-liberal austerity measures that take from the poor to subsidise wealthy captains of industry, who continue to get vast bonuses that exceed what the average worker will earn in an entire lifetime.

The blacklisting and removal from employment of those workers who are represented by trade unions, or have the temerity to question health and safety standards, evokes this Thatcherite ethos, but also accurately signifies the role that working class people can expect to play in twenty-first century Britain. It is therefore unsurprising to find that the HSAC’s interim report also expresses grave doubts as to whether the illegal practice of blacklisting has actually ended. The Committee felt obliged to investigate the extent to which the practice continues within the construction industry and further afield, and will report its findings in a forthcoming report. In future sessions, the Committee will also examine the ongoing issues of compensation for victims and penalties for offenders.

However, it is clear that private websites, like HR Blacklist, [48] which describes itself as “an ethical human resources community for employers and employees” that promises to reveal “the truth about employees,” is continuing an old tradition. The company advertises five reasons for using its HR Blacklist:

1. Blacklisting an employee is free

2. Almost 50% of the candidates lie in their CV’s

3. Hiring the wrong person, may cost you money and reputation

4. Fast and easy CV search: find what other employers had to say about the candidate

5. Rate an employee, or check his/her rating

However, Mike Hughes has warned that:

“…the technology of blacklisting is moving offshore and embracing wiki models where the conspiracy becomes more dispersed and tortuous and certainly less actionable.” [49]

Endnotes

[1] House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee “Blacklisting in Employment: interim report” (The Stationery Office), 16.4.13 link

[2] Information Commissioners Office “The Consulting Association” Press release (undated) See also: Phil Chamberlain “The Construction Industry Blacklist: how the Economic League lived on” Lobster 58, Winter 2009/10, for a detailed account of the raid.

[3] A Health and Safety Executive report published in April 2013 revealed that “nearly a quarter of building sites in London failed to meet minimum health and safety legal standards, BBC News 5.4.13. See link

[4] Daniel Boffey “McAlpine denies high court claim it had major role in ‘blacklist scandal’” The Guardian 12.1.13

[5] European Court of Human Rights “The European Convention on Human Rights” 1950 link

[6] “Blacklisted builders launch mass legal action against Sir Robert McAlpine” The Guardian, 29.7.12 link

[7] Op. cited House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee 2013.

[8] Parliament “Blacklisting Debate: Opposition Day” 23.1.13. link

[9] Matthew Taylor “MPs call for inquiry into blacklist of green activists” The Guardian, 29.1.13

[10] ibid

[11] See for instance: Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist: the inside story of political vetting (The Hogarth Press 1988) Mike Hughes “Spies at Work” (1995) online book: link

[12] See for instance the role played by Sir Admiral Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall a director of Naval Intelligence who advised the government on the establishment of MI6 in 1909

[13] Op. cited, Hughes 1995

[14] Matthew Taylor “MPs call for inquiry into blacklist of green activists” The Guardian, 29.1.13

[15] Op. cited, Hughes 1995

[16] The journal Labour Research still publishes news and information for trade unionists and continues to play an important role in exposing the activities of major construction companies in illegal blacklisting. Website: link

[17] Labour Research “A Subversive Guide to the Economic League” 1969

[18] State Research “The Economic League” Bulletin No. 7, pp. 135-145, 1978

[19] Op. cited Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor 1988

[20] David Hencke “Left blacklist man joins euro fight” The Guardian, 9.9.00

[21] When the Economic League was wound up two of its former directors formed a similar organisation called CAPRiM. The role of this organisation is enigmatic, but Ian Kerr has said that it was primarily an organisation that put out publications and checked potential employees curriculum vitaes. He also suggested that it was a vehicle to ensure that he and other ex-Economic League employees were able to maintain their standard of living.

[22] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[23] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[24] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[25] The BSG blog can be found on the Hazards website. See link

[26] ibid

[27] link

[28] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[29] Ibid

[30] Daniel Boffey “Blacklisted building workers hope for day in court after ruling” The Guardian, 3.3.12 link

[31] ibid

[32] Irish Post, 9.2.13

[33] The Courier, 5.2.13

[34] Paul Cahalan and Sanchez Manning “Building firms could face bans over blacklisting of workers” Independent 9.6.13.

[35] Op. cited Scottish Affairs Home Committee 2013

[36] Op. cited 7. Parliament “Blacklisting Debate: Opposition Day”, 23.1.13

[37] Panorama “Blacklist Britain” BBC 1, 10.6.13

[38] Daniel Boffey “Blacklisted builders launch mass legal action against Sir Robert McAlpine” Observer 29.7.12. link

[39] Daniel Boffey “McAlpine denies high court claim it had major role in ‘blacklist scandal’” The Guardian 12.1.13 link

[40] Panorama “Blacklist Britain” BBC 1, 10.6.13

[41] Op. cited The Guardian, 12.1.13

[42] Op. cited The Guardian, 12.1.13

[43] Tim Lezzard “Shoppers asked to support blacklisted workers (Union News 11.5.13)

[44] Morning Star, 4.1.13

[45] See Unite webpage:link

[46] Matthew Taylor “Unite calls for national action over Crossrail blacklisting allegations” The Guardian, 10.6.13.

[47] Will Hurst “Blacklisting protesters target Royal Bam” link

[48] HR Blacklist website: link

[49] Mike Hughes “First concerted legal action against blacklist will reveal need for a radical rethink of employment regulations” SpinWatch, 18.1.13

 

 

Piketty and the Crisis of Neoclassical Economics

Piketty and the Crisis of Neoclassical Economics

by John Bellamy Foster and Michael D. Yates

http://monthlyreview.org/author/johnbellamyfoster/

John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Michael D. Yates is associate editor of Monthly Review and editorial director of Monthly Review Press.

Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has it been so apparent that the core capitalist economies are experiencing secular stagnation, characterized by slow growth, rising unemployment and underemployment, and idle productive capacity. Consequently, mainstream economics is finally beginning to recognize the economic stagnation tendency that has long been a focus in these pages, although it has yet to develop a coherent analysis of the phenomenon.1 Accompanying the long-term decline in the growth trend has been an extraordinary increase in economic inequality, which one of us labeled “The Great Inequality,” and which has recently been dramatized by the publication of French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.2 Taken together, these two realities of deepening stagnation and growing inequality have created a severe crisis for orthodox (or neoclassical) economics.

To understand the nature of this crisis of received economics it is necessary to look at the two principal bulwarks of neoclassical theory, which were originally erected in response to socialist critics. The first is the notion that a freely competitive capitalist economy left to itself generates full employment, indicating that unemployment is the product of various frictions, imperfections, or government interference. The second is the related proposition that income and wealth inequality are determined by the “marginal productivity” (or relative contributions to output) of the various factors of production, chiefly capital and labor—a logic that is extended to the contributions of individuals themselves. The renowned post-Second World War national income statistician, Simon Kuznets, in his famous Kuznets Curve, even argued that there was a tendency in developed capitalist economies towards a decrease in inequality, due to the effects of modernization, including enhanced educational opportunities.3

Contrast these propositions to the reality of the mature capitalist economies today. Far from a full-employment equilibrium, what we see rather is a long-term tendency to economic stagnation. Moreover, this reality describes all of the developed capitalist economies and can be seen in a trend going back forty years, or indeed longer.4 Over roughly the same period, income and wealth levels, rather than converging, have diverged sharply—a divergence that cannot be attributed to differences in education and skill, nor to the contributions of capital relative to labor.5 In short, both of the principal justifications for the system provided by neoclassical economics have collapsed before our eyes.6

The first of these fissures in the outlook of neoclassical economics is long-standing and well known. During the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States rose at its height in 1933 to 25 percent. It was in this context that John Maynard Keynes, the intellectual heir to Alfred Marshall at Cambridge University, and hence one of the principal figures in neoclassical economics, broke partially with the economic orthodoxy with the publication of his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1936. Keynes sent mainstream economics into a tailspin by attacking (as had Marx earlier) the notion of Say’s Law of classical economics, which postulated that supply creates its own demand.7 He thus engaged in a frontal assault on the notion that full-employment equilibrium was an inherent tendency of the system. Instead Keynes contended, “When effective demand is deficient there is under-employment of labour in the sense that there are men who are unemployed who would be willing to work at less than the existing real wage.”8 Nor was this an unusual circumstance under capitalism; mass underemployment in this sense was the normal condition in rich capitalist economies. As John Kenneth Galbraith summed up Keynes’s heresy in The Age of Uncertainty:

Keynes’s basic conclusion can…be put very directly. Previously it had been held that the economic system, any capitalist system, found its equilibrium at full employment. Left to itself, it was thus that it came to rest. Idle men and idle plant were an aberration, a wholly temporary failing. Keynes showed that the modern economy could as well find its equilibrium with continuing, serious underemployment. Its perfectly normal tendency was to what economists have since come to call an underemployment equilibrium.9

Keynes was convinced that the capitalist economy tended towards stagnation, a phenomenon that he explained in terms of a decline in the marginal efficiency of capital (expected profits on new investment). He did not, however, present a coherent explanation of stagnation in The General Theory but contented himself with pointing to a waning in “the growth of population and of invention, the opening-up of new lands, the state of confidence and the frequency of war”—all of which had constituted historical factors stimulating capitalism in the past.10 These were the factors that Alvin Hansen, Keynes’s leading early follower in the United States, primarily focused on in his Full Recovery or Stagnation? and other works, delineating a theory of “secular stagnation.”11

Later, a more developed analysis of stagnation, focusing in particular on the growth of monopoly capital (but also taking into account other conditions of capitalist maturity) was to emerge in the work of Michał Kalecki, and, in particular, in Josef Steindl’s Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism (1952), which built on Kalecki. Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital (1966) constituted an attempt to extend this analysis to the entire social and economic system of capitalism and to bring out its connection to the Marxian critique. Later Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy were to connect stagnation to financialization, most notably in Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (1987).12

Today we see a reemergence of notions of secular stagnation in neoclassical economics, beginning with Lawrence Summers’s resurrection of the idea in a 2013 speech to an IMF forum.13 But it remains divorced from the rich historical tradition that emerged within Marxian theory (and even from Hansen’s historically based analysis, rooted in Keynes)—thus offering little in the way of a real explanation.14 Nevertheless, the notion that the capitalist economy tends towards full employment—or that macroeconomic techniques inherited from Keynes effectively produce the same result, as Paul Samuelson (Summers’s uncle) famously argued in the so-called “neoclassical synthesis”—has no legs left to stand on, owing its continuing presence entirely to the ideological function of neoclassical economics.

The second main justification of the system provided by neoclassical economics—the notion that capitalism promotes a kind of equality, at least in terms of the determination of earnings by the marginal productivity of factors (and individuals)—has shown itself to be just as false. As this has become more apparent neoclassical economists have sought to declare the whole issue out of bounds. Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan, replied to critics of the Robin Hood-in-reverse policies of Reaganomics by stating, “Why there has been increasing inequality in this country is one of the big puzzles in our field and has absorbed a lot of intellectual effort. But if you ask me whether we should worry about the fact that some people on Wall Street and basketball players are making a lot of money, I say no.”15 Likewise Robert Lucas, Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his day, was merely stating the dominant view of the profession and of the establishment as a whole when he opined in 2004, “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of [income] distribution.”16

Feldstein’s and Lucas’s sharp dismissals of any concern over income and wealth distribution reflected the mainstream economic view that inequality is benign precisely because it can be attributed to different levels of marginal productivity and the corresponding different education and skill sets. In this accounting, a person’s income is simply a function of his or her productivity and willingness to work. People are poor because they are not very productive or because they have a weak attachment to the labor force as a result of their own choices. Productivity is driven in the main by the willingness of individuals to invest in their “human capital,” and the most important type of such investment is education. Attachment to the labor force depends on “leisure preferences” of individuals. This refers to the relative weight potential workers place upon the utility they will gain by buying the goods and services that an increase in income makes possible—while factoring in, through a benefit and cost calculus, the happiness they could have by not working, by choosing more free time. Thus those with high incomes are presumed to have invested in their human capital and have low leisure preferences, while for the poor the opposite is true.

Modern technology, in this view, has only made human capital more important. Many people have been left behind in the race to the top of the income distribution because they do not possess the knowledge that modern technology requires. Most mainstream economists do say that appropriate public policies could help reduce inequality, by, for example, making it easier for those without means to attend college. However, it would be dangerous, we are told, to reduce inequality too much—for example, through free higher education for all—because then individuals would not have an incentive to work hard and be productive. This would be to the detriment of the capacity of the economy to grow and thus to provide the extra income needed to distribute to those at the bottom. Equality is therefore self-defeating.

The Mad Hatter logic of neoclassical economics can actually be used to demonstrate that in perfectly competitive markets there can be no wage and salary inequality at all!17 Consider a woman making a career decision. Assume, as does the neoclassical economist, that she has complete knowledge of the wages and benefits associated with every occupation she is considering entering. She also knows the costs of the education and training necessary for employment in each occupation, as well as the income she will lose by not working while she is getting this schooling and training. Any particular negative aspects of an occupation, such as physical danger, are also known, as are their costs. What should she do? She will weigh the benefits against the costs of each occupation and pick the one for which the net benefits are highest.

Implicit in this scenario is a wage for each occupation that at least covers the cost of entering it. Competition in the marketplace will, in fact, make the wage just equal to the entry cost. An occupation with a wage higher than the entry cost will attract new applicants; this will put downward pressure on the wage and upward pressure on the costs (as more people demand schooling and training); and eventually, the above average wage-cost difference will disappear. Remarkably, this theory shows that, while some workers earn higher wages than others, these higher wages simply reflect higher entry costs. A doctor is therefore not really better off than a motel room cleaner; in terms of wages minus costs, they are in exactly the same position. Voilà! At least as far as labor income is concerned, there can be no inequality.

Enter the real world. The Great Financial Crisis of 2007–2009 and the Occupy Wall Street uprising punctured this neoclassical fairy tale. The Occupy movement pinpointed the growing division between the 1% and the 99%—achieving in a very short time a transformation in public consciousness on inequality that radical political economists had sought to effect for decades. The press began to draw more frequently on data showing skyrocketing income and wealth inequality that had long been available but had been relegated to the status of a dirty little secret of the capitalist economy.18 For decades researchers had been compiling sophisticated statistical portraits in this area. Now due to Occupy and the sheer outrage of the population, it all began to come out into the open. Especially notable in this respect were the contributions of New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, a leading authority on wealth distribution; the Economic Policy Institute, which publishes The State of Working America; Branko Milanovic, a heterodox economist employed by the World Bank’s research division; and James K. Galbraith, a prominent institutionalist economist and analyst of inequality in pay.19

Yet, the big change on the data front, making it impossible to deny any longer the extent of the growth of inequality in all of the mature economies was the development, over the last decade and a half, beginning with the early work of Piketty, of the World Top Incomes Database (commonly referred to as the Top Incomes Database). The result of a major international project, involving some thirty researchers, this database primarily uses income tax data, focusing on most of the mature capitalist economies.20 The leading researchers for the U.S. case were Piketty himself, located at the Paris School of Economics, and Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The Top Incomes Database is the single largest historical database on long-term inequality currently in existence, covering countries in Europe and North America, but also a sampling of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The publication by Harvard University Press in 2014 of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Piketty, using the Top Incomes Database to explain the dynamics of growing inequality at the center of the capitalist world, was therefore bound to draw extraordinary attention in the economic world. For Piketty is no ordinary economist. He is at one and the same time a dissenter and a representative of the higher circle of the economics establishment. Although he served for a few months in 2007 as the economic adviser to Ségolène Royal in her campaign as the Socialist Party nominee for president of France—she lost to Nicolas Sarkozy—Piketty is no Marxist, or even an institutionalist or post-Keynesian political economist, in whose work one could expect to find an analysis centering on inequality. Rather, he is a highly credentialed member of the neoclassical economics elite. Thus, when he presented a theoretical perspective that challenged the primary approach to questions of income and wealth distribution previously held to by almost all neoclassical economists, the result was explosive. Suddenly there was a work on growing inequality that had the imprimatur of the establishment (backed by prestigious publications in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Review and the Journal of Economics Literature), and could not be easily dismissed ad hominem as the work of a “non-scientific” heterodox economist. If not exactly a revolution against neoclassical economics, the contents of his book had all the looks of a palace coup. And remarkably too, Piketty had a gift of expression and breadth of knowledge unusual in economists, allowing him to draw on Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac as much as Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Within a short time the book reached number one on Amazon, surely an unprecedented achievement for the author of a data-filled economics book of 685 pages.

For most readers it was not the fine details of Piketty’s analysis that were so interesting but rather the overall conclusions dramatically highlighted in the very beginning of the book.21 Here he made it clear he was challenging head-on some of the core assumptions of orthodox economics—though from inside rather than outside of the neoclassical perspective. It was this divorce of his analysis from the main ideological propositions of received economics—the sense of letting the numbers speak for themselves—that gave Piketty’s work the feeling of a disinterested inquiry after the truth rather than what Marx called “the bad conscience and evil intent of apologetics” that has so long dominated orthodox economics.22

Most importantly, Piketty concluded in what will undoubtedly be his single most enduring contribution, that “There is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently” in a capitalist economy. This can be seen as the critical counterpart (within the realm of distribution) to Keynes’s break with Say’s Law, or the notion of a natural tendency in capitalism to a full-employment equilibrium. Not only does Piketty point out that Kuznets’s assumption of growing equality in developed capitalist economies is wrong, but he argues that the standard neoclassical human-capital argument of equality-cum-meritocracy—wherein deviations from equality are simply due to attributes such as greater skill, knowledge, or productivity—is equally false in the real-world economy.23

This is shown by his now famous formula r > g, where r stands for the annual rate of return to wealth—referred to by Piketty as capital—and g for the growth rate of the economy (the rate of increase in national income). Wealth in slow-growing capitalist economies (below 1.5 percent per capita), which Piketty takes as the normal case, expands more rapidly than income—a phenomenon no doubt heightened in our financialized age.24 He argues that the higher rate of per capita growth in the first quarter century after the Second World War, when the per-capita growth rate in the United States was about 1.9 percent, was exceptional, and that we are seeing—for one reason or another—a return to the norm of much lower growth (1.2 percent or even 1 percent per capita), which he calls at one point a “low-growth regime.” (This applies to all of the mature economies on the “technological frontier”—but not to economies now experiencing catch up such as China.)25

Relatively slow growth—what we would term stagnation—thus provides the background condition for Piketty’s r > g, practically ensuring that wealth at the top of society will become ever more concentrated, while the main wealth-holders accrue their wealth not so much because of what they do but because of where they are placed in the social-class hierarchy. Indeed, capitalism in its normal case, Piketty tells us, promotes patrimonial dynasties. “Liliane Bettencourt,” the heiress to the French cosmetic giant L’Oréal, “who never worked a day in her life, saw her fortune grow exactly as fast as that of Bill Gates, the high-tech pioneer, whose wealth has incidentally continued to grow just as rapidly since he stopped working.”26

Piketty thus drives a critical wedge into the traditional justification of the system, according to which income and wealth shares are determined by the marginal productivity of the various factors of production (thought to be applicable to individual contributions as well). To understand the full significance of this, it is useful to quote from the 2012 book The Price of Inequality by economist Joseph Stiglitz. According to Stiglitz, with the rise of capitalism,

it became imperative to find new justifications for inequality, especially as critics of the system, like Marx, talked about exploitation.

The theory that came to dominate, beginning in the second half the nineteenth century—and still does—was called “marginal productivity theory”; those with higher productivities earned higher incomes that reflected their greater contributions to society. Competitive markets, working through the laws of supply and demand, determine the value of each individual’s contributions.27

Piketty’s argument and his data make a mockery of this core neoclassical economic thesis. But Piketty advances such an argument without breaking completely with the architecture of neoclassical economics. His theory thus suffers from the same kind of internal incoherence and incompleteness as that of Keynes, whose break with neoclassical economics was also partial. Deeply concerned with issues of inequality, just as Keynes was with unemployment, Piketty demonstrates the empirical inapplicability over the course of capitalist development of the main conclusions of neoclassical marginal productivity theory. His work has thus served to highlight the near-complete unraveling of orthodox economics—even while staying analytically within the fold.28

This overall incoherence, as we shall see, ultimately overwhelms Piketty’s argument. He is unable to explain why capitalist economies tend to grow so slowly as to generate such a divergence between wealth and income (and between capital and labor). Hence, while his analysis sees slow growth or relative stagnation as endemic to this system, he neither explains this nor is concerned directly with it. Significantly, he replaces more traditional notions of capital as a social and physical phenomenon with one that equates it with all wealth.29 As a result the accumulation of capital in his analysis means no more than the amassing of wealth of whatever kind, from plant and machinery to financial assets to jewelry, thereby confusing the whole issue of capital accumulation.30 Nor does he address the relations of power—principally class power—that lie behind the inequality that he delineates. His analysis is confined largely to distribution rather than production. He neither follows nor (by his own admission) understands Marx, though at times clearly draws inspiration from him.31 The question of monopoly capital is entirely missing from his study, which, as he says, does not include imperfect competition as a factor in generating inequality.32

But even with these and other deficiencies, Piketty, nevertheless, brings a certain degree of reality—even a sense of “class warfare” (if only implicitly)—back to bourgeois economics. The result is to heighten the crisis of neoclassical theory. Moreover, he argues—even though he dismisses the idea as “utopian”—for the imposition of a tax on wealth.33 Piketty thus represents a partial revolt within the inner chambers of the economics establishment.

Not surprisingly, given the extraordinary attention given to Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the breech in the wall of the neoclassical orthodoxy it represents, the Wall Street Journal sought to counterattack in May 2014, with an op-ed by none other than Feldstein. Reagan’s former economic advisor predictably condemned “the confiscatory taxes on income and wealth that Mr. Piketty recommends,” declaring that “the problem with the distribution of income in this country is not that some people earn high incomes because of skill, training or luck” but rather that a small minority has fallen below the poverty line.34 However, Feldstein misses the mark completely. Piketty’s point is that skill and training cannot explain the gross inequality that has arisen in U.S. society, which is disproportionately weighted toward inherited wealth and CEO mega-salaries, and that while some do get vastly higher incomes by the “luck” of having been born with silver spoons in their mouths, they can hardly be said to have “earned” them.

Increasing Inequality: A Law of Capitalism

Prior to the publication of Piketty’s book, Piketty and Saez used Internal Revenue Service data to track U.S. income inequality from 1913 to 2010. These data show that the rise in inequality, as measured by the share of income going to the top 1 percent of “tax units” (not exactly comparable to families or households), is much greater in the United States than in any other rich capitalist country, although the United Kingdom is not far behind. Income inequality in the United States has not been this high since the early Roaring Twenties depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The richest 1 percent now takes home more than 20 percent of the nation’s entire income, up from about 9 percent in the 1970s. In addition, the top 1 percent of income recipients has seized most of the past few decades’ gains in income. Of the increase in total household income from 1977 to 2007, the richest 1 percent got almost 60 percent, and the richest 0.1 percent (the top one-thousandth—in 2010, those earning more than $1.5 million a year) garnered roughly half of that. By comparison, the poorest 90 percent saw their income grow by “less than 0.5 percent per year.”35

Expanding upon these earlier conclusions, Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century elucidates four key findings. First, similar trends, though less marked than in the United States, are found in almost every part of the globe. Second, in the United States, a major factor in this trend is the rise of an elite of “super managers,” top officials of the largest corporations who take home enormous salaries and have so much power that they can literally set their own pay.36

Third, Piketty stresses that the richest 1 percent enjoyed similar distance from the rest of us throughout most of capitalism’s history. The only period in which the capital-income ratio becomes more equal and the dominance of inherited wealth diminishes in the rich countries as a whole is that between the beginning of the First World War in 1914 and the mid-1970s. This was a truly exceptional time, marked by “shocks” to the system: two catastrophic wars, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, and the rise of the social welfare state after the Second World War. Heavy taxes were placed on top incomes, fortunes were lost in both the wars and the Depression, and working-class movements arose and forced higher wages, benefits, and social insurance from employers and governments—both of which were willing to make concessions if only to avoid a deeper radicalization of the working class. However, once elites regained their bearings, capitalism began to return to the norm of growing inequality.37

Fourth, during the sixty-odd years of expanding equality, a substantial “middle” class arose—professionals, civil servants, and unionized workers—which, while not wealthy, had enough income to live well above subsistence and to accumulate a certain amount of wealth, mainly in the form of housing. The rise of this intermediate “petty patrimonial” propertied class of home owners, he argues, has had profound effects on the political trajectory of the rich nations, because there is now a sizeable portion of society outside the upper class intent on maintaining the value of their wealth and increasing it if possible.38

Most individuals earn income by working. However, very substantial incomes derive from ownership of wealth. What is more, certain types of wealth, such as stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments, represent control over the commanding heights of the economy and government. If these are divided in an unequal manner, then so is the power that flows from their ownership. The data show with great clarity that the distribution of wealth is extraordinarily unequal and likely to become more so. Edward Wolff has pioneered the study of wealth data in the United States. In his most recent paper, he finds that the average (mean) net worth of the wealthiest 1 percent in 2010 was $16.4 million. By contrast the average for the least wealthy 40 percent was $–10,600 (that is, it was negative!).39 For various asset classes, the share owned by the top 1 percent is even more astonishing:

Asset Class

Share of Top 1% in 2010

Stocks & Mutual Funds

48.8%
Financial Securities

64.4%
Trusts

38.0%
Business Equity

61.4%
Non-home Real Estate

35.5%
Source: Edward N. Wolff, “The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class,” NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper 18559, 2012, http:/nber.org/papers/w18559.pdf, 57, Table 9.

Indeed, it is in wealth statistics that the real social divide stands out. Thus, as Piketty notes, the Federal Reserve Board in recent estimates, covering the years 2010–2011, indicated that the top 10 percent of wealth holders in the United States own 72 percent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom half own only 2 percent.40 Meanwhile, there is much inequality even within the 1 percent. Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute tells us that in 2009, the mean net worth of the infamous “Forbes 400” (the four hundred wealthiest persons in the United States) was $3.2 billion; but the top wealth holder had a net worth fifteen times greater than the mean for the Forbes 400 as a whole, an increase from 8.6 times larger in 1982.41

Piketty has a great deal to say about wealth, and his data are global in scope. He is interested mainly in the capital-income (wealth-income) ratio. As noted above, he uses capital and wealth interchangeably, which has led to deserved criticism by heterodox economists. His book is about the distribution of societal output and the wealth of everyone, but especially those who own the nonhuman means of production used to produce this output. The title of the book suggests a connection to the most famous book about capital, Marx’s Capital. However, Marx’s conception of capital and Piketty’s conception could not be more unalike. Piketty has no notion of capital as an exploitative social relationship. Instead, for him capital has an existence simply as private wealth (he does write about public capital, but this is an insignificant component of total social wealth). By, in effect, objectifying capital, considering it apart from the social relationship embedded within it, he marks himself well within the economic mainstream. Wealth, in his view, can generate income whether it is in the form of shares of stock in the largest corporations, a small apartment building, or a government bond. And wealth of any kind can provide enormous benefits to its owners.

Piketty thinks about wealth in terms of the number of years’ worth of income it represents. If for example, you have wealth equal to $100,000 and your annual income is $25,000, then your wealth equals four years of income. Your capital-income (or wealth-income) ratio is four. He does this for countries, using the data that he and his associates have painstakingly accumulated over many years of examining tax and various other public records. He looks at short-term fluctuations in the capital-income ratio (which he designates as β) and notes that these are considerable. For example, the boom in Japanese real estate and stock prices in the 1980s caused the ratio to rise, and the collapse of these bubbles made it fall precipitously.

However, what he is really interested in is the long-run trend in the ratio. He shows that throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and right up until the First World War, wealth in most rich nations equaled six to seven years of national income. In the United States it was the equivalent of only about four to five years of income, for reasons that we will look at shortly. Then, over the next thirty years, the shocks of two world wars and the Great Depression caused a marked decline in the wealth-income multiple, to about two to four years.42 The causes were the destruction of physical capital, the loss of foreign holdings, and heavy taxes on the rich. In some nations, notably in Europe, much private enterprise was nationalized after the Second World War and progressive taxation funded social welfare programs, and these factors helped keep the wealth-income ratio low. However, beginning in the mid–1970s, capital made a remarkable comeback, and the ratio began to climb, and is now approaching the level that existed at the start of the First World War. Public capital has been privatized and political regimes throughout the world have been very well disposed toward the interests of wealth-holders.43

If we abstract from the special periods of wars, depression, and the social welfare state, what explains long-term trends in the capital-income ratio? Piketty outlines in Chapter 5 (“The Capital/Income Ratio Over the Long Run”) what he calls a “law of capitalism,” namely that over the long run, the capital-income ratio tends toward the quotient of the rate of saving and the rate of growth of the economy: β = s / g. As he explains in the book (and more clearly in a technical appendix to the book available online), this formula is the “steady-state” condition for a simple neoclassical growth model, such as the one developed by economist Robert Solow.44 It is significant that he chose a neoclassical growth model, one that has embedded in it very definite and not universally accepted assumptions about how the macroeconomy works, and one which assumes, for example, that there are such things as the marginal productivities of labor and of capital, and that capital and labor are reasonable substitutes for each other.45

Still, Piketty’s “law” has a certain intuitive appeal. The “weight” of “capital,” aka wealth (in terms, say, of its owners’ potential power), will be greater, other things equal, the lower an economy’s growth rate and the higher its rate of saving. Piketty finds that in the rich capitalist countries, the trend has been, and will most likely continue to be, toward relatively low growth rates and high savings rates (or, in Marxian terms, a high rate of surplus generation). This tells us that the capital-income (i.e., wealth-income) ratio will continue to rise, perhaps to levels never before seen. Low growth rates, he contends, will be the consequence mainly of low population growth rates, accentuated by low rates of technological change.46

As noted, Piketty takes into account the “catching up” achieved by countries such as China and India. He makes the point that nations with rapidly growing populations and high economic growth will be ones in which wealth accumulated in the past will not have as great an impact on how those societies operate as those in which these two types of growth are low.47 In the United States, for example, immigrants have arrived in very large numbers without much wealth, and they have had to rely upon current labor and income generation to accumulate capital. In dynamic economies, there is a churning within the wealth and income distributions, meaning that the capital-income ratio will be lower than in those where this is not true.

Piketty uses his formula β = s / g, along with an equation that defines capital’s share of national income, α = rβ (where r = the rate of return on capital and, as we have seen, β = the capital-income ratio) to show what will happen to the share of capital over time. A simple substitution yields α = r (s / g). From this, he derives his famous inequality: r > g.48 If the rate of return on capital r is greater than the growth rate of the economy g, then capital’s share of income will rise. Piketty shows that over very long periods of time, r has in fact been greater than g; in fact, this is the normal state of affairs in capitalist economies. Only during the long crisis, brought on by war and depression and the aftermath when social welfare policies helped keep r low and g high, was this not the case. And even as the capital-income ratio has risen, the fact that economies have become more capital intensive has not exerted enough downward pressure on r to push capital’s income share lower. Nor will increasingly “perfect” capital markets, brought on by rapid globalization, force r lower; in fact, the growing sophistication of financial instruments and money managers, along with the desire of poorer nations to attract capital, will keep r high. If, as Piketty thinks likely, g grows very slowly in the future, we are in for a steady rise in capital’s share of income and a steady fall in labor’s share. Increasing polarization of society, in terms of the two main social actors, workers and owners of capital, is a very likely prospect.

To make matters worse, those with the largest amounts of capital (wealth) almost always get a higher rate of return on their wealth than do those with lesser amounts. Piketty gives a telling example of this by looking at the returns garnered by the endowments of U.S. colleges and universities. He finds that there is a direct and significant correlation between the size of the endowment and the rate of return on it. Between 1980 and 2010, institutions with endowments of less than $100 million received a return of 6.2 percent, while those with riches of $1 billion and over got 8.8 percent. At the top of the heap were Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, which “earned” an average return of 10.2 percent.49 Needless to say, when those already extraordinarily rich can obtain a higher return on their money than everyone else, their separation from the rest becomes that much greater.

The research of Piketty, his associates, Wolff, and many others tells us without a doubt that income and wealth have become grotesquely unequal and are on a trajectory to become still more so. The implications of this are dire, exacerbating all manner of economic, social, environmental, and political problems. There is no way, for example, that it is possible now to say that we have anything even remotely resembling democracy in the United States, and for that matter, in any capitalist country. Rather plutocracy is now the dominant political form.

One thing we can say with certainty is that neoclassical economics does not have a viable theory of inequality, any more than it has a viable theory of unemployment. As we have emphasized throughout this article, received economics says that wages depend on worker productivity, meaning that as productivity rises, so will wages. If workers become more productive by, for example, investing in their “human capital” (getting more schooling, training, etc.), they will then add more to the employers’ revenues than existing wage rates add to costs. This increase in employer profits at current wages will supposedly cause employers to raise the demand for employees, pushing wages up .

Reality could not be more different than what neoclassical theory leads one to expect. In the United States, real weekly earnings for all workers have actually declined since the 1970s and are now more than 10 percent below their level of four decades ago. This reflects both the stagnation of wages and the growth of part-time employment.50 Even when considering real median family income that includes many two-earner households there has been a decrease of around 9 percent from 1999 to 2012.51

Indeed, the data show that while output per worker has risen considerably over the past forty years, wages have fallen far behind. Perhaps the most startling comparison is between wage and productivity gains. In a recent paper, Economic Policy Institute economist Elise Gould found that “Between 1979 and 2013, productivity grew 64.9 percent, while hourly compensation of production and nonsupervisory workers, who comprise over 80 percent of the private-sector workforce, grew just 8.0 percent. Productivity thus grew eight times faster than typical worker compensation.” This means that the gains from productivity went to capital and workers at the top of the wage scale. She also discovered that:

Between 1979 and 2007, more than 90 percent of American households saw their incomes grow more slowly than average income growth (which was pulled up by extraordinarily fast growth at the top).

By 2007, the growing wedge between economy-wide average income growth and income growth of the broad middle class (households between the 20th and 80th percentiles [where most production and nonsupervisory workers reside]) reduced middle-class incomes by nearly $18,000 annually. In other words, if inequality had not risen between 1979 and 2007, middle-class incomes would have been nearly $18,000 higher in 2007.52

A 2013 report by the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco showed that once the top 1 percent of wage and salary recipients are removed from the total, the labor share of overall national income plummets: “by 2010 the labor share of [income of] the bottom 99 percent of taxpayers had fallen to approximately 50 percent from just above 60 percent prior to the 1980s.”53 Neoclassical economics is completely incapable of explaining this sharp decline in the workers’ share of national income.

The Monopoly of Power

Piketty’s work raises the question of growing class inequality in a statistical sense without explicitly addressing either the roots of this or the question of growing class power. His work thus remains within the bounds of establishment discourse—though serving to shake up the ruling ideology with its revelations. He uses the term “upper class” for the top 10 percent of income recipients and the term “dominant class” for the top 1 percent (all those in the upper class who are not in the dominant class are referred to as the “well-to-do”). In the United States, with a total population of some 320 million—of which 260 million are adults—the top 1 percent is of considerable size: 2.6 million adults. The dominant class tends to congregate in a relatively few cities, to be concentrated in given neighborhoods, and to exercise “a prominent place in the social landscape.”54

A dramatic illustration of what Piketty means when he refers to the divergence in the social (and cultural) landscape appeared in the New York Times in August 2014, under the title “In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Other, Cameras and ‘Zoolander’: Inequality and Web Search Trends.” Those geographical locations described as “harder places to live,” associated with the lowest levels of educational attainment, household income, and life expectancy and the highest levels of unemployment, disability, and obesity were strongly correlated with Web searches for things like “free diabetic,” “antichrist,” “.38 revolver,” “ways to lower blood pressure,” “SSI disability,” and “social security checks.” While areas described as “easier places to live,” associated with the well-to-do or with the 1% itself, were strongly correlated with Internet searchers for “Canon Elph,” “baby jogger,” “baby massage,” “Machu Picchu” (and other exotic locales), “ipad applications,” “new nano,” and “dollar conversion.” We are increasingly living in a world so polarized that much of the 99% have nothing in common with the 1%.55

Piketty recognizes that the “dominant class” in the sense of the 1 percent is not really dominant; it is only when you get to the top 0.1 percent, which owns about half of what the 1 percent owns, that you begin to get at the really dominant income/wealth of the society. Thus he notes that Occupy Wall Street was not altogether wrong in contrasting the 1% to the 99% or in declaring that “We are the 99 percent!” He compares this situation to that of the French Revolution arising from the revolt of the Third Estate.56

But how does this relate to issues of class struggle and class power? What are the consequences of these realities in terms of control of corporations, the economy, the state, the culture, and the media? Piketty, though making a few tantalizing allusions, tells us next to nothing about this. Although he does not entirely avoid terms such as “class struggle,” he has very little to say about it. In fact, the nature of his analysis, which concentrates on statistical inequality and the relation between the growth of wealth and the growth of income, is far removed from the direct consideration of capital versus labor. His is an argument primarily about fairness and not social struggle—or even economic crisis/stagnation.

Piketty’s failure to relate inequality to power is not, it should be stressed, a particular failure on his part, but rather a general fault of neoclassical economics, tied to its position of ideological hegemony. “The neglect of power in mainstream economics,” as the heterodox Austrian economist Kurt Rothschild wrote in 2002, “has its main roots…in deliberate strategies to remove power questions to a subordinate position for inner-theoretic reasons,” such as the search for mathematical models with a high degree of mathematical certainty. In this respect, the messy issues dealt with in such fields as sociology and political science (or for that matter political economy) are deliberately excluded, even at the expense of realism of analysis. Moreover, part of the attraction of such pure models and the state of mind that they generate is that they reflect “the ideological preference of powerful socio-economic groups for a neoclassical type of theory,” which justifies the status quo by excluding all questions of power. As Rothschild pointedly put it: “Extremely formulated one could say that societal power promotes the study of models of powerless societies.”57

It goes without saying that Piketty’s acceptability to neoclassical economics is dependent on his avoidance of the question of inequality and power. Hence the contrast between his Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Marx’s Capital, as we observed, could hardly be greater. Moreover, it is precisely because Piketty is discussing inequality divorced from power that his analysis is inevitably disjointed and cannot approach anything like a general theory. It is not the mere recognition of inequality in itself, but the wider perception of its promotion as part of a system of power that raises questions that are dangerous to the system. Hence, the real importance of Piketty’s analysis only comes out when the implications are taken beyond what he himself, as a representative of orthodox economics, is willing or even able to address: issues of class power and monopoly power, and how these relate to overaccumulation, stagnation, and financialization.

Piketty starts with the fact that some individuals and groups of individuals arranged into percentages of the population have more income or wealth than others. He does not explain the origins of this or why, but he makes it clear that it is not simply a product of individual skill or productivity, as neoclassical economics has traditionally argued. In reality the basis of a capitalist society is the private monopoly of the capitalist class over the means of production, whereby the great majority of the population is relegated to a position in which it has nothing to sell but its labor power, i.e., its capacity to work. This sets up an extremely uneven power relationship, allowing the owners of the means of production to appropriate the greater part of the surplus produced. Far from being a description of society that pertained only to the nineteenth century, this, as Piketty helps us to understand, is probably a better description of our society today than at nearly any previous time in history. It is not difficult to discern who these owners of the means of production are: they are not so much the top 1 percent, as the top 0.1 percent of society (or even higher) in terms of income and wealth. In the United States a mere four hundred people, the Forbes 400, own approximately as much wealth as the bottom half of the population, or something like 130 million adults.58

Due to their power to appropriate the society’s surplus, which takes the form of financial wealth, and has a rate of return that, as Piketty tells us, normally grows faster than the income of society as a whole, those in the dominant class become richer both absolutely and relatively, benefitting from the upward flow of value, which seldom trickles down. Over the years 1950 to 1970, for each additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top 0.01 percent received an additional $162. From 1990 to 2002, for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent, those in the uppermost 0.01 percent (around 14,000 households in 2006) garnered an additional $18,000.59

Just as class power tends to concentrate, so does the power of the increasingly giant, oligopolistic firms which, in economic parlance, reap monopoly power, associated with barriers to entry into their industries and their ability to impose a greater price markup on prime production costs (primarily labor costs). The bigger firms, as Marx explained, tend to win out in the struggle over the smaller, while the modern credit system facilitates ever-larger mergers and takeovers, leading to the increased centralization of capital and a heightening of monopoly power.60 In 2008, the top 200 U.S. corporations accounted for 30 percent of all gross profits in the economy, up from around 21 percent in 1950. At the same time the revenues of top 500 global corporations were equal to about 40 percent of world income.61 Under these circumstances corporations, nationally and internationally, operate less as competitors than as—to borrow a term from the great conservative economist, Joseph Schumpeter—co-respecters.62 In some sectors, such as Internet Service Providers, and communications in general, we are seeing the reappearance of cartels—with the state, if anything, supporting such developments.63

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, declared that “Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away…. Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits…. Monopoly is the condition for every successful business.” Indeed, this might even stand as the credo of today’s generalized monopoly capital.64

The class power of capital in the widest sense—as powerfully argued by economist Eric Schutz in his 2011 work, Inequality and Power: The Economics of Class—extends to all spheres of society and penetrates increasingly into the state and to civil society in general (including the media, education, all forms of entertainment).65 As Kalecki long ago pointed out, a labor party such as exists in many countries in Europe, even where it gains control of the government through popular election, is hardly likely to be in control of the state as a whole, much less the economy, finance, or media. It therefore remains subservient to those who retain the class power of capital, which controls production and through it the main organs of society.66

For Piketty himself there is no organic relation between the two main tendencies that he draws in Capital in the Twenty-First Century—the tendency for the rate of return on wealth to exceed the growth of income and the tendency toward slow growth. Nor is his analysis historical in a meaningful sense, which requires scrutiny of the changing nature of social-class relations. Increasing income and wealth inequality are not developments that he relates to mature capitalism and monopoly capital, but are simply treated as endemic to the system during most of its history.

In reality, however, capitalism matures as a system over the course of its history, as do its contradictions, which are an inescapable part of its being. Today the existence of inordinate class power coupled with ever-greater monopoly power (at both the national and global levels) are producing a more acute condition of overaccumulation at the top of society. This in turn weakens the inducement to invest, leading to a powerful tendency toward a slowdown in growth or stagnation. Under these conditions, as the system continues to seek outlets for its enormous actual and potential economic surplus, while at the same time enhancing the wealth of those at the top, it inevitably resorts to financial speculation. The result is what Summers has recently called “over-financialization,” associated with massive increases in total (primarily private) debt in relation to national income, leading to financial bubbles, one after the other, which inevitably burst.67 This dialectical relation between stagnation and financialization constitutes the primary reality defining today’s monopoly-finance capital.68

Here it is useful to recall that for Keynes the danger was not only one of secular stagnation but also the domination of the rentier. He thus called for the “euthanasia of the rentier, and consequently the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the [artificial] scarcity-value of capital.”69 In today’s financialized capitalism, we face, as Piketty recognizes, what Keynes most feared: the triumph of the rentier.70 The “euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist” is needed now more than ever. This cannot be accomplished by minor reforms, however—hence Piketty’s advocacy of what he calls a “useful utopia,” a massive tax on wealth.71

Yet, today we live in a world of global monopoly-finance capital: a system of class power, monopoly power, imperial power, and financial power. Just how unrealistic Piketty’s “useful utopia” is as a mere reform program becomes immediately apparent once we look at the class dynamics of society. It is even more apparent when we move beyond a national to an international outlook. Piketty’s data and analysis do not take him far beyond the rich countries, and hence he does not look at inequality in global North-South terms, much less recognize the reality of imperialism or a world ruled by global monopolies (multinational corporations). He therefore takes no account of the imperial transfer of value as a historical phenomenon or the consequences of this for the concentration of world capital. As Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik states in “Capitalism, Inequality, and Globalization”:

It is significant that imperialism plays no role in Piketty’s analysis, neither in explaining the growth of wealth and wealth inequalities, nor even in the analysis of past growth, or prognostication of future growth. On the contrary the book is informed by a perception according to which capitalist growth in one region…is never at the expense of the people of another region, and tends to spread from one region to another, bringing about a general improvement in the human condition. What this perception misses is that capitalist growth in the metropolis was associated not just with the perpetuation of the pre-existing state of affairs in the periphery but with a very specific form of development, which we call “underdevelopment,” which squeezed the people in an entirely new way. For instance, over the period spanning the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth (until independence), not only was there a decline in per capita real income in “British India,” but also the death of millions of people owing to famines.72

In such an imperial system, carrying down to our day, a tax on capital—Piketty’s one solution—would, as he realizes, have to be international in scope in order meaningfully to address issues of inequality and power. This then takes us inexorably to the question of a revolutionary reconstitution of society on a global level. Indeed, there is no real solution that does not require the worldwide transcendence of capital as a mode of production.

None of this of course is to deny that Piketty’s wealth tax would be a good, strategic place to start in promoting a new radical social project, since it challenges “the divine right of capital.”73 But this would require in turn a reorganization and revitalization of the class/social struggle, and in every corner of the globe. The goal must be a truly “utopian” struggle for a society of all; one that is of, by, and for the people—the 99%. Moreover, the 99% here must be understood as representing the dispossessed of the entire world, while recognizing their varying conditions. Today “members of the top percentile [among global wealth holders] are almost 2000 times richer” than the bottom 50 percent of world population.74 Issues of inequality must be seen as ubiquitous in today’s capitalism, occurring at every level, the product of imperialism as well as class, race, and gender—none of which are addressed directly in Piketty’s analysis.

Yet, despite the numerous gaps in Piketty’s argument from the standpoint of existing power relations, Capital in the Twenty-First Century embodies positive messages for social struggle in our time, which it would be a grave mistake to overlook. Significant in this respect is that he chose as the epigraph of his book a line from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from the French Revolution: “Social Distinctions can be based only on common utility.”75 One could hardly pick a statement more opposed to the system in which we live, which seeks not the common but the individual utility. Indeed, Piketty’s saving grace, we believe, is that he cares for “the least well off,” beyond his own class. Although a social-democratic supporter of capitalism, he is also in many ways a critic of what he refers to as “the globalized patrimonial capitalism of the twenty-first century,” calling for its radical “regulation.”76 Coming from a neoclassical economist, this is little short of a revolutionary departure.

Notes

↩This is evident in recent mainstream discussions of what is called “secular” or long-term stagnation. For an analysis of this and recent trends see Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, “Stagnation and Financialization,” Monthly Review 66, no. 1 (May 2014): 1–24.
↩Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review 63, no. 10 (March 2012): 1–18; Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).
↩Simon Kuznets, “Economic Growth and Income Inequality,” American Economic Review 45, no. 1 (1955): 1–28.
↩See John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, The Endless Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 1–21.
↩There has been no trend showing that the growing income and wealth gap has been accompanied by similarly growing education and skills gap. Neoclassical theory tells us that rising income and wealth inequality must be caused by such an increasing differential in schooling and skills. That is, those with relatively low incomes and wealth must be falling more and more behind those with relatively high incomes and wealth in terms of their skill and schooling levels. See Lawrence Mishel, “Education is Not the Cure for High Unemployment or for Income Inequality,” January 12, 2011, http://epi.org.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 20–22.
↩An oversupply of aggregate output would lead to falling wages, interest rates and prices, which in turn would give rise to higher employment, capital spending, and increasing consumer demand. On the significance of Keynes’s critique in this area see Paul M. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 79–91.
↩John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (London: Macmillan, 1936), 289.
↩John Kenneth Galbraith, The Age of Uncertainty (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 216.
↩Keynes, The General Theory, 307–8; Sweezy, Modern Capitalism and Other Essays, 80.
↩Keynes, General Theory, 307; Alvin H. Hansen, Full Recovery or Stagnation (New York: W.W. Norton, 1938), 303–18; Sweezy, Modern Capitalism, 79–83.
↩Michał Kalecki, Theory of Economic Dynamics (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954); Josef Steindl, Maturity and Stagnation in American Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976); Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966); Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987). It is worth noting that Hansen took Steindl’s theory seriously, modifying some of his own assumptions. See Alvin H. Hansen, “The Stagnation Thesis,” in American Economic Association, ed., Readings in Fiscal Policy (Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1955), 540–57.
↩Lawrence Summers, “Speech to the IMF Fourteenth Annual Research Conference,” November 8, 2013, http://larrysummers.com.
↩Magdoff and Foster, “Stagnation and Financialization.”
↩Feldstein quoted in “Grounded by an Income Gap,” New York Times, December 15, 2001, http://nytimes.com.
↩Lucas quoted in Paul Krugman, “Why We’re in a New Gilded Age,” New York Review of Books, May 8, 2014, http://nybooks.com.
↩The example outlined in this and the preceding paragraph are based upon the critique of neoclassical wage theory presented in Eric A. Schutz, Inequality and Power: The Economics of Class (New York: Routledge, 2011). One of the authors presented this example in a slightly different way, in Yates, “The Great Inequality.”
↩A search in the New York Times archives show that between January 1, 2007 and January 1, 2014, there are 4,260 articles listed under the term “income inequality.” Between January 1, 1977 and January 1, 2007, there are only 2,660 articles listed under this term.
↩Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy (New York: New Press, 2002); Economic Policy Institute, State of Working America, http://stateofworkingamerica.org; Branko Milanovic, The Haves and Have-Nots (New York: Basic Books, 2011); James K. Galbraith, Created Unequal (New York: Free Press, 1998), Inequality and Instability (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
↩See “The World Top Incomes Database,” http://topincomes.g-mon.parisschoolofeconomics.eu.
↩The Wall Street Journal used Amazon’s “popular highlights” page associated with its Kindle e-book device to get an idea of how much books were being read. For every book, the top five most highlighted passages by Kindle readers are listed. All five pages most highlighted for Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which at that time had been out for three months to wide acclaim, were in the first twenty-six pages, suggesting that the beginning of the book (2.4 percent of the whole) has had the most impact on Kindle readers, and are the most closely read. Although one cannot draw much in the way of conclusions from this, it is undoubtedly here, in the beginning, that Piketty puts his argument and conclusions most clearly and forcefully, minus much of the detailed elaboration that follows. “The Summer’s Most Unread Book Is…,” Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2014, http://online.wsj.com.
↩Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 97. Two other what we might call “empirical economists” are David Card and Alan Krueger, whose book, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), demolished the neoclassical “law” that raising the minimum wage leads inevitably to higher unemployment. Their book led to such a severe backlash from their neoclassical brethren that they stopped doing minimum wage research. Piketty’s findings have also been attacked, but he has the great advantage of teaching in France, where economists are not tied as tightly into the establishment—and required to toe the line—as they are in the United States, and where there is still a strong sense of social justice within the part of the working class. He says, “Hence they [economists] must set aside their contempt for other disciplines and their absurd claim to greater scientific objectivity, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything”; 32. It is difficult to imagine an orthodox economist in the United States saying this.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 13–16, 20–22.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 25–27.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 72–74, 93–96, 353–58. It should be noted that Piketty likes to work with big data sets encompassing large parts of the world, and often bases his assumptions on data stretching back to the eighteenth century or earlier. Although he sees the Industrial Revolution as a turning point, he often skates over true historical analysis, often arguing as if all the societies covered by his data on all continents were essentially the same, and capitalist in structure from approximately 1700 on. Such crude practices naturally undermine his conclusions on long-term economic growth.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 440.
↩Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 30.
↩Piketty sometimes seems to endorse marginal productivity arguments in his book, as, for example, when he writes about the marginal productivity of capital in Chapter 6 and of labor in Chapter 9. In the latter case, he argues that over the long run education plays a very important role in determining individual worker productivity and income. However, he places so many qualifications on the marginal productivity theory that it is difficult to believe that he thinks it has much merit.
↩For Piketty “capital” is simply wealth, whether land, money, financial assets, or jewelry. Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 45–50; James K. Galbraith, “Kapital for the Twenty-First Century?,” Dissent, Spring 2014, http://dissentmagazine.org.
↩The consequences of effacing the concept of capital with the concept of wealth are profound, but space does not allow their detailed treatment here. It took Marx three whole volumes to define the meaning of “capital” and if time had allowed he would undoubtedly have provided even more volumes. Suffice it to say that not only does Piketty eschew a social concept of capital, as in Marx’s Capital, but by confusing capital with wealth he also conflates capital as invested surplus (that is, capital accumulation or investment in new productive capacity as it is usually understood in economics) with financial speculation or what Marx called “fictitious capital.” Hence, while Piketty provides genuine insights by focusing on wealth versus income, his approach to capital as wealth is in many ways objectionable even in terms of standard economics.
↩Piketty indicates in a number of places his understandable difficulty in reading Marx. This is a problem that Sweezy used to argue faced any establishment economist, once inculcated into neoclassical marginal productivity theory, since the Marxian perspective requires a fundamentally different outlook and set of analytical tools. It is therefore not surprising that Piketty demonstrates at times penetrating insights with respect to Marx, such as his comments on “the principle of infinite accumulation,” coupled with such elementary errors as the notion that Marx failed to perceive the growth of productivity under capitalism, or that he saw the economy heading toward zero productivity growth. All of this encourages him to discount Marx’s economic vision as simply “apocalyptic.” Such errors seem to be the result of trying to model Marx in neoclassical terms. Although he has a lot to say about Marx, Piketty clearly has not gotten very far into Marx’s system. See Paul M. Sweezy, “Interview,” Monthly Review 38, no. 11 (April 1987), 3; Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 7–11, 27, 227–30, 565; Thomas Piketty, “Interview,” New Republic, May 5, 2014, http://newrepublic.com.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 27, 573.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 21, 252–55, 515–18.
↩Martin Feldstein, “Piketty’s Numbers Don’t Add Up,” Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2014, http://online.wsj.com.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 292–97, see especially figures 8.5 and 8.6. The original articles and data backing up the book are to be found in the Top Incomes Database, http://topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu, and in the online “Technical Appendix of the book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” http://piketty.pse.ens.fr.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 315–21.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 274–76.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 260–62, 418–21.
↩Edward N. Wolff, “The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class,” NBER Working Paper No. 18559, November 2012, Table 4, http://ecineq.org.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 257.
↩Sylvia A. Allegretto, “The State of Working America’s Wealth, 2011: Through Volatility and Turmoil, the Gap Widens,” Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #292, March 24, 2011, Figure D, http://epi.org.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 164–71.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 170–72.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 166–70, 231, “Technical Appendix of the book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”
↩For a critique of Solow’s neoclassical growth model and a comparison with the earlier Keynesian growth models of Roy Harrod and Evsey Domar, see E.K. Hunt and Mark Lautzenheiser, History of Economic Thought: A Critical Perspective (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2011), 450–57. For a critique of Piketty’s analysis itself in this respect see Prabhat Patnaik, “Capitalism, Inequality and Globalization: Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century,’” International Development Economic Associates (IDEAs), July 18, 2014, http://ideaswebsite.org.
↩Although Piketty does not explain the long-term slow growth (below 1.5 percent per capita) that he says is closer to the norm for a capitalist economy, he does point to demographic factors and to technological innovation as guiding factors—pointing to Robert Gordon’s notion of declining innovation in order partly to explain the present economic slowdown. See Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 94–95.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 83–87.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 52–54, 166–67.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 447–52, see especially Table 12.2.
↩Economic Report of the President, 2014, Table B-15.
↩Calculated from the St. Louis FRED database, Real Median Household Income in the United States (MEHOINUSA672N). See also Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster, “The Plight of the U.S Working Class,” Monthly Review 65, no. 8 (January 2014): 15–20.
↩Elise Gould, “Why America’s Workers Need Faster Wage Growth—And What We Can Do About It,” EPI Briefing Paper #382, August 27, 2014, http://epi.org.
↩Michael W.L. Elsby, Bart Hobijn, and Aysegul Sahin, “The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share,” Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco, Working Paper, 2013-27, 2013, http://frbsf.org.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 252–55.
↩“In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Other, Cameras and ‘Zoolander’: Inequality and Web Search Trends,” New York Times, August 18, 2014, http://nytimes.com.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 254.
↩Kurt W. Rothschild, “The Absence of Power in Contemporary Economic Theory,” Journal of Socio-Economics 31 (2002): 437–40.
↩Arthur B. Kennickell, “Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the U.S. 1989 to 2007,” Federal Reserve Board Working Paper 2009–13, 55, 63, http://federalreserve.gov; Matthew Miller and Duncan Greeenberg, ed., “The Richest People in America” (2009), Forbes, http://forbes.com.
↩Correspondents of the New York Times, Class Matters (New York: New York Times Books, 2005), 186.
↩Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 777–78.
↩For data and analysis see Foster and McChesney, The Endless Crisis, 67–77.
↩Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1942), 90. Schumpeter referred here to such firms as “corespective.”
↩Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect (New York: New Press, 2013), 113–20, 138–40. It should be noted that in emphasizing the role of monopoly capital in contemporary capitalism, and Piketty’s failure to incorporate this into his analysis, we are not thereby adopting a position like Stiglitz, who in his criticism of Piketty says it is not capitalism that is the problem but imperfect competition. No argument could be more ahistorical or absurd: a product of abstracted compartmentalization of neoclassical theory that thinks that capital and power can be separated. Piketty himself is free of this kind of illogic. See Joseph Stiglitz, “Phony Capitalism,” Harpers, September 2014, 14–16.
↩Peter Thiel, “Competition is for Losers,” Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2014, http://online.wsj.com. On generalized monopoly capital see Samir Amin, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
↩Eric A. Schutz, Inequality and Power (New York: Routledge, 2011).
↩Michał Kalecki, Selected Essays on Economic Planning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 19–24.
↩Lawrence H. Summers, “The Inequality Puzzle,” Democracy 33 (Summer 2014), http://democracyjournal.org. On the sources of financialization, see John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), Fred Magdoff and Michael D. Yates, The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), and Costas Lapavitsas, Profiting Without Production (London: Verso, 2013).
↩Foster and Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis, 63–76; Foster and McChesney, The Endless Crisis, 49–63.
↩Keynes, The General Theory, 376.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 422–24.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 515.
↩Patnaik, “Capitalism, Inequality and Globalization,” 5. In his discussion of forces leading to less inequality Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 21, stresses the dissemination of “knowledge and skills.” He says this applies especially to the convergence of incomes between nations. However, even supposing that per capita incomes across nations are becoming more equal, this says nothing about either the transfer of incomes from poor nations to rich ones or the convergence of incomes within any particular country. Incomes have been becoming more unequal in China over the past few decades, but there has been a convergence between per capita income in China and per capita income in the rich countries. He appears to take the per capita income convergence as unalloyed good, but the issue is a great deal more complicated, as one would expect a sophisticated analyst of inequality like Piketty to recognize.
↩Marjorie Kelly, The Divine Right of Capital (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003).
↩James B. Davies, Susanna Sandström, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff, “The World Distribution of Household Wealth,” in James B. Davies, ed., Personal Wealth from a Global Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 402.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 1, 479–480. A society in which this is true could not be a capitalist society. In a gathering and hunting society, a superior hunter may have social distinction, but he will not get a larger share of food than anyone else. His social distinction is therefore based on his serving the common good, by increasing the group’s food supply. Nothing comparable exists in capitalism, except in the ideological constructs of its apologists, especially neoclassical economists. Piketty’s notion of how modern capitalist societies function can at times appear painfully naïve. His wealth tax, he says, must be democratically debated, and the data he and his colleagues have amassed will make such debate possible. Yet, the very increase in the social “weight” of those at the top of the wealth distribution corresponds with so much political “weight” that it is reasonable to ask just how democratic debate, much less decision-making, is possible. His support for serious, even radical regulation of “global patrimonial capitalism” is commendable, but his faith in the capitalist version of democracy is not.
↩Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 571–77.

Discrimination of children because of parents (Egypt)

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/21/egypt-judicial-authorities-prosecutors-classism-parents-university-education

Egypt in classism row over prosecutors sacked because parents had no degrees
Officials refuse to reinstate 138 prosecutors sacked last year because their parents did not attend university

Patrick Kingsley
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 October 2014

The excluded prosecutors have asked for the intervention of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whose parents lacked a university education. Photograph: Reuters

Fresh concerns have been raised about Egypt’s judicial system, after officials refused to reinstate dozens of young prosecutors who were sacked because their parents lacked a university education.

Just months after they were appointed, 138 new prosecutors were removed from office in September 2013 following a ruling from the judiciary’s governing body that said only those born to parents with undergraduate degrees could join the state prosecution.

The sacked prosecutors – mostly law graduates who left university last summer – accuse the judiciary of classism, and of infringing both Egypt’s constitution, which bans discrimination, as well as international labour laws. A year on, after failing to overturn the decision in the courts, they have asked for the intervention of the president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whose parents did not attend university.

The deadlock is “a disaster to social justice”, Mohamed Kamal-Eddin, one of the excluded prosecutors, told Ahram Online, the English-language version of Egypt’s flagship state newspaper. “This condition is a punishment to the parents for not having received university education. Judges are supposed to be the guards of justice. It is absurd that they decide such a condition.’’

The justice ministry declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian. So did two spokesmen for the 138 prosecutors, saying the issue was an exclusively Egyptian matter that should not interest foreign media.

Speaking on Egyptian television, a senior judge and former member of the board that banned the prosecutors said the decision was aimed at upholding the quality of the judiciary. “We have nothing against the job of garbage collectors, but their sons belong in other fields than the judiciary, because it’s a sensitive job,” said Justice Ahmed Abdelrahman.

The conflict is the latest in a string of cases to overshadow Egypt’s legal system in recent months, including the politicised trial of three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in June.

Egypt’s judiciary has been criticised for allowing what amounts to the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of whom are held in a secret prison north-east of Cairo. In one notorious case, hundreds were sentenced to death in a single day this April, in two consecutive court cases that lasted just two sessions each.

“The trials themselves are a death sentence to any remaining credibility and independence of Egypt’s criminal justice system,” said Amnesty’s Egypt researcher, Mohamed el-Messiry, at the time.

Egypt’s government insists that its judiciary is independent and impartial, and that the country is governed by the rule of law.

The United States is opposed to the right to food and water

Just because you have a right to do something does not make it right.

[Excerpted from Bill Blum, “Anti-Empire Report #131”, 11 August 2014]

The city of Detroit in recent months has been shutting off the supply of water to city residents who have not paid their water bills. This action affects more than 40% of the customers of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, bringing great inconvenience and threats to the health and sanitation of between 200 and 300 thousand residents. Protests have of course sprung up in the city, with “Water is a human right!” as a leading theme.

Who can argue with that? Well, neo-conservatives and other true believers in the capitalist system who maintain that if you receive the benefit of a product or service, you pay for it. What could be simpler? What are you, some kind of socialist?

For those of you who have difficulty believing that an American city could be so insensitive, allow me to remind you of some history.

On December 14, 1981 a resolution was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly which declared that “education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development are human rights”. Notice the “proper nourishment”. The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1. The United States cast the only “No” vote.

A year later, December 18, 1982, an identical resolution was proposed in the General Assembly. It was approved by a vote of 131-1. The United States cast the only “No” vote.

The following year, December 16, 1983, the resolution was again put forth, a common practice at the United Nations. This time it was approved by a vote of 132-1. There’s no need to tell you who cast the sole “No” vote.

These votes took place under the Reagan administration.

Under the Clinton administration, in 1996, a United Nations-sponsored World Food Summit affirmed the “right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food”. The United States took issue with this, insisting that it does not recognize a “right to food”. Washington instead championed free trade as the key to ending the poverty at the root of hunger, and expressed fears that recognition of a “right to food” could lead to lawsuits from poor nations seeking aid and special trade provisions.

The situation of course did not improve under the administration of George W. Bush. In 2002, in Rome, world leaders at another UN-sponsored World Food Summit again approved a declaration that everyone had the right to “safe and nutritious food”. The United States continued to oppose the clause, again fearing it would leave them open to future legal claims by famine-stricken countries.

I’m waiting for a UN resolution affirming the right to oxygen.

Racism is the Foundation of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge

http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18732/racism-is-the-foundation-of-israels-operation-prot

Racism is the Foundation of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge
Jul 30 2014, by Joel Beinin

On 30 June Ayelet Shaked, chairwoman of the Knesset faction of the ultra-right wing ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party, a key member of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, posted on her Facebook page a previously unpublished article written by the late Uri Elitzur. Elitzur, a pro-settler journalist and former chief-of-staff to Netanyahu, wrote:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism… They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now, this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They must follow their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go, as well as the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

Shaked’s post appeared the day the bodies of three abducted settler teens­—Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach—were discovered. It has since received more than 5,200 “likes.”

For over two weeks, Netanyahu and the media whipped the country into a hysterical state, accusing Hamas of responsibility for abducting the teens without providing evidence to support the claim and promoting hopes that they would be found alive, although the government knew that the boys were likely murdered within minutes of their abduction. Their deaths provided a pretext for more violent expressions of Israeli anti-Arab racism than ever before.

The viciousness of Mordechai Kedar, lecturer in Arabic literature at Bar Ilan University, was even more creative than Shaked and Elitzur’s merely genocidal proposal. “The only thing that can deter terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them,” he said, “is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” As a university-based “expert,” Kedar’s heinous suggestion is based on his “understanding” of Arab culture. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” he explained, hastening to add, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts.”

Racism has become a legitimate, indeed an integral, component of Israeli public culture, making assertions like these seem “normal.” The public devaluation of Arab life enables a society that sees itself as “enlightened” and “democratic” to repeatedly send its army to slaughter the largely defenseless population of the Gaza Strip—1.8 million people, mostly descendants of refugees who arrived during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and have been, to a greater or lesser extent, imprisoned since 1994.

Conciliatory gestures, on the other hand, are scorned. Just two days after Shaked’s Facebook post, Orthodox Jews kidnapped sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir from the Shu‘afat neighborhood of East Jerusalem and burned him alive in the Jerusalem Forest. Amir Peretz (Hatnua) was the only government minister to visit the grieving family. For this effort he received dozens of posts on his Facebook page threatening to kill him and his family. Meanwhile, vandals twice destroyed memorials erected to Abu Khdeir on the spot of his immolation.

The international community typically sees the manifestations of Israel’s violent racism only when they erupt as assaults on the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, or Lebanon. But Israel’s increasingly poisonous anti-Arab and anti-Muslim public culture prepares the ground of domestic public opinion long before any military operation and immunizes the army from most criticism of its “excesses.” Moreover, Israeli anti-democratic and racist sentiment is increasingly directed against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise twenty percent of the population.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beytenu (Israel Is Our Home) Party made his political reputation on the slogan “No Loyalty, No Citizenship”—a demand that Palestinian Israelis swear loyalty oaths as a condition of retaining their citizenship. Since 2004 Lieberman has also advocated “transferring” Palestinian-Israelis residing in the Triangle region to a future Palestinian state, while annexing most West Bank settlements to Israel. In November 2011 Haaretz published a partial list of ten “loyalty-citizenship” bills in various stages of legislation designed to “determine certain citizens’ rights according to their ‘loyalty’ to the state.”

While Lieberman and other MKs pursue legal channels to legally undermine the citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis, their civil rights are already in serious danger. In 2010 eighteen local rabbis warned that the Galilee town of Safed faced an “Arab takeover” and instructed Jewish residents to inform on and boycott Jews who sold or rented dwellings to Arabs. In addition to promoting segregated housing, Safed’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, tried to ban Arab students from attending Safed Academic College (about 1,300 Palestinian-Israelis are enrolled, some of whom live in Safed). The rabbinical statement incited rampages by religious Jews chanting “Death to the Arabs,” leading Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy to dub Safed “the most racist city” in Israel. In Karmiel and Upper Nazareth—towns established as part of Israel’s campaign to “Judaize the Galilee”—elected officials have led similar campaigns.

Palestinian Israeli Knesset members receive regular verbal abuse from their Jewish “colleagues.” For example, Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Alliance), who participated in the 2010 Freedom Flotilla to the Gaza Strip, which Israeli naval commandos attacked, killing nine Turks (one of whom also held US citizenship), has been particularly targeted. In the verbal sparring over the murder of the three teens Foreign Minister Lieberman called her a “terrorist.” Not to be outdone, Miri Regev (Likud) said Zoabi should be “expelled to Gaza and stripped of her [Knesset] immunity.” Other Knesset members—some from putatively “liberal” parties—piled on. [Update: Yesterday—29 July—Hanin Zoabi was suspended from Knesset].

Violence against Arabs in and around Israeli-annexed “Greater Jerusalem” is particularly intense. Much of it is the work of Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Defense League, banned in Israel in 1994 and designated a terrorist organization by the FBI in 2001, and several similar groups regularly assault and harass Arabs. The day of the funeral of the three abducted teens, some two hundred Israelis rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs.” The previous evening, hardcore fans of the Betar Jerusalem football club, known as La Familia, rallied chanting, “Death to the Arabs.”  The same chant is frequently heard at games of the team, which is associated with the Likud and does not hire Arab players. Hate marches, beatings and shootings of Arabs, and destruction of their property, long common in the West Bank, have become regular events in Israel-proper in the last month.

The citizenship-loyalty bills, Safed’s designation as “the most racist city,” the attacks volleyed at Palestinian elected officials, and mob violence against Arabs all took place before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. The operation—more aggressively dubbed “Firm Cliff” in Hebrew—constitutes Israel’s third assault on the Gaza Strip since 2008. As of yesterday, 29 July, the Palestinian death toll in that operation has reached over 1,200, the great majority of them civilians. Thirty-two Israeli soldiers and three civilians have also died. Israeli security officials sardonically call these operations “mowing the lawn” because well-informed observers know that Hamas cannot be uprooted and is capable of rebuilding its military capacity. There is no long-term strategy, except, as Gideon Levy put it, to kill Palestinians. Major General (res.) Oren Shachor elaborated, “If we kill their families, that will frighten them.” And what might deter Israel?

[This piece originally appeared in a special weeklong series on the Stanford University Press blog, and is reposted here in partnership with SUP blog. The entire ten-part series can be found on the SUP blog.]

Starvation as a Weapon: Legal Implications of the United Nations Food Blockade Against Iraq and Kuwait

René Provost

Starvation as a Weapon: Legal Implications of the United Nations Food Blockade Against Iraq and Kuwait

30 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 577 (1992)

(Introduction)

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in early August 1990 was a bold political move that sent shockwaves through the community of nations and triggered an international reaction which some have viewed as the dawn of a ‘New World Order.’ From the start, the United Nations (the “U.N.”) was at the center of the reaction against this illegal use of force, condemning the invasion in unmitigated terms the same day it occurred. The U.N. proved successful in channelling efforts which eventually resulted in the liberation of Kuwait.

My focus here is on the use of a food blockade by the U.N. Security Council against Iraq and occupied Kuwait. The use of starvation as a weapon is regulated by a number of international humanitarian norms, some conventional and others customary. In this article, I analyze the legal and factual background of the food blockade, and then assess its compliance with international humanitarian law. I conclude that the U.N., the members of the Security Council, and the countries that participated violated several mandatory humanitarian norms in enforcing the food blockade.

Read the entire article here:

starvation-provost

The Penalisation of Poverty and the Rise of Neo-Liberalism

Loïc Wacquant

The Penalisation of Poverty and the Rise of Neo-Liberalism

ABSTRACT.

This article explicates and extends the analyses put forth by the author in his book, Prisons of Poverty, which argues that the generalized increase of carceral populations in advanced societies is due to the growing use of the penal system as an instrument for managing social insecurity and containing the social disorders created at the bottom of the class structure by neoliberal policies of economic deregulation and social-welfare retrenchment. It retraces the steps whereby this “neoliberal penality” was elaborated in the United States and then diffused throughout the world, but contends that European countries are not blindly following the American road to mass imprisonment: Europe’s path to the penal state entails the conjoint intensification of both social and penal treatments of poverty and the activation of the policing functions of welfare services leading to a form of “social panoptism. ” Only the building of a Europe-wide social state can check the spread of the penalization of poverty and its deleterious social consequences.

KEY WORDS: penal state, neoliberalism, poverty, criminalisation, social policy, penal policy

Read the entire article here:

2940_penalispovertyneolib

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

March 14, 2014

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.
 
The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.  
 
###

Various sources on the Right to Food

Various sources on the Right to Food


FAO: Right to Food latest news

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: The Right to Adequate Food, Fact Sheet No. 34

UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR): General Comment 12 – The Right to Adequate Food, UN Doc. E/C.12/1999/5

World Hunger Org: Special Report: The Right to Food Is A Basic Human Right

FIAN: International Code of Conduct on the Human Rights to Adequate Food

Justice M.B. Shah: The Indian Supreme Court acknowledges the Right to Food as a Human Right

Rolf Künnemann & Sandra Epal-Ratjen: The Right to Food: A Resource Manual for NGOs

 

The right to adequate housing (General Comment no. 4)

 
The right to adequate housing (Art.11 (1)) 13.12.1991.
CESCR General comment 4. (General Comments)
 

1. Pursuant to article 11 (1) of the Covenant, States parties “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”. The human right to adequate housing, which is thus derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, is of central importance for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.

 

2. The Committee has been able to accumulate a large amount of information pertaining to this right. Since 1979, the Committee and its predecessors have examined 75 reports dealing with the right to adequate housing. The Committee has also devoted a day of general discussion to the issue at each of its third (see E/1989/22, para. 312) and fourth sessions (E/1990/23, paras. 281-285). In addition, the Committee has taken careful note of information generated by the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (1987) including the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 42/191 of 11 December 1987 1/ . The Committee has also reviewed relevant reports and other documentation of the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities 2/ .

 

3. Although a wide variety of international instruments address the different dimensions of the right to adequate housing 3/ article 11 (1) of the Covenant is the most comprehensive and perhaps the most important of the relevant provisions.

 

4. Despite the fact that the international community has frequently reaffirmed the importance of full respect for the right to adequate housing, there remains a disturbingly large gap between the standards set in article 11 (1) of the Covenant and the situation prevailing in many parts of the world. While the problems are often particularly acute in some developing countries which confront major resource and other constraints, the Committee observes that significant problems of homelessness and inadequate housing also exist in some of the most economically developed societies. The United Nations estimates that there are over 100 million persons homeless worldwide and over 1 billion inadequately housed 4/ . There is no indication that this number is decreasing. It seems clear that no State party is free of significant problems of one kind or another in relation to the right to housing.

 

5. In some instances, the reports of States parties examined by the Committee have acknowledged and described difficulties in ensuring the right to adequate housing. For the most part, however, the information provided has been insufficient to enable the Committee to obtain an adequate picture of the situation prevailing in the State concerned. This General Comment thus aims to identify some of the principal issues which the Committee considers to be important in relation to this right.

 

6. The right to adequate housing applies to everyone. While the reference to “himself and his family” reflects assumptions as to gender roles and economic activity patterns commonly accepted in 1966 when the Covenant was adopted, the phrase cannot be read today as implying any limitations upon the applicability of the right to individuals or to female-headed households or other such groups. Thus, the concept of “family” must be understood in a wide sense. Further, individuals, as well as families, are entitled to adequate housing regardless of age, economic status, group or other affiliation or status and other such factors. In particular, enjoyment of this right must, in accordance with article 2 (2) of the Covenant, not be subject to any form of discrimination.

 

7. In the Committee’s view, the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. This is appropriate for at least two reasons. In the first place, the right to housing is integrally linked to other human rights and to the fundamental principles upon which the Covenant is premised. This “the inherent dignity of the human person” from which the rights in the Covenant are said to derive requires that the term “housing” be interpreted so as to take account of a variety of other considerations, most importantly that the right to housing should be ensured to all persons irrespective of income or access to economic resources. Secondly, the reference in article 11 (1) must be read as referring not just to housing but to adequate housing. As both the Commission on Human Settlements and the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 have stated: “Adequate shelter means … adequate privacy, adequate space, adequate security, adequate lighting and ventilation, adequate basic infrastructure and adequate location with regard to work and basic facilities – all at a reasonable cost”.

 

8. Thus the concept of adequacy is particularly significant in relation to the right to housing since it serves to underline a number of factors which must be taken into account in determining whether particular forms of shelter can be considered to constitute “adequate housing” for the purposes of the Covenant. While adequacy is determined in part by social, economic, cultural, climatic, ecological and other factors, the Committee believes that it is nevertheless possible to identify certain aspects of the right that must be taken into account for this purpose in any particular context. They include the following:

 

(a) Legal security of tenure. Tenure takes a variety of forms, including rental (public and private) accommodation, cooperative housing, lease, owner-occupation, emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property. Notwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats. States parties should consequently take immediate measures aimed at conferring legal security of tenure upon those persons and households currently lacking such protection, in genuine consultation with affected persons and groups;

 

(b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. An adequate house must contain certain facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition. All beneficiaries of the right to adequate housing should have sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services;

 

(c) Affordability. Personal or household financial costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. Steps should be taken by States parties to ensure that the percentage of housing-related costs is, in general, commensurate with income levels. States parties should establish housing subsidies for those unable to obtain affordable housing, as well as forms and levels of housing finance which adequately reflect housing needs. In accordance with the principle of affordability, tenants should be protected by appropriate means against unreasonable rent levels or rent increases. In societies where natural materials constitute the chief sources of building materials for housing, steps should be taken by States parties to ensure the availability of such materials;

 

(d) Habitability. Adequate housing must be habitable, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting them from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards, and disease vectors. The physical safety of occupants must be guaranteed as well. The Committee encourages States parties to comprehensively apply the Health Principles of Housing 5/ prepared by WHO which view housing as the environmental factor most frequently associated with conditions for disease in epidemiological analyses; i.e. inadequate and deficient housing and living conditions are invariably associated with higher mortality and morbidity rates;

 

(e) Accessibility. Adequate housing must be accessible to those entitled to it. Disadvantaged groups must be accorded full and sustainable access to adequate housing resources. Thus, such disadvantaged groups as the elderly, children, the physically disabled, the terminally ill, HIV-positive individuals, persons with persistent medical problems, the mentally ill, victims of natural disasters, people living in disaster-prone areas and other groups should be ensured some degree of priority consideration in the housing sphere. Both housing law and policy should take fully into account the special housing needs of these groups. Within many States parties increasing access to land by landless or impoverished segments of the society should constitute a central policy goal. Discernible governmental obligations need to be developed aiming to substantiate the right of all to a secure place to live in peace and dignity, including access to land as an entitlement;

 

(f) Location. Adequate housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health-care services, schools, child-care centres and other social facilities. This is true both in large cities and in rural areas where the temporal and financial costs of getting to and from the place of work can place excessive demands upon the budgets of poor households. Similarly, housing should not be built on polluted sites nor in immediate proximity to pollution sources that threaten the right to health of the inhabitants;

 

(g) Cultural adequacy. The way housing is constructed, the building materials used and the policies supporting these must appropriately enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing. Activities geared towards development or modernization in the housing sphere should ensure that the cultural dimensions of housing are not sacrificed, and that, inter alia, modern technological facilities, as appropriate are also ensured.

 

9. As noted above, the right to adequate housing cannot be viewed in isolation from other human rights contained in the two International Covenants and other applicable international instruments. Reference has already been made in this regard to the concept of human dignity and the principle of non-discrimination. In addition, the full enjoyment of other rights – such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association (such as for tenants and other community-based groups), the right to freedom of residence and the right to participate in public decision-making – is indispensable if the right to adequate housing is to be realized and maintained by all groups in society. Similarly, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy, family, home or correspondence constitutes a very important dimension in defining the right to adequate housing.

 

10. Regardless of the state of development of any country, there are certain steps which must be taken immediately. As recognized in the Global Strategy for Shelter and in other international analyses, many of the measures required to promote the right to housing would only require the abstention by the Government from certain practices and a commitment to facilitating “self-help” by affected groups. To the extent that any such steps are considered to be beyond the maximum resources available to a State party, it is appropriate that a request be made as soon as possible for international cooperation in accordance with articles 11 (1), 22 and 23 of the Covenant, and that the Committee be informed thereof.

 

11. States parties must give due priority to those social groups living in unfavourable conditions by giving them particular consideration. Policies and legislation should correspondingly not be designed to benefit already advantaged social groups at the expense of others. The Committee is aware that external factors can affect the right to a continuous improvement of living conditions, and that in many States parties overall living conditions declined during the 1980s. However, as noted by the Committee in its General Comment 2 (1990) (E/1990/23, annex III), despite externally caused problems, the obligations under the Covenant continue to apply and are perhaps even more pertinent during times of economic contraction. It would thus appear to the Committee that a general decline in living and housing conditions, directly attributable to policy and legislative decisions by States parties, and in the absence of accompanying compensatory measures, would be inconsistent with the obligations under the Covenant.

 

12. While the most appropriate means of achieving the full realization of the right to adequate housing will inevitably vary significantly from one State party to another, the Covenant clearly requires that each State party take whatever steps are necessary for that purpose. This will almost invariably require the adoption of a national housing strategy which, as stated in paragraph 32 of the Global Strategy for Shelter, “defines the objectives for the development of shelter conditions, identifies the resources available to meet these goals and the most cost-effective way of using them and sets out the responsibilities and time-frame for the implementation of the necessary measures”. Both for reasons of relevance and effectiveness, as well as in order to ensure respect for other human rights, such a strategy should reflect extensive genuine consultation with, and participation by, all of those affected, including the homeless, the inadequately housed and their representatives. Furthermore, steps should be taken to ensure coordination between ministries and regional and local authorities in order to reconcile related policies (economics, agriculture, environment, energy, etc.) with the obligations under article 11 of the Covenant.

 

13. Effective monitoring of the situation with respect to housing is another obligation of immediate effect. For a State party to satisfy its obligations under article 11 (1) it must demonstrate, inter alia, that it has taken whatever steps are necessary, either alone or on the basis of international cooperation, to ascertain the full extent of homelessness and inadequate housing within its jurisdiction. In this regard, the revised general guidelines regarding the form and contents of reports adopted by the Committee (E/C.12/1991/1) emphasize the need to “provide detailed information about those groups within … society that are vulnerable and disadvantaged with regard to housing”. They include, in particular, homeless persons and families, those inadequately housed and without ready access to basic amenities, those living in “illegal” settlements, those subject to forced evictions and low-income groups.

 

14. Measures designed to satisfy a State party’s obligations in respect of the right to adequate housing may reflect whatever mix of public and private sector measures considered appropriate. While in some States public financing of housing might most usefully be spent on direct construction of new housing, in most cases, experience has shown the inability of Governments to fully satisfy housing deficits with publicly built housing. The promotion by States parties of “enabling strategies”, combined with a full commitment to obligations under the right to adequate housing, should thus be encouraged. In essence, the obligation is to demonstrate that, in aggregate, the measures being taken are sufficient to realize the right for every individual in the shortest possible time in accordance with the maximum of available resources.

 

15. Many of the measures that will be required will involve resource allocations and policy initiatives of a general kind. Nevertheless, the role of formal legislative and administrative measures should not be underestimated in this context. The Global Strategy for Shelter (paras. 66-67) has drawn attention to the types of measures that might be taken in this regard and to their importance.

 

16. In some States, the right to adequate housing is constitutionally entrenched. In such cases the Committee is particularly interested in learning of the legal and practical significance of such an approach. Details of specific cases and of other ways in which entrenchment has proved helpful should thus be provided.

 

17. The Committee views many component elements of the right to adequate housing as being at least consistent with the provision of domestic legal remedies. Depending on the legal system, such areas might include, but are not limited to: (a) legal appeals aimed at preventing planned evictions or demolitions through the issuance of court-ordered injunctions; (b) legal procedures seeking compensation following an illegal eviction; (c) complaints against illegal actions carried out or supported by landlords (whether public or private) in relation to rent levels, dwelling maintenance, and racial or other forms of discrimination; (d) allegations of any form of discrimination in the allocation and availability of access to housing; and (e) complaints against landlords concerning unhealthy or inadequate housing conditions. In some legal systems it would also be appropriate to explore the possibility of facilitating class action suits in situations involving significantly increased levels of homelessness.

 

18. In this regard, the Committee considers that instances of forced eviction are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances, and in accordance with the relevant principles of international law.

 

19. Finally, article 11 (1) concludes with the obligation of States parties to recognize “the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent”. Traditionally, less than 5 per cent of all international assistance has been directed towards housing or human settlements, and often the manner by which such funding is provided does little to address the housing needs of disadvantaged groups. States parties, both recipients and providers, should ensure that a substantial proportion of financing is devoted to creating conditions leading to a higher number of persons being adequately housed. International financial institutions promoting measures of structural adjustment should ensure that such measures do not compromise the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. States parties should, when contemplating international financial cooperation, seek to indicate areas relevant to the right to adequate housing where external financing would have the most effect. Such requests should take full account of the needs and views of the affected groups.

 

Notes

 

 

 

* Contained in document E/1992/23.

 

1/ Official Records of the General Assembly, Forty-third Session, Supplement No. 8, addendum (A/43/8/Add.1).

 

2/ Commission on Human Rights resolutions 1986/36 and 1987/22; reports by Mr. Danilo Türk, Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1990/19, paras. 108-120; E/CN.4/Sub.2/1991/17, paras. 137-139); see also Sub-Commission resolution 1991/26.

 

3/ See, for example, article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, article 5 (e) (iii) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, article 14 (2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, article 27 (3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 10 of the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, section III (8) of the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements, 1976 (Report of Habitat: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.76.IV.7 and corrigendum), chap. I), article 8 (1) of the Declaration on the Right to Development and the ILO Recommendation Concerning Workers’ Housing, 1961 (No. 115).

 

4/ See footnote 1/.

 

5/ Geneva, World Health Organization, 1990.

Right to education: General Comment no. 13

The right to education (Art.13) : . 08.12.1999.

                                       E/C.12/1999/10. (General Comments)

 

Convention Abbreviation: CESCR

COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL

AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

Twenty-first session

15 November-3 December 1999

 

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

 

General Comment No. 13

The right to education

(Article 13 of the Covenant)

(Twenty-first session, 1999) 1/

 

The right to education (art. 13)

 

1. Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.

 

2. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) devotes two articles to the right to education, articles 13 and 14. Article 13, the longest provision in the Covenant, is the most wide-ranging and comprehensive article on the right to education in international human rights law. The Committee has already adopted General Comment 11 on article 14 (plans of action for primary education); General Comment 11 and the present general comment are complementary and should be considered together. The Committee is aware that for millions of people throughout the world, the enjoyment of the right to education remains a distant goal. Moreover, in many cases, this goal is becoming increasingly remote. The Committee is also conscious of the formidable structural and other obstacles impeding the full implementation of article 13 in many States parties.

 

3. With a view to assisting States parties’ implementation of the Covenant and the fulfilment of their reporting obligations, this general comment focuses on the normative content of article 13 (Part I, paras. 4-42), some of the obligations arising from it (Part II, paras. 43-57), and some illustrative violations (Part II, paras. 58-59). Part III briefly remarks upon the obligations of actors other than States parties. The general comment is based upon the Committee’s experience in examining States parties, reports over many years.

 

 

I. NORMATIVE CONTENT OF ARTICLE 13

 

 

Article 13 (1): Aims and objectives of education

 

4. States parties agree that all education, whether public or private, formal or non-formal, shall be directed towards the aims and objectives identified in article 13 (1). The Committee notes that these educational objectives reflect the fundamental purposes and principles of the United Nations as enshrined in Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter. For the most part, they are also found in article 26 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although article 13 (1) adds to the Declaration in three respects: education shall be directed to the human personality’s “sense of dignity”, it shall “enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society”, and it shall promote understanding among all “ethnic” groups, as well as nations and racial and religious groups. Of those educational objectives which are common to article 26 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 13 (1) of the Covenant, perhaps the most fundamental is that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality”.

 

5. The Committee notes that since the General Assembly adopted the Covenant in 1966, other international instruments have further elaborated the objectives to which education should be directed. Accordingly, the Committee takes the view that States parties are required to ensure that education conforms to the aims and objectives identified in article 13 (1), as interpreted in the light of the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand, 1990) (art. 1), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 29 (1)), the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Part I, para. 33 and Part II, para. 80), and the Plan of Action for the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (para. 2). While all these texts closely correspond to article 13 (1) of the Covenant, they also include elements which are not expressly provided for in article 13 (1), such as specific references to gender equality and respect for the environment. These new elements are implicit in, and reflect a contemporary interpretation of article 13 (1). The Committee obtains support for this point of view from the widespread endorsement that the previously mentioned texts have received from all regions of the world. 2/

 

 

Article 13 (2): The right to receive an education – some general remarks

 

6. While the precise and appropriate application of the terms will depend upon the conditions prevailing in a particular State party, education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features: 3/

 

 

(a) Availability – functioning educational institutions and programmes have to be available in sufficient quantity within the jurisdiction of the State party. What they require to function depends upon numerous factors, including the developmental context within which they operate; for example, all institutions and programmes are likely to require buildings or other protection from the elements, sanitation facilities for both sexes, safe drinking water, trained teachers receiving domestically competitive salaries, teaching materials, and so on; while some will also require facilities such as a library, computer facilities and information technology;

 

(b) Accessibility – educational institutions and programmes have to be accessible to everyone, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the State party. Accessibility has three overlapping dimensions:

 

Non-discrimination – education must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable groups, in law and fact, without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (see paras. 31-37 on non-discrimination);

Physical accessibility – education has to be within safe physical reach, either by attendance at some reasonably convenient geographic location (e.g. a neighbourhood school) or via modern technology (e.g. access to a “distance learning” programme);

Economic accessibility – education has to be affordable to all. This dimension of accessibility is subject to the differential wording of article 13 (2) in relation to primary, secondary and higher education: whereas primary education shall be available “free to all”, States parties are required to progressively introduce free secondary and higher education;

 

(c) Acceptability – the form and substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be acceptable (e.g. relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality) to students and, in appropriate cases, parents; this is subject to the educational objectives required by article 13 (1) and such minimum educational standards as may be approved by the State (see art. 13 (3) and (4));

 

(d) Adaptability – education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.

 

7. When considering the appropriate application of these “interrelated and essential features” the best interests of the student shall be a primary consideration.

 

Article 13 (2) (a): The right to primary education

 

8. Primary education includes the elements of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability which are common to education in all its forms and at all levels. 4/

 

9. The Committee obtains guidance on the proper interpretation of the term “primary education” from the World Declaration on Education for All which states: “The main delivery system for the basic education of children outside the family is primary schooling. Primary education must be universal, ensure that the basic learning needs of all children are satisfied, and take into account the culture, needs and opportunities of the community” (art. 5). “[B]asic learning needs” are defined in article 1 of the World Declaration. 5/

While primary education is not synonymous with basic education, there is a close correspondence between the two. In this regard, the Committee endorses the position taken by UNICEF: “Primary education is the most important component of basic education.” 6/

10. As formulated in article 13 (2) (a), primary education has two distinctive features: it is “compulsory” and “available free to all”. For the Committee’s observations on both terms, see paragraphs 6 and 7 of General Comment 11 on article 14 of the Covenant.

 

Article 13 (2) (b): The right to secondary education

 

11. Secondary education includes the elements of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability which are common to education in all its forms and at all levels. 7/

 

12. While the content of secondary education will vary among States parties and over time, it includes completion of basic education and consolidation of the foundations for life-long learning and human development. It prepares students for vocational and higher educational opportunities. 8/

Article 13 (2) (b) applies to secondary education “in its different forms”, thereby recognizing that secondary education demands flexible curricula and varied delivery systems to respond to the needs of students in different social and cultural settings. The Committee encourages “alternative” educational programmes which parallel regular secondary school systems.

 

13. According to article 13 (2) (b), secondary education “shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education”. The phrase “generally available” signifies, firstly, that secondary education is not dependent on a student’s apparent capacity or ability and, secondly, that secondary education will be distributed throughout the State in such a way that it is available on the same basis to all. For the Committee’s interpretation of “accessible”, see paragraph 6 above. The phrase “every appropriate means” reinforces the point that States parties should adopt varied and innovative approaches to the delivery of secondary education in different social and cultural contexts.

 

14. “[P]rogressive introduction of free education” means that while States must prioritize the provision of free primary education, they also have an obligation to take concrete steps towards achieving free secondary and higher education. For the Committee’s general observations on the meaning of the word “free”, see paragraph 7 of General Comment 11 on article 14.

 

Technical and vocational education

 

15. Technical and vocational education (TVE) forms part of both the right to education and the right to work (art. 6 (2)). Article 13 (2) (b) presents TVE as part of secondary education, reflecting the particular importance of TVE at this level of education. Article 6 (2), however, does not refer to TVE in relation to a specific level of education; it comprehends that TVE has a wider role, helping “to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment”. Also, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “[t]echnical and professional education shall be made generally available” (art. 26 (1)). Accordingly, the Committee takes the view that TVE forms an integral element of all levels of education. 9/

 

16. An introduction to technology and to the world of work should not be confined to specific TVE programmes but should be understood as a component of general education. According to the UNESCO Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1989), TVE consists of “all forms and levels of the educational process involving, in addition to general knowledge, the study of technologies and related sciences and the acquisition of practical skills, know-how, attitudes and understanding relating to occupations in the various sectors of economic and social life” (art. 1 (a)). This view is also reflected in certain ILO Conventions. 10/ Understood in this way, the right to TVE includes the following aspects:

 

(a) It enables students to acquire knowledge and skills which contribute to their personal development, self-reliance and employability and enhances the productivity of their families and communities, including the State party’s economic and social development;

 

(b) It takes account of the educational, cultural and social background of the population concerned; the skills, knowledge and levels of qualification needed in the various sectors of the economy; and occupational health, safety and welfare;

 

(c) Provides retraining for adults whose current knowledge and skills have become obsolete owing to technological, economic, employment, social or other changes;

 

(d) It consists of programmes which give students, especially those from developing countries, the opportunity to receive TVE in other States, with a view to the appropriate transfer and adaptation of technology;

 

(e) It consists, in the context of the Covenant’s non-discrimination and equality provisions, of programmes which promote the TVE of women, girls, out-of-school youth, unemployed youth, the children of migrant workers, refugees, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.

 

Article 13 (2) (c): The right to higher education

 

17. Higher education includes the elements of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability which are common to education in all its forms at all levels. 11/

 

 

18. While article 13 (2) (c) is formulated on the same lines as article 13 (2) (b), there are three differences between the two provisions. Article 13 (2) (c) does not include a reference to either education “in its different forms” or specifically to TVE. In the Committee’s opinion, these two omissions reflect only a difference of emphasis between article 13 (2) (b) and (c). If higher education is to respond to the needs of students in different social and cultural settings, it must have flexible curricula and varied delivery systems, such as distance learning; in practice, therefore, both secondary and higher education have to be available “in different forms”. As for the lack of reference in article 13 (2) (c) to technical and vocational education, given article 6 (2) of the Covenant and article 26 (1) of the Universal Declaration, TVE forms an integral component of all levels of education, including higher education. 12/

 

19. The third and most significant difference between article 13 (2) (b) and (c) is that while secondary education “shall be made generally available and accessible to all”, higher education “shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity”. According to article 13 (2) (c), higher education is not to be “generally available”, but only available “on the basis of capacity”. The “capacity” of individuals should be assessed by reference to all their relevant expertise and experience.

 

20. So far as the wording of article 13 (2) (b) and (c) is the same (e.g. “the progressive introduction of free education”), see the previous comments on article 13 (2) (b).

 

Article 13 (2) (d): The right to fundamental education

 

21. Fundamental education includes the elements of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability which are common to education in all its forms and at all levels. 13/

 

22. In general terms, fundamental education corresponds to basic education as set out in the World Declaration on Education For All. 14/ By virtue of article 13 (2) (d), individuals “who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education” have a right to fundamental education, or basic education as defined in the World Declaration on Education For All.

 

23. Since everyone has the right to the satisfaction of their “basic learning needs” as understood by the World Declaration, the right to fundamental education is not confined to those “who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education”. The right to fundamental education extends to all those who have not yet satisfied their “basic learning needs”.

 

24. It should be emphasized that enjoyment of the right to fundamental education is not limited by age or gender; it extends to children, youth and adults, including older persons. Fundamental education, therefore, is an integral component of adult education and life-long learning. Because fundamental education is a right of all age groups, curricula and delivery systems must be devised which are suitable for students of all ages.

 

Article 13 (2) (e): A school system; adequate fellowship system; material conditions of teaching staff

 

25. The requirement that the “development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued” means that a State party is obliged to have an overall developmental strategy for its school system. The strategy must encompass schooling at all levels, but the Covenant requires States parties to prioritize primary education (see para. 51). “[A]ctively pursued” suggests that the overall strategy should attract a degree of governmental priority and, in any event, must be implemented with vigour.

 

26. The requirement that “an adequate fellowship system shall be established” should be read with the Covenant’s non-discrimination and equality provisions; the fellowship system should enhance equality of educational access for individuals from disadvantaged groups.

 

27. While the Covenant requires that “the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved”, in practice the general working conditions of teachers have deteriorated, and reached unacceptably low levels, in many States parties in recent years. Not only is this inconsistent with article 13 (2) (e), but it is also a major obstacle to the full realization of students’ right to education. The Committee also notes the relationship between articles 13 (2) (e), 2 (2), 3 and 6-8 of the Covenant, including the right of teachers to organize and bargain collectively; draws the attention of States parties to the joint UNESCO-ILO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) and the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (1997); and urges States parties to report on measures they are taking to ensure that all teaching staff enjoy the conditions and status commensurate with their role.

 

Article 13 (3) and (4): The right to educational freedom

 

28. Article 13 (3) has two elements, one of which is that States parties undertake to respect the liberty of parents and guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions. 15/

The Committee is of the view that this element of article 13 (3) permits public school instruction in subjects such as the general history of religions and ethics if it is given in an unbiased and objective way, respectful of the freedoms of opinion, conscience and expression. It notes that public education that includes instruction in a particular religion or belief is inconsistent with article 13 (3) unless provision is made for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.

 

29. The second element of article 13 (3) is the liberty of parents and guardians to choose other than public schools for their children, provided the schools conform to “such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State”. This has to be read with the complementary provision, article 13 (4), which affirms “the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions”, provided the institutions conform to the educational objectives set out in article 13 (1) and certain minimum standards. These minimum standards may relate to issues such as admission, curricula and the recognition of certificates. In their turn, these standards must be consistent with the educational objectives set out in article 13 (1).

 

30. Under article 13 (4), everyone, including non-nationals, has the liberty to establish and direct educational institutions. The liberty also extends to “bodies”, i.e. legal persons or entities. It includes the right to establish and direct all types of educational institutions, including nurseries, universities and institutions for adult education. Given the principles of non-discrimination, equal opportunity and effective participation in society for all, the State has an obligation to ensure that the liberty set out in article 13 (4) does not lead to extreme disparities of educational opportunity for some groups in society.

 

Article 13: Special topics of broad application

 

Non-discrimination and equal treatment

 

31. The prohibition against discrimination enshrined in article 2 (2) of the Covenant is subject to neither progressive realization nor the availability of resources; it applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination. The Committee interprets articles 2 (2) and 3 in the light of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (Convention No. 169), and wishes to draw particular attention to the following issues.

 

32. The adoption of temporary special measures intended to bring about de facto equality for men and women and for disadvantaged groups is not a violation of the right to non-discrimination with regard to education, so long as such measures do not lead to the maintenance of unequal or separate standards for different groups, and provided they are not continued after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.

 

33. In some circumstances, separate educational systems or institutions for groups defined by the categories in article 2 (2) shall be deemed not to constitute a breach of the Covenant. In this regard, the Committee affirms article 2 of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960). 16/

 

34. The Committee takes note of article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 3 (e) of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and confirms that the principle of non-discrimination extends to all persons of school age residing in the territory of a State party, including non-nationals, and irrespective of their legal status.

 

35. Sharp disparities in spending policies that result in differing qualities of education for persons residing in different geographic locations may constitute discrimination under the Covenant.

 

36. The Committee affirms paragraph 35 of its General Comment 5, which addresses the issue of persons with disabilities in the context of the right to education, and paragraphs 36-42 of its General Comment 6, which address the issue of older persons in relation to articles 13-15 of the Covenant.

 

37. States parties must closely monitor education – including all relevant policies, institutions, programmes, spending patterns and other practices – so as to identify and take measures to redress any de facto discrimination. Educational data should be disaggregated by the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

 

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy 17/

 

 

38. In the light of its examination of numerous States parties’ reports, the Committee has formed the view that the right to education can only be enjoyed if accompanied by the academic freedom of staff and students. Accordingly, even though the issue is not explicitly mentioned in article 13, it is appropriate and necessary for the Committee to make some observations about academic freedom. The following remarks give particular attention to institutions of higher education because, in the Committee’s experience, staff and students in higher education are especially vulnerable to political and other pressures which undermine academic freedom. The Committee wishes to emphasize, however, that staff and students throughout the education sector are entitled to academic freedom and many of the following observations have general application.

39. Members of the academic community, individually or collectively, are free to pursue, develop and transmit knowledge and ideas, through research, teaching, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation or writing. Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds.

 

40. The enjoyment of academic freedom requires the autonomy of institutions of higher education. Autonomy is that degree of self-governance necessary for effective decision-making by institutions of higher education in relation to their academic work, standards, management and related activities. Self-governance, however, must be consistent with systems of public accountability, especially in respect of funding provided by the State. Given the substantial public investments made in higher education, an appropriate balance has to be struck between institutional autonomy and accountability. While there is no single model, institutional arrangements should be fair, just and equitable, and as transparent and participatory as possible.

 

Discipline in schools 18/

 

 

41. In the Committee’s view, corporal punishment is inconsistent with the fundamental guiding principle of international human rights law enshrined in the Preambles to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and both Covenants: the dignity of the individual. 19/ Other aspects of school discipline may also be inconsistent with human dignity, such as public humiliation. Nor should any form of discipline breach other rights under the Covenant, such as the right to food. A State party is required to take measures to ensure that discipline which is inconsistent with the Covenant does not occur in any public or private educational institution within its jurisdiction. The Committee welcomes initiatives taken by some States parties which actively encourage schools to introduce “positive”, non-violent approaches to school discipline.

 

Limitations on article 13

 

42. The Committee wishes to emphasize that the Covenant’s limitations clause, article 4, is primarily intended to be protective of the rights of individuals rather than permissive of the imposition of limitations by the State. Consequently, a State party which closes a university or other educational institution on grounds such as national security or the preservation of public order has the burden of justifying such a serious measure in relation to each of the elements identified in article 4.

 

 

II. STATES PARTIES’ OBLIGATIONS AND VIOLATIONS

 

General legal obligations

 

 

43.While the Covenant provides for progressive realization and acknowledges the constraints due to the limits of available resources, it also imposes on States parties various obligations which are of immediate effect. 20/

States parties have immediate obligations in relation to the right to education, such as the “guarantee” that the right “will be exercised without discrimination of any kind” (art. 2 (2)) and the obligation “to take steps” (art. 2 (1)) towards the full realization of article 13. 21/

Such steps must be “deliberate, concrete and targeted” towards the full realization of the right to education.

 

44.The realization of the right to education over time, that is “progressively”, should not be interpreted as depriving States parties’ obligations of all meaningful content. Progressive realization means that States parties have a specific and continuing obligation “to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” towards the full realization of article 13. 22/

 

 

 

45.There is a strong presumption of impermissibility of any retrogressive measures taken in relation to the right to education, as well as other rights enunciated in the Covenant. If any deliberately retrogressive measures are taken, the State party has the burden of proving that they have been introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are fully justified by reference to the totality of the rights provided for in the Covenant and in the context of the full use of the State party’s maximum available resources. 23/

 

 

 

46.The right to education, like all human rights, imposes three types or levels of obligations on States parties: the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil. In turn, the obligation to fulfil incorporates both an obligation to facilitate and an obligation to provide.

 

47.The obligation to respect requires States parties to avoid measures that hinder or prevent the enjoyment of the right to education. The obligation to protect requires States parties to take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to education. The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) requires States to take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to education. Finally, States parties have an obligation to fulfil (provide) the right to education. As a general rule, States parties are obliged to fulfil (provide) a specific right in the Covenant when an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to realize the right themselves by the means at their disposal. However, the extent of this obligation is always subject to the text of the Covenant.

 

 

 

48.In this respect, two features of article 13 require emphasis. First, it is clear that article 13 regards States as having principal responsibility for the direct provision of education in most circumstances; States parties recognize, for example, that the “development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued” (art. 13 (2) (e)). Secondly, given the differential wording of article 13 (2) in relation to primary, secondary, higher and fundamental education, the parameters of a State party’s obligation to fulfil (provide) are not the same for all levels of education. Accordingly, in light of the text of the Covenant, States parties have an enhanced obligation to fulfil (provide) regarding the right to education, but the extent of this obligation is not uniform for all levels of education. The Committee observes that this interpretation of the obligation to fulfil (provide) in relation to article 13 coincides with the law and practice of numerous States parties.

 

Specific legal obligations

 

 

49.States parties are required to ensure that curricula, for all levels of the educational system, are directed to the objectives identified in article 13 (1). 24/ They are also obliged to establish and maintain a transparent and effective system which monitors whether or not education is, in fact, directed to the educational objectives set out in article 13 (1).

 

50.In relation to article 13 (2), States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil each of the “essential features” (availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability) of the right to education. By way of illustration, a State must respect the availability of education by not closing private schools; protect the accessibility of education by ensuring that third parties, including parents and employers, do not stop girls from going to school; fulfil (facilitate) the acceptability of education by taking positive measures to ensure that education is culturally appropriate for minorities and indigenous peoples, and of good quality for all; fulfil (provide) the adaptability of education by designing and providing resources for curricula which reflect the contemporary needs of students in a changing world; and fulfil (provide) the availability of education by actively developing a system of schools, including building classrooms, delivering programmes, providing teaching materials, training teachers and paying them domestically competitive salaries.

 

 

 

51.As already observed, the obligations of States parties in relation to primary, secondary, higher and fundamental education are not identical. Given the wording of article 13 (2), States parties are obliged to prioritize the introduction of compulsory, free primary education. 25/ This interpretation of article 13 (2) is reinforced by the priority accorded to primary education in article 14. The obligation to provide primary education for all is an immediate duty of all States parties.

 

52.In relation to article 13 (2) (b)-(d), a State party has an immediate obligation “to take steps” (art. 2 (1)) towards the realization of secondary, higher and fundamental education for all those within its jurisdiction. At a minimum, the State party is required to adopt and implement a national educational strategy which includes the provision of secondary, higher and fundamental education in accordance with the Covenant. This strategy should include mechanisms, such as indicators and benchmarks on the right to education, by which progress can be closely monitored.

 

 

 

53.Under article 13 (2) (e), States parties are obliged to ensure that an educational fellowship system is in place to assist disadvantaged groups. 26/ The obligation to pursue actively the “development of a system of schools at all levels” reinforces the principal responsibility of States parties to ensure the direct provision of the right to education in most circumstances. 27/

 

 

54.States parties are obliged to establish “minimum educational standards” to which all educational institutions established in accordance with article 13 (3) and (4) are required to conform. They must also maintain a transparent and effective system to monitor such standards. A State party has no obligation to fund institutions established in accordance with article 13 (3) and (4); however, if a State elects to make a financial contribution to private educational institutions, it must do so without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds.

 

 

 

55.States parties have an obligation to ensure that communities and families are not dependent on child labour. The Committee especially affirms the importance of education in eliminating child labour and the obligations set out in article 7 (2) of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (Convention No. 182). 28/ Additionally, given article 2 (2), States parties are obliged to remove gender and other stereotyping which impedes the educational access of girls, women and other disadvantaged groups.

 

56.In its General Comment 3, the Committee drew attention to the obligation of all States parties to take steps, “individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical”, towards the full realization of the rights recognized in the Covenant, such as the right to education. 29/ Articles 2 (1) and 23 of the Covenant, Article 56 of the Charter of the United Nations, article 10 of the World Declaration on Education for All, and Part I, paragraph 34 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action all reinforce the obligation of States parties in relation to the provision of international assistance and cooperation for the full realization of the right to education. In relation to the negotiation and ratification of international agreements, States parties should take steps to ensure that these instruments do not adversely impact upon the right to education. Similarly, States parties have an obligation to ensure that their actions as members of international organizations, including international financial institutions, take due account of the right to education.

 

 

 

57.In its General Comment 3, the Committee confirmed that States parties have “a minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels” of each of the rights enunciated in the Covenant, including “the most basic forms of education”. In the context of article 13, this core includes an obligation: to ensure the right of access to public educational institutions and programmes on a non-discriminatory basis; to ensure that education conforms to the objectives set out in article 13 (1); to provide primary education for all in accordance with article 13 (2) (a); to adopt and implement a national educational strategy which includes provision for secondary, higher and fundamental education; and to ensure free choice of education without interference from the State or third parties, subject to conformity with “minimum educational standards” (art. 13 (3) and (4)).

 

Violations

 

 

58.When the normative content of article 13 (Part I) is applied to the general and specific obligations of States parties (Part II), a dynamic process is set in motion which facilitates identification of violations of the right to education. Violations of article 13 may occur through the direct action of States parties (acts of commission) or through their failure to take steps required by the Covenant (acts of omission).

 

59.By way of illustration, violations of article 13 include: the introduction or failure to repeal legislation which discriminates against individuals or groups, on any of the prohibited grounds, in the field of education; the failure to take measures which address de facto educational discrimination; the use of curricula inconsistent with the educational objectives set out in article 13 (1); the failure to maintain a transparent and effective system to monitor conformity with article 13 (1); the failure to introduce, as a matter of priority, primary education which is compulsory and available free to all; the failure to take “deliberate, concrete and targeted” measures towards the progressive realization of secondary, higher and fundamental education in accordance with article 13 (2) (b)-(d); the prohibition of private educational institutions; the failure to ensure private educational institutions conform to the “minimum educational standards” required by article 13 (3) and (4); the denial of academic freedom of staff and students; the closure of educational institutions in times of political tension in non-conformity with article 4.

 

III. OBLIGATIONS OF ACTORS OTHER THAN STATES PARTIES

 

 

60. Given article 22 of the Covenant, the role of the United Nations agencies, including at the country level through the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), is of special importance in relation to the realization of article 13. Coordinated efforts for the realization of the right to education should be maintained to improve coherence and interaction among all the actors concerned, including the various components of civil society. UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, ILO, the World Bank, the regional development banks, the International Monetary Fund and other relevant bodies within the United Nations system should enhance their cooperation for the implementation of the right to education at the national level, with due respect to their specific mandates, and building on their respective expertise. In particular, the international financial institutions, notably the World Bank and IMF, should pay greater attention to the protection of the right to education in their lending policies, credit agreements, structural adjustment programmes and measures taken in response to the debt crisis. 30/ When examining the reports of States parties, the Committee will consider the effects of the assistance provided by all actors other than States parties on the ability of States to meet their obligations under article 13. The adoption of a human rights-based approach by United Nations specialized agencies, programmes and bodies will greatly facilitate implementation of the right to education.

 

 

 

Notes

 

 

1/ Contained in document E/C.12/1999/10.

2/ The World Declaration on Education for All was adopted by 155 governmental delegations; the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted by 171 governmental delegations; the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified or acceded to by 191 States parties; the Plan of Action of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education was adopted by a consensus resolution of the General Assembly (49/184).

3/ This approach corresponds with the Committee’s analytical framework adopted in relation to the rights to adequate housing and food, as well as the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education. In its General Comment 4, the Committee identified a number of factors which bear upon the right to adequate housing, including “availability”, “affordability”, “accessibility” and “cultural adequacy”. In its General Comment 12, the Committee identified elements of the right to adequate food, such as “availability”, “acceptability” and “accessibility”. In her preliminary report to the Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education sets out “four essential features that primary schools should exhibit, namely availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability”, (E/CN.4/1999/49, para. 50).

4/ See para. 6.

5/ The Declaration defines “basic learning needs” as: “essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning” (art. 1).

6/ Advocacy Kit, Basic Education 1999 (UNICEF), section 1, p. 1.

7/ See para. 6.

8/ See International Standard Classification of Education 1997, UNESCO, para. 52.

9/ A view also reflected in the Human Resources Development Convention 1975 (Convention No. 142) and the Social Policy (Basic Aims and Standards) Convention 1962 (Convention No. 117) of the International Labour Organization.

10/ See note 8.

11/ See para. 6.

12/ 11 See para. 15.

13/ 12 See para. 6.

14/ See para. 9.

15/ This replicates article 18 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and also relates to the freedom to teach a religion or belief as stated in article 18 (1) ICCPR. (See Human Rights Committee General Comment 22 on article 18 ICCPR, forty-eighth session, 1993.) The Human Rights Committee notes that the fundamental character of article 18 ICCPR is reflected in the fact that this provision cannot be derogated from, even in time of public emergency, as stated in article 4 (2) of that Covenant.

16/ According to article 2:

“When permitted in a State, the following situations shall not be deemed to constitute discrimination, within the meaning of article 1 of this Convention:

(a) The establishment or maintenance of separate educational systems or institutions for pupils of the two sexes, if these systems or institutions offer equivalent access to education, provide a teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard as well as school premises and equipment of the same quality, and afford the opportunity to take the same or equivalent courses of study;

(b) The establishment or maintenance, for religious or linguistic reasons, of separate educational systems or institutions offering an education which is in keeping with the wishes of the pupil’s parents or legal guardians, if participation in such systems or attendance at such institutions is optional and if the education provided conforms to such standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities, in particular for education of the same level;

(c) The establishment or maintenance of private educational institutions, if the object of the institutions is not to secure the exclusion of any group but to provide educational facilities in addition to those provided by the public authorities, if the institutions are conducted in accordance with that object, and if the education provided conforms with such standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities, in particular for education of the same level.”

17/ See UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (1997).

18/ In formulating this paragraph, the Committee has taken note of the practice evolving elsewhere in the international human rights system, such as the interpretation given by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to article 28 (2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Human Rights Committee’s interpretation of article 7 of ICCPR.

19/ The Committee notes that, although it is absent from article 26 (2) of the Declaration, the drafters of ICESCR expressly included the dignity of the human personality as one of the mandatory objectives to which all education is to be directed (art. 13 (1)).

20/ See the Committee’s General Comment 3, para. 1.

21/ See the Committee’s General Comment 3, para. 2.

22/ See the Committee’s General Comment 3, para. 9.

23/ See the Committee’s General Comment 3, para. 9.

24/ There are numerous resources to assist States parties in this regard, such as UNESCO’s Guidelines for Curriculum and Textbook Development in International Education (ED/ECS/HCI). One of the objectives of article 13 (1) is to “strengthen the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms”; in this particular context, States parties should examine the initiatives developed within the framework of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education – especially instructive is the Plan of Action for the Decade, adopted by the General Assembly in 1996, and the Guidelines for National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education, developed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist States in responding to the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education.

25/ On the meaning of “compulsory” and “free”, see paragraphs 6 and 7 of General Comment 11 on article 14.

26/ In appropriate cases, such a fellowship system would be an especially appropriate target for the international assistance and cooperation anticipated by article 2 (1).

27/ In the context of basic education, UNICEF has observed: “Only the State can pull together all the components into a coherent but flexible education system”. UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children, 1999, “The education revolution”, p. 77.

28/ According to article 7 (2), “(e)ach Member shall, taking into account the importance of education in eliminating child labour, take effective and time-bound measures to: (c) ensure access to free basic education, and, wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training, for all children removed from the worst forms of child labour” (ILO Convention 182, Worst Forms of Child Labour, 1999).

29/ See the Committee’s General Comment 3, paras. 13-14.

30/ See the Committee’s General Comment 2, para. 9.

Right to health: General Comment No. 14

 
SUBSTANTIVE ISSUES ARISING IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF
THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL
AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
 
General Comment No. 14 (2000)

 

 

 

The right to the highest attainable standard of health

(article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

 

The right to the highest attainable standard of health :  . 11.08.2000.

 

E/C.12/2000/4. (General Comments)

1. Health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity. The realization of the right to health may be pursued through numerous, complementary approaches, such as the formulation of health policies, or the implementation of health programmes developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), or the adoption of specific legal instruments. Moreover, the right to health includes certain components which are legally enforceable. (1)

2. The human right to health is recognized in numerous international instruments. Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services”. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides the most comprehensive article on the right to health in international human rights law. In accordance with article 12.1 of the Covenant, States parties recognize “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, while article 12.2 enumerates, by way of illustration, a number of “steps to be taken by the States parties … to achieve the full realization of this right”. Additionally, the right to health is recognized, inter alia, in article 5 (e) (iv) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, in articles 11.1 (f) and 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979 and in article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. Several regional human rights instruments also recognize the right to health, such as the European Social Charter of 1961 as revised (art. 11), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981 (art. 16) and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1988 (art. 10). Similarly, the right to health has been proclaimed by the Commission on Human Rights, (2) as well as in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993 and other international instruments. (3)

3. The right to health is closely related to and dependent upon the realization of other human rights, as contained in the International Bill of Rights, including the rights to food, housing, work, education, human dignity, life, non-discrimination, equality, the prohibition against torture, privacy, access to information, and the freedoms of association, assembly and movement. These and other rights and freedoms address integral components of the right to health.

4. In drafting article 12 of the Covenant, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly did not adopt the definition of health contained in the preamble to the Constitution of WHO, which conceptualizes health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. However, the reference in article 12.1 of the Covenant to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” is not confined to the right to health care. On the contrary, the drafting history and the express wording of article 12.2 acknowledge that the right to health embraces a wide range of socio-economic factors that promote conditions in which people can lead a healthy life, and extends to the underlying determinants of health, such as food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment.

5. The Committee is aware that, for millions of people throughout the world, the full enjoyment of the right to health still remains a distant goal. Moreover, in many cases, especially for those living in poverty, this goal is becoming increasingly remote. The Committee recognizes the formidable structural and other obstacles resulting from international and other factors beyond the control of States that impede the full realization of article 12 in many States parties.

6. With a view to assisting States parties’ implementation of the Covenant and the fulfilment of their reporting obligations, this General Comment focuses on the normative content of article 12 (Part I), States parties’ obligations (Part II), violations (Part III) and implementation at the national level (Part IV), while the obligations of actors other than States parties are addressed in Part V. The General Comment is based on the Committee’s experience in examining States parties’ reports over many years.

I. NORMATIVE CONTENT OF ARTICLE 12

7. Article 12.1 provides a definition of the right to health, while article 12.2 enumerates illustrative, non-exhaustive examples of States parties’ obligations.

8. The right to health is not to be understood as a right to be healthy. The right to health contains both freedoms and entitlements. The freedoms include the right to control one’s health and body, including sexual and reproductive freedom, and the right to be free from interference, such as the right to be free from torture, non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation. By contrast, the entitlements include the right to a system of health protection which provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.

9. The notion of “the highest attainable standard of health” in article 12.1 takes into account both the individual’s biological and socio-economic preconditions and a State’s available resources. There are a number of aspects which cannot be addressed solely within the relationship between States and individuals; in particular, good health cannot be ensured by a State, nor can States provide protection against every possible cause of human ill health. Thus, genetic factors, individual susceptibility to ill health and the adoption of unhealthy or risky lifestyles may play an important role with respect to an individual’s health. Consequently, the right to health must be understood as a right to the enjoyment of a variety of facilities, goods, services and conditions necessary for the realization of the highest attainable standard of health.

10. Since the adoption of the two International Covenants in 1966 the world health situation has changed dramatically and the notion of health has undergone substantial changes and has also widened in scope. More determinants of health are being taken into consideration, such as resource distribution and gender differences. A wider definition of health also takes into account such socially-related concerns as violence and armed conflict. (4) Moreover, formerly unknown diseases, such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), and others that have become more widespread, such as cancer, as well as the rapid growth of the world population, have created new obstacles for the realization of the right to health which need to be taken into account when interpreting article 12.

11. The Committee interprets the right to health, as defined in article 12.1, as an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health. A further important aspect is the participation of the population in all health-related decision-making at the community, national and international levels.

12. The right to health in all its forms and at all levels contains the following interrelated and essential elements, the precise application of which will depend on the conditions prevailing in a particular State party:

(a) Availability. Functioning public health and health-care facilities, goods and services, as well as programmes, have to be available in sufficient quantity within the State party. The precise nature of the facilities, goods and services will vary depending on numerous factors, including the State party’s developmental level. They will include, however, the underlying determinants of health, such as safe and potable drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities, hospitals, clinics and other health-related buildings, trained medical and professional personnel receiving domestically competitive salaries, and essential drugs, as defined by the WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs. (5)

(b) Accessibility. Health facilities, goods and services (6) have to be accessible to everyone without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the State party. Accessibility has four overlapping dimensions:

Non-discrimination: health facilities, goods and services must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds. (7)

Physical accessibility: health facilities, goods and services must be within safe physical reach for all sections of the population, especially vulnerable or marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, women, children, adolescents, older persons, persons with disabilities and persons with HIV/AIDS. Accessibility also implies that medical services and underlying determinants of health, such as safe and potable water and adequate sanitation facilities, are within safe physical reach, including in rural areas. Accessibility further includes adequate access to buildings for persons with disabilities.

Economic accessibility (affordability): health facilities, goods and services must be affordable for all. Payment for health-care services, as well as services related to the underlying determinants of health, has to be based on the principle of equity, ensuring that these services, whether privately or publicly provided, are affordable for all, including socially disadvantaged groups. Equity demands that poorer households should not be disproportionately burdened with health expenses as compared to richer households.

Information accessibility: accessibility includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas (8) concerning health issues. However, accessibility of information should not impair the right to have personal health data treated with confidentiality.

(c) Acceptability. All health facilities, goods and services must be respectful of medical ethics and culturally appropriate, i.e. respectful of the culture of individuals, minorities, peoples and communities, sensitive to gender and life-cycle requirements, as well as being designed to respect confidentiality and improve the health status of those concerned.

(d) Quality. As well as being culturally acceptable, health facilities, goods and services must also be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. This requires, inter alia, skilled medical personnel, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment, safe and potable water, and adequate sanitation.

13. The non-exhaustive catalogue of examples in article 12.2 provides guidance in defining the action to be taken by States. It gives specific generic examples of measures arising from the broad definition of the right to health contained in article 12.1, thereby illustrating the content of that right, as exemplified in the following paragraphs. (9)

Article 12.2 (a). The right to maternal, child and reproductive health

14. “The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child” (art. 12.2 (a)) (10) may be understood as requiring measures to improve child and maternal health, sexual and reproductive health services, including access to family planning, pre- and post-natal care, (11) emergency obstetric services and access to information, as well as to resources necessary to act on that information. (12)

Article 12.2 (b). The right to healthy natural and workplace environments

15. “The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene” (art. 12.2 (b)) comprises, inter alia, preventive measures in respect of occupational accidents and diseases; the requirement to ensure an adequate supply of safe and potable water and basic sanitation; the prevention and reduction of the population’s exposure to harmful substances such as radiation and harmful chemicals or other detrimental environmental conditions that directly or indirectly impact upon human health. (13) Furthermore, industrial hygiene refers to the minimization, so far as is reasonably practicable, of the causes of health hazards inherent in the working environment. (14) Article 12.2 (b) also embraces adequate housing and safe and hygienic working conditions, an adequate supply of food and proper nutrition, and discourages the abuse of alcohol, and the use of tobacco, drugs and other harmful substances.

Article 12.2 (c). The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases

16. “The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases” (art. 12.2 (c)) requires the establishment of prevention and education programmes for behaviour-related health concerns such as sexually transmitted diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS, and those adversely affecting sexual and reproductive health, and the promotion of social determinants of good health, such as environmental safety, education, economic development and gender equity. The right to treatment includes the creation of a system of urgent medical care in cases of accidents, epidemics and similar health hazards, and the provision of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in emergency situations. The control of diseases refers to States’ individual and joint efforts to, inter alia, make available relevant technologies, using and improving epidemiological surveillance and data collection on a disaggregated basis, the implementation or enhancement of immunization programmes and other strategies of infectious disease control.

Article 12.2 (d). The right to health facilities, goods and services (15)

17. “The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness” (art. 12.2 (d)), both physical and mental, includes the provision of equal and timely access to basic preventive, curative, rehabilitative health services and health education; regular screening programmes; appropriate treatment of prevalent diseases, illnesses, injuries and disabilities, preferably at community level; the provision of essential drugs; and appropriate mental health treatment and care. A further important aspect is the improvement and furtherance of participation of the population in the provision of preventive and curative health services, such as the organization of the health sector, the insurance system and, in particular, participation in political decisions relating to the right to health taken at both the community and national levels.

Article 12. Special topics of broad application

Non-discrimination and equal treatment

18. By virtue of article 2.2 and article 3, the Covenant proscribes any discrimination in access to health care and underlying determinants of health, as well as to means and entitlements for their procurement, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, physical or mental disability, health status (including HIV/AIDS), sexual orientation and civil, political, social or other status, which has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing the equal enjoyment or exercise of the right to health. The Committee stresses that many measures, such as most strategies and programmes designed to eliminate health-related discrimination, can be pursued with minimum resource implications through the adoption, modification or abrogation of legislation or the dissemination of information. The Committee recalls General Comment No. 3, paragraph 12, which states that even in times of severe resource constraints, the vulnerable members of society must be protected by the adoption of relatively low-cost targeted programmes.

19. With respect to the right to health, equality of access to health care and health services has to be emphasized. States have a special obligation to provide those who do not have sufficient means with the necessary health insurance and health-care facilities, and to prevent any discrimination on internationally prohibited grounds in the provision of health care and health services, especially with respect to the core obligations of the right to health. (16) Inappropriate health resource allocation can lead to discrimination that may not be overt. For example, investments should not disproportionately favour expensive curative health services which are often accessible only to a small, privileged fraction of the population, rather than primary and preventive health care benefiting a far larger part of the population.

Gender perspective

20. The Committee recommends that States integrate a gender perspective in their health-related policies, planning, programmes and research in order to promote better health for both women and men. A gender-based approach recognizes that biological and socio-cultural factors play a significant role in influencing the health of men and women. The disaggregation of health and socio-economic data according to sex is essential for identifying and remedying inequalities in health.

Women and the right to health

21. To eliminate discrimination against women, there is a need to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy for promoting women’s right to health throughout their life span. Such a strategy should include interventions aimed at the prevention and treatment of diseases affecting women, as well as policies to provide access to a full range of high quality and affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive services. A major goal should be reducing women’s health risks, particularly lowering rates of maternal mortality and protecting women from domestic violence. The realization of women’s right to health requires the removal of all barriers interfering with access to health services, education and information, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health. It is also important to undertake preventive, promotive and remedial action to shield women from the impact of harmful traditional cultural practices and norms that deny them their full reproductive rights.

Children and adolescents

22. Article 12.2 (a) outlines the need to take measures to reduce infant mortality and promote the healthy development of infants and children. Subsequent international human rights instruments recognize that children and adolescents have the right to the enjoyment of the highest standard of health and access to facilities for the treatment of illness. (17)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child directs States to ensure access to essential health services for the child and his or her family, including pre- and post-natal care for mothers. The Convention links these goals with ensuring access to child-friendly information about preventive and health-promoting behaviour and support to families and communities in implementing these practices. Implementation of the principle of non-discrimination requires that girls, as well as boys, have equal access to adequate nutrition, safe environments, and physical as well as mental health services. There is a need to adopt effective and appropriate measures to abolish harmful traditional practices affecting the health of children, particularly girls, including early marriage, female genital mutilation, preferential feeding and care of male children. (18) Children with disabilities should be given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling and decent life and to participate within their community.

23. States parties should provide a safe and supportive environment for adolescents, that ensures the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their health, to build life-skills, to acquire appropriate information, to receive counselling and to negotiate the health-behaviour choices they make. The realization of the right to health of adolescents is dependent on the development of youth-friendly health care, which respects confidentiality and privacy and includes appropriate sexual and reproductive health services.

24. In all policies and programmes aimed at guaranteeing the right to health of children and adolescents their best interests shall be a primary consideration.

Older persons

25. With regard to the realization of the right to health of older persons, the Committee, in accordance with paragraphs 34 and 35 of General Comment No. 6 (1995), reaffirms the importance of an integrated approach, combining elements of preventive, curative and rehabilitative health treatment. Such measures should be based on periodical check-ups for both sexes; physical as well as psychological rehabilitative measures aimed at maintaining the functionality and autonomy of older persons; and attention and care for chronically and terminally ill persons, sparing them avoidable pain and enabling them to die with dignity.

Persons with disabilities

26. The Committee reaffirms paragraph 34 of its General Comment No. 5, which addresses the issue of persons with disabilities in the context of the right to physical and mental health. Moreover, the Committee stresses the need to ensure that not only the public health sector but also private providers of health services and facilities comply with the principle of non-discrimination in relation to persons with disabilities.

Indigenous peoples

27. In the light of emerging international law and practice and the recent measures taken by States in relation to indigenous peoples, (19) the Committee deems it useful to identify elements that would help to define indigenous peoples’ right to health in order better to enable States with indigenous peoples to implement the provisions contained in article 12 of the Covenant. The Committee considers that indigenous peoples have the right to specific measures to improve their access to health services and care. These health services should be culturally appropriate, taking into account traditional preventive care, healing practices and medicines. States should provide resources for indigenous peoples to design, deliver and control such services so that they may enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals necessary to the full enjoyment of health of indigenous peoples should also be protected. The Committee notes that, in indigenous communities, the health of the individual is often linked to the health of the society as a whole and has a collective dimension. In this respect, the Committee considers that development-related activities that lead to the displacement of indigenous peoples against their will from their traditional territories and environment, denying them their sources of nutrition and breaking their symbiotic relationship with their lands, has a deleterious effect on their health.

Limitations

28. Issues of public health are sometimes used by States as grounds for limiting the exercise of other fundamental rights. The Committee wishes to emphasize that the Covenant’s limitation clause, article 4, is primarily intended to protect the rights of individuals rather than to permit the imposition of limitations by States. Consequently a State party which, for example, restricts the movement of, or incarcerates, persons with transmissible diseases such as HIV/AIDS, refuses to allow doctors to treat persons believed to be opposed to a government, or fails to provide immunization against the community’s major infectious diseases, on grounds such as national security or the preservation of public order, has the burden of justifying such serious measures in relation to each of the elements identified in article 4. Such restrictions must be in accordance with the law, including international human rights standards, compatible with the nature of the rights protected by the Covenant, in the interest of legitimate aims pursued, and strictly necessary for the promotion of the general welfare in a democratic society.

29. In line with article 5.1, such limitations must be proportional, i.e. the least restrictive alternative must be adopted where several types of limitations are available. Even where such limitations on grounds of protecting public health are basically permitted, they should be of limited duration and subject to review.

II. STATES PARTIES’ OBLIGATIONS

General legal obligations

30. While the Covenant provides for progressive realization and acknowledges the constraints due to the limits of available resources, it also imposes on States parties various obligations which are of immediate effect. States parties have immediate obligations in relation to the right to health, such as the guarantee that the right will be exercised without discrimination of any kind (art. 2.2) and the obligation to take steps (art. 2.1) towards the full realization of article 12. Such steps must be deliberate, concrete and targeted towards the full realization of the right to health. (20)

31. The progressive realization of the right to health over a period of time should not be interpreted as depriving States parties’ obligations of all meaningful content. Rather, progressive realization means that States parties have a specific and continuing obligation to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards the full realization of article 12. (21)

32. As with all other rights in the Covenant, there is a strong presumption that retrogressive measures taken in relation to the right to health are not permissible. If any deliberately retrogressive measures are taken, the State party has the burden of proving that they have been introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are duly justified by reference to the totality of the rights provided for in the Covenant in the context of the full use of the State party’s maximum available resources. (22)

33. The right to health, like all human rights, imposes three types or levels of obligations on States parties: the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil. In turn, the obligation to fulfil contains obligations to facilitate, provide and promote. (23) The obligation to respect requires States to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to health. The obligation to protect requires States to take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with article 12 guarantees. Finally, the obligation to fulfil requires States to adopt appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures towards the full realization of the right to health.

Specific legal obligations

34. In particular, States are under the obligation to respect the right to health by, inter alia, refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees, minorities, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, to preventive, curative and palliative health services; abstaining from enforcing discriminatory practices as a State policy; and abstaining from imposing discriminatory practices relating to women’s health status and needs. Furthermore, obligations to respect include a State’s obligation to refrain from prohibiting or impeding traditional preventive care, healing practices and medicines, from marketing unsafe drugs and from applying coercive medical treatments, unless on an exceptional basis for the treatment of mental illness or the prevention and control of communicable diseases. Such exceptional cases should be subject to specific and restrictive conditions, respecting best practices and applicable international standards, including the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. (24)

In addition, States should refrain from limiting access to contraceptives and other means of maintaining sexual and reproductive health, from censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting health-related information, including sexual education and information, as well as from preventing people’s participation in health-related matters. States should also refrain from unlawfully polluting air, water and soil, e.g. through industrial waste from State-owned facilities, from using or testing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons if such testing results in the release of substances harmful to human health, and from limiting access to health services as a punitive measure, e.g. during armed conflicts in violation of international humanitarian law.

35. Obligations to protect include, inter alia, the duties of States to adopt legislation or to take other measures ensuring equal access to health care and health-related services provided by third parties; to ensure that privatization of the health sector does not constitute a threat to the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of health facilities, goods and services; to control the marketing of medical equipment and medicines by third parties; and to ensure that medical practitioners and other health professionals meet appropriate standards of education, skill and ethical codes of conduct. States are also obliged to ensure that harmful social or traditional practices do not interfere with access to pre- and post-natal care and family-planning; to prevent third parties from coercing women to undergo traditional practices, e.g. female genital mutilation; and to take measures to protect all vulnerable or marginalized groups of society, in particular women, children, adolescents and older persons, in the light of gender-based expressions of violence. States should also ensure that third parties do not limit people’s access to health-related information and services.

36. The obligation to fulfil requires States parties, inter alia, to give sufficient recognition to the right to health in the national political and legal systems, preferably by way of legislative implementation, and to adopt a national health policy with a detailed plan for realizing the right to health. States must ensure provision of health care, including immunization programmes against the major infectious diseases, and ensure equal access for all to the underlying determinants of health, such as nutritiously safe food and potable drinking water, basic sanitation and adequate housing and living conditions. Public health infrastructures should provide for sexual and reproductive health services, including safe motherhood, particularly in rural areas. States have to ensure the appropriate training of doctors and other medical personnel, the provision of a sufficient number of hospitals, clinics and other health-related facilities, and the promotion and support of the establishment of institutions providing counselling and mental health services, with due regard to equitable distribution throughout the country. Further obligations include the provision of a public, private or mixed health insurance system which is affordable for all, the promotion of medical research and health education, as well as information campaigns, in particular with respect to HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, traditional practices, domestic violence, the abuse of alcohol and the use of cigarettes, drugs and other harmful substances. States are also required to adopt measures against environmental and occupational health hazards and against any other threat as demonstrated by epidemiological data. For this purpose they should formulate and implement national policies aimed at reducing and eliminating pollution of air, water and soil, including pollution by heavy metals such as lead from gasoline. Furthermore, States parties are required to formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy to minimize the risk of occupational accidents and diseases, as well as to provide a coherent national policy on occupational safety and health services. (25)

37. The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) requires States inter alia to take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to health. States parties are also obliged to fulfil (provide) a specific right contained in the Covenant when individuals or a group are unable, for reasons beyond their control, to realize that right themselves by the means at their disposal. The obligation to fulfil (promote) the right to health requires States to undertake actions that create, maintain and restore the health of the population. Such obligations include: (i) fostering recognition of factors favouring positive health results, e.g. research and provision of information; (ii) ensuring that health services are culturally appropriate and that health care staff are trained to recognize and respond to the specific needs of vulnerable or marginalized groups; (iii) ensuring that the State meets its obligations in the dissemination of appropriate information relating to healthy lifestyles and nutrition, harmful traditional practices and the availability of services; (iv) supporting people in making informed choices about their health.

International obligations

38. In its General Comment No. 3, the Committee drew attention to the obligation of all States parties to take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical, towards the full realization of the rights recognized in the Covenant, such as the right to health. In the spirit of article 56 of the Charter of the United Nations, the specific provisions of the Covenant (articles 12, 2.1, 22 and 23) and the Alma-Ata Declaration on primary health care, States parties should recognize the essential role of international cooperation and comply with their commitment to take joint and separate action to achieve the full realization of the right to health. In this regard, States parties are referred to the Alma-Ata Declaration which proclaims that the existing gross inequality in the health status of the people, particularly between developed and developing countries, as well as within countries, is politically, socially and economically unacceptable and is, therefore, of common concern to all countries. (26)

39. To comply with their international obligations in relation to article 12, States parties have to respect the enjoyment of the right to health in other countries, and to prevent third parties from violating the right in other countries, if they are able to influence these third parties by way of legal or political means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and applicable international law. Depending on the availability of resources, States should facilitate access to essential health facilities, goods and services in other countries, wherever possible and provide the necessary aid when required. (27) States parties should ensure that the right to health is given due attention in international agreements and, to that end, should consider the development of further legal instruments. In relation to the conclusion of other international agreements, States parties should take steps to ensure that these instruments do not adversely impact upon the right to health. Similarly, States parties have an obligation to ensure that their actions as members of international organizations take due account of the right to health. Accordingly, States parties which are members of international financial institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks, should pay greater attention to the protection of the right to health in influencing the lending policies, credit agreements and international measures of these institutions.

40. States parties have a joint and individual responsibility, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and of the World Health Assembly, to cooperate in providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in times of emergency, including assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. Each State should contribute to this task to the maximum of its capacities. Priority in the provision of international medical aid, distribution and management of resources, such as safe and potable water, food and medical supplies, and financial aid should be given to the most vulnerable or marginalized groups of the population. Moreover, given that some diseases are easily transmissible beyond the frontiers of a State, the international community has a collective responsibility to address this problem. The economically developed States parties have a special responsibility and interest to assist the poorer developing States in this regard.

41. States parties should refrain at all times from imposing embargoes or similar measures restricting the supply of another State with adequate medicines and medical equipment. Restrictions on such goods should never be used as an instrument of political and economic pressure. In this regard, the Committee recalls its position, stated in General Comment No. 8, on the relationship between economic sanctions and respect for economic, social and cultural rights.

42. While only States are parties to the Covenant and thus ultimately accountable for compliance with it, all members of society – individuals, including health professionals, families, local communities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, as well as the private business sector – have responsibilities regarding the realization of the right to health. State parties should therefore provide an environment which facilitates the discharge of these responsibilities.

Core obligations

43. In General Comment No. 3, the Committee confirms that States parties have a core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights enunciated in the Covenant, including essential primary health care. Read in conjunction with more contemporary instruments, such as the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, (28) the Alma-Ata Declaration provides compelling guidance on the core obligations arising from article 12. Accordingly, in the Committee’s view, these core obligations include at least the following obligations:

(a) To ensure the right of access to health facilities, goods and services on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups;

(b) To ensure access to the minimum essential food which is nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure freedom from hunger to everyone;

(c) To ensure access to basic shelter, housing and sanitation, and an adequate supply of safe and potable water;

(d) To provide essential drugs, as from time to time defined under the WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs;

(e) To ensure equitable distribution of all health facilities, goods and services;

(f) To adopt and implement a national public health strategy and plan of action, on the basis of epidemiological evidence, addressing the health concerns of the whole population; the strategy and plan of action shall be devised, and periodically reviewed, on the basis of a participatory and transparent process; they shall include methods, such as right to health indicators and benchmarks, by which progress can be closely monitored; the process by which the strategy and plan of action are devised, as well as their content, shall give particular attention to all vulnerable or marginalized groups.

44. The Committee also confirms that the following are obligations of comparable priority:

(a) To ensure reproductive, maternal (pre-natal as well as post-natal) and child health care;

(b) To provide immunization against the major infectious diseases occurring in the community;

(c) To take measures to prevent, treat and control epidemic and endemic diseases;

(d) To provide education and access to information concerning the main health problems in the community, including methods of preventing and controlling them;

(e) To provide appropriate training for health personnel, including education on health and human rights.

45. For the avoidance of any doubt, the Committee wishes to emphasize that it is particularly incumbent on States parties and other actors in a position to assist, to provide “international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical” (29) which enable developing countries to fulfil their core and other obligations indicated in paragraphs 43 and 44 above.

III. VIOLATIONS

46. When the normative content of article 12 (Part I) is applied to the obligations of States parties (Part II), a dynamic process is set in motion which facilitates identification of violations of the right to health. The following paragraphs provide illustrations of violations of article 12.

47. In determining which actions or omissions amount to a violation of the right to health, it is important to distinguish the inability from the unwillingness of a State party to comply with its obligations under article 12. This follows from article 12.1, which speaks of the highest attainable standard of health, as well as from article 2.1 of the Covenant, which obliges each State party to take the necessary steps to the maximum of its available resources. A State which is unwilling to use the maximum of its available resources for the realization of the right to health is in violation of its obligations under article 12. If resource constraints render it impossible for a State to comply fully with its Covenant obligations, it has the burden of justifying that every effort has nevertheless been made to use all available resources at its disposal in order to satisfy, as a matter of priority, the obligations outlined above. It should be stressed, however, that a State party cannot, under any circumstances whatsoever, justify its non-compliance with the core obligations set out in paragraph 43 above, which are non-derogable.

48. Violations of the right to health can occur through the direct action of States or other entities insufficiently regulated by States. The adoption of any retrogressive measures incompatible with the core obligations under the right to health, outlined in paragraph 43 above, constitutes a violation of the right to health. Violations through acts of commission include the formal repeal or suspension of legislation necessary for the continued enjoyment of the right to health or the adoption of legislation or policies which are manifestly incompatible with pre-existing domestic or international legal obligations in relation to the right to health.

49. Violations of the right to health can also occur through the omission or failure of States to take necessary measures arising from legal obligations. Violations through acts of omission include the failure to take appropriate steps towards the full realization of everyone’s right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the failure to have a national policy on occupational safety and health as well as occupational health services, and the failure to enforce relevant laws.

Violations of the obligation to respect

50. Violations of the obligation to respect are those State actions, policies or laws that contravene the standards set out in article 12 of the Covenant and are likely to result in bodily harm, unnecessary morbidity and preventable mortality. Examples include the denial of access to health facilities, goods and services to particular individuals or groups as a result of de jure or de facto discrimination; the deliberate withholding or misrepresentation of information vital to health protection or treatment; the suspension of legislation or the adoption of laws or policies that interfere with the enjoyment of any of the components of the right to health; and the failure of the State to take into account its legal obligations regarding the right to health when entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with other States, international organizations and other entities, such as multinational corporations.

Violations of the obligation to protect

51. Violations of the obligation to protect follow from the failure of a State to take all necessary measures to safeguard persons within their jurisdiction from infringements of the right to health by third parties. This category includes such omissions as the failure to regulate the activities of individuals, groups or corporations so as to prevent them from violating the right to health of others; the failure to protect consumers and workers from practices detrimental to health, e.g. by employers and manufacturers of medicines or food; the failure to discourage production, marketing and consumption of tobacco, narcotics and other harmful substances; the failure to protect women against violence or to prosecute perpetrators; the failure to discourage the continued observance of harmful traditional medical or cultural practices; and the failure to enact or enforce laws to prevent the pollution of water, air and soil by extractive and manufacturing industries.

Violations of the obligation to fulfil

52. Violations of the obligation to fulfil occur through the failure of States parties to take all necessary steps to ensure the realization of the right to health. Examples include the failure to adopt or implement a national health policy designed to ensure the right to health for everyone; insufficient expenditure or misallocation of public resources which results in the non-enjoyment of the right to health by individuals or groups, particularly the vulnerable or marginalized; the failure to monitor the realization of the right to health at the national level, for example by identifying right to health indicators and benchmarks; the failure to take measures to reduce the inequitable distribution of health facilities, goods and services; the failure to adopt a gender-sensitive approach to health; and the failure to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

IV. IMPLEMENTATION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL

Framework legislation

53. The most appropriate feasible measures to implement the right to health will vary significantly from one State to another. Every State has a margin of discretion in assessing which measures are most suitable to meet its specific circumstances. The Covenant, however, clearly imposes a duty on each State to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that everyone has access to health facilities, goods and services so that they can enjoy, as soon as possible, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This requires the adoption of a national strategy to ensure to all the enjoyment of the right to health, based on human rights principles which define the objectives of that strategy, and the formulation of policies and corresponding right to health indicators and benchmarks. The national health strategy should also identify the resources available to attain defined objectives, as well as the most cost-effective way of using those resources.

54. The formulation and implementation of national health strategies and plans of action should respect, inter alia, the principles of non-discrimination and people’s participation. In particular, the right of individuals and groups to participate in decision-making processes, which may affect their development, must be an integral component of any policy, programme or strategy developed to discharge governmental obligations under article 12. Promoting health must involve effective community action in setting priorities, making decisions, planning, implementing and evaluating strategies to achieve better health. Effective provision of health services can only be assured if people’s participation is secured by States.

55. The national health strategy and plan of action should also be based on the principles of accountability, transparency and independence of the judiciary, since good governance is essential to the effective implementation of all human rights, including the realization of the right to health. In order to create a favourable climate for the realization of the right, States parties should take appropriate steps to ensure that the private business sector and civil society are aware of, and consider the importance of, the right to health in pursuing their activities.

56. States should consider adopting a framework law to operationalize their right to health national strategy. The framework law should establish national mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of national health strategies and plans of action. It should include provisions on the targets to be achieved and the time-frame for their achievement; the means by which right to health benchmarks could be achieved; the intended collaboration with civil society, including health experts, the private sector and international organizations; institutional responsibility for the implementation of the right to health national strategy and plan of action; and possible recourse procedures. In monitoring progress towards the realization of the right to health, States parties should identify the factors and difficulties affecting implementation of their obligations.

Right to health indicators and benchmarks

57. National health strategies should identify appropriate right to health indicators and benchmarks. The indicators should be designed to monitor, at the national and international levels, the State party’s obligations under article 12. States may obtain guidance on appropriate right to health indicators, which should address different aspects of the right to health, from the ongoing work of WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in this field. Right to health indicators require disaggregation on the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

58. Having identified appropriate right to health indicators, States parties are invited to set appropriate national benchmarks in relation to each indicator. During the periodic reporting procedure the Committee will engage in a process of scoping with the State party. Scoping involves the joint consideration by the State party and the Committee of the indicators and national benchmarks which will then provide the targets to be achieved during the next reporting period. In the following five years, the State party will use these national benchmarks to help monitor its implementation of article 12. Thereafter, in the subsequent reporting process, the State party and the Committee will consider whether or not the benchmarks have been achieved, and the reasons for any difficulties that may have been encountered.

Remedies and accountability

59. Any person or group victim of a violation of the right to health should have access to effective judicial or other appropriate remedies at both national and international levels. (30) All victims of such violations should be entitled to adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition. National ombudsmen, human rights commissions, consumer forums, patients’ rights associations or similar institutions should address violations of the right to health.

60. The incorporation in the domestic legal order of international instruments recognizing the right to health can significantly enhance the scope and effectiveness of remedial measures and should be encouraged in all cases. (31) Incorporation enables courts to adjudicate violations of the right to health, or at least its core obligations, by direct reference to the Covenant.

61. Judges and members of the legal profession should be encouraged by States parties to pay greater attention to violations of the right to health in the exercise of their functions.

62. States parties should respect, protect, facilitate and promote the work of human rights advocates and other members of civil society with a view to assisting vulnerable or marginalized groups in the realization of their right to health.

V. OBLIGATIONS OF ACTORS OTHER THAN STATES PARTIES

63. The role of the United Nations agencies and programmes, and in particular the key function assigned to WHO in realizing the right to health at the international, regional and country levels, is of particular importance, as is the function of UNICEF in relation to the right to health of children. When formulating and implementing their right to health national strategies, States parties should avail themselves of technical assistance and cooperation of WHO. Further, when preparing their reports, States parties should utilize the extensive information and advisory services of WHO with regard to data collection, disaggregation, and the development of right to health indicators and benchmarks.

64. Moreover, coordinated efforts for the realization of the right to health should be maintained to enhance the interaction among all the actors concerned, including the various components of civil society. In conformity with articles 22 and 23 of the Covenant, WHO, The International Labour Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, regional development banks, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and other relevant bodies within the United Nations system, should cooperate effectively with States parties, building on their respective expertise, in relation to the implementation of the right to health at the national level, with due respect to their individual mandates. In particular, the international financial institutions, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, should pay greater attention to the protection of the right to health in their lending policies, credit agreements and structural adjustment programmes. When examining the reports of States parties and their ability to meet the obligations under article 12, the Committee will consider the effects of the assistance provided by all other actors. The adoption of a human rights-based approach by United Nations specialized agencies, programmes and bodies will greatly facilitate implementation of the right to health. In the course of its examination of States parties’ reports, the Committee will also consider the role of health professional associations and other non-governmental organizations in relation to the States’ obligations under article 12.

65. The role of WHO, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and UNICEF, as well as non governmental organizations and national medical associations, is of particular importance in relation to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in times of emergencies, including assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. Priority in the provision of international medical aid, distribution and management of resources, such as safe and potable water, food and medical supplies, and financial aid should be given to the most vulnerable or marginalized groups of the population.

Adopted on 11 May 2000.

Notes

1. For example, the principle of non-discrimination in relation to health facilities, goods and services is legally enforceable in numerous national jurisdictions.

2. In its resolution 1989/11.

3. The Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1991 (resolution 46/119) and the Committee’s General Comment No. 5 on persons with disabilities apply to persons with mental illness; the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development held at Cairo in 1994, as well as the Declaration and Programme for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 contain definitions of reproductive health and women’s health, respectively.

4. Common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for the protection of war victims (1949); Additional Protocol I (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, art. 75 (2) (a); Additional Protocol II (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, art. 4 (a).

5. See WHO Model List of Essential Drugs, revised December 1999, WHO Drug Information, vol. 13, No. 4, 1999.

6. Unless expressly provided otherwise, any reference in this General Comment to health facilities, goods and services includes the underlying determinants of health outlined in paras. 11 and 12 (a) of this General Comment.

7. See paras. 18 and 19 of this General Comment.

8. See article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This General Comment gives particular emphasis to access to information because of the special importance of this issue in relation to health.

9. In the literature and practice concerning the right to health, three levels of health care are frequently referred to: primary health care typically deals with common and relatively minor illnesses and is provided by health professionals and/or generally trained doctors working within the community at relatively low cost; secondary health care is provided in centres, usually hospitals, and typically deals with relatively common minor or serious illnesses that cannot be managed at community level, using specialty-trained health professionals and doctors, special equipment and sometimes in-patient care at comparatively higher cost; tertiary health care is provided in relatively few centres, typically deals with small numbers of minor or serious illnesses requiring specialty-trained health professionals and doctors and special equipment, and is often relatively expensive. Since forms of primary, secondary and tertiary health care frequently overlap and often interact, the use of this typology does not always provide sufficient distinguishing criteria to be helpful for assessing which levels of health care States parties must provide, and is therefore of limited assistance in relation to the normative understanding of article 12.

10. According to WHO, the stillbirth rate is no longer commonly used, infant and under-five mortality rates being measured instead.

11. Prenatal denotes existing or occurring before birth; perinatal refers to the period shortly before and after birth (in medical statistics the period begins with the completion of 28 weeks of gestation and is variously defined as ending one to four weeks after birth); neonatal, by contrast, covers the period pertaining to the first four weeks after birth; while post-natal denotes occurrence after birth. In this General Comment, the more generic terms pre- and post-natal are exclusively employed.

12. Reproductive health means that women and men have the freedom to decide if and when to reproduce and the right to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice as well as the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will, for example, enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth.

13. The Committee takes note, in this regard, of Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 which states: “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being”, as well as of recent developments in international law, including General Assembly resolution 45/94 on the need to ensure a healthy environment for the well-being of individuals; Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration; and regional human rights instruments such as article 10 of the San Salvador Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights.

14. ILO Convention No. 155, art. 4.2.

15. See para. 12 (b) and note 8 above.

16. For the core obligations, see paras. 43 and 44 of the present General Comments.

17. Article 24.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

18. See World Health Assembly resolution WHA47.10, 1994, entitled “Maternal and child health and family planning: traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children”.

19. Recent emerging international norms relevant to indigenous peoples include the ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1989); articles 29 (c) and (d) and 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); article 8 (j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), recommending that States respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovation and practices of indigenous communities; Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992), in particular chapter 26; and Part I, paragraph 20, of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), stating that States should take concerted positive steps to ensure respect for all human rights of indigenous people, on the basis of non-discrimination. See also the preamble and article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992); and article 10 (2) (e) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (1994). During recent years an increasing number of States have changed their constitutions and introduced legislation recognizing specific rights of indigenous peoples.

20. See General Comment No. 13, para. 43.

21. See General Comment No. 3, para. 9; General Comment No. 13, para. 44.

22. See General Comment No. 3, para. 9; General Comment No. 13, para. 45.

23. According to General Comments Nos. 12 and 13, the obligation to fulfil incorporates an obligation to facilitate and an obligation to provide. In the present General Comment, the obligation to fulfil also incorporates an obligation to promote because of the critical importance of health promotion in the work of WHO and elsewhere.

24. General Assembly resolution 46/119 (1991).

25. Elements of such a policy are the identification, determination, authorization and control of dangerous materials, equipment, substances, agents and work processes; the provision of health information to workers and the provision, if needed, of adequate protective clothing and equipment; the enforcement of laws and regulations through adequate inspection; the requirement of notification of occupational accidents and diseases, the conduct of inquiries into serious accidents and diseases, and the production of annual statistics; the protection of workers and their representatives from disciplinary measures for actions properly taken by them in conformity with such a policy; and the provision of occupational health services with essentially preventive functions. See ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161).

26. Article II, Alma-Ata Declaration, Report of the International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata, 6-12 September 1978, in: World Health Organization, “Health for All” Series, No. 1, WHO, Geneva, 1978.

27. See para. 45 of this General Comment.

28. Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 5-13 September 1994 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.XIII.18), chap. I, resolution 1, annex, chaps. VII and VIII.

29. Covenant, art. 2.1.

30. Regardless of whether groups as such can seek remedies as distinct holders of rights, States parties are bound by both the collective and individual dimensions of article 12. Collective rights are critical in the field of health; modern public health policy relies heavily on prevention and promotion which are approaches directed primarily to groups.

31. See General Comment No. 2, para. 9.

Truth – Justice – Peace