In its march 24th issue, the Economist criticized Amnesty International in an article AND an editorial - something the magazine does when it feels strongly about something.
The gist of its criticism was that AI is putting less emphasis on getting people to write letters about and to political prisoners and more on economic rights, such as hunger and disease.
The Economist disputes the view that jobs, schools and hospitals are rights.
I can still remember when Fidel Castro, during the first of several encounters for a “portrait” for the French weekly Paris Match, said to me: “What good is the right to vote if you’re hungry?”Perhaps I was naive, then, at the start of my career, to think that made sense. On the other hand, I was, and still am, in the company of millions.
I’ve been reading “The Economist” almost since that time, a, because it is a highly professional journal, and b, because I believe in keeping up with the other side’s opinions. It has seemed to me that in recent years the conservatism of this British weekly has softened a bit: it has even come to recognize global warming. However its focus on political vs economic rights puts it back several decades. Here is what it says:
“When a government locks someone up without a fair trial, the victim, perpetrator and remedy are pretty clear. This clarity seldom applies to social and economic “rights”. It’s hard enough to determine whether such a right has been infringed, let alone who should provide a remedy or how. Who should be educated in which subjects for how long at what cost in taxpayers’ money is a political question best settled at the ballot box....And no economic system known to man guarantees a proper job for everyone all the time; even the Soviet Union’s much-boasted full employment was based on the principle “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”.
That is a typical “Economist” argument. It sounds very clever, but it’s wrong. It opposes the “clarity” of the perpetrators and victims of wrongful imprisonment to the variety of ways in which health care and education can be implemented, turns the difficulty of alloting goods into a reason for condemn the principle, and passes over the fact that the pretend workers were not starving, fudging the fact that it is just as wrong to deprive someone of food as of “freedom”.
The issue of food vs freedom has long been the focus of liberal attention. The argument goes something like this: if you are free to cast your vote for the candidate of your choice, you can ensure that you get food. This contradicts the conservatives’ very argument that how much you get and how often will still be open to question. One has only to look around to see that political power, if not backed by some kind of force, - whether that force be guns or strikes - is a myth.
There are few countries where who gets to be on the ballot does not depend on the same factors upon which the provision of food, schools and hospitals depend: money. Together with universal single-payer health care, jobs for all who can work and good teachers’ salaries, public financing of elections go far toward ensuring an equal rights’ based society.
Alas the influental Economist believes that “free speech, due process, protection from arbitrary punishment” are “worth more than any number of grandiloquent but unenforceable declarations demanding jobs, education and housing for all.”
It chooses not to recognize that when decisions are unenforceable, it’s also a question of money.
Regardless of how much socialism you believe should go into a governing mix, do not be fooled by these “old, stuffy” arguments.