The Dictates Of Justice Essays On Law And Human Rights

Bibliography on Inequality & Human Rights

This bibliography has been prepared by the Rapoport Center as part of a larger project on the relationship between human rights and economic inequality.

It aims to identify resources of value for scholars and legal practitioners thinking about the relationship between human rights and economic inequality. As such it includes primary and secondary texts that speak to the intersection of human rights and economic inequality, which often conceptualize the relationship between them in diverse ways. This bibliography also includes texts relevant to thinking about economic inequality historically and in contemporary society. Finally, this bibliography includes human rights literature and resources addressing themes such as poverty and development, which although they may not pertain directly to problems of economic inequality, could nonetheless be of value and assistance in thinking more deeply about the relationship between human rights and economic inequality.

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This bibliography was prepared by Julia Dehm, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Many thanks to Samantha Chammings, Selma Bora Chang, Cianan Good, Helen Kerwin, Leonel Mata, and Karina Zemel for their invaluable research for this bibliography.

Some of the materials in the “Theorizing Inequality and Political Economy” were drawn from the syllabus of Professor James Galbraith’s “Inequality and Development” course at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, and we thank him for the permission to draw on this resource.

Table of Contents

Inequality and Human Rights

Inequality and Social Outcomes

Theorizing Inequality and Political Economy: Historical Perspectives

Contemporary Discussions of Inequality and/or Proposed Responses (General)

Methodological Questions Related to Measuring Inequality

Measures of Inequality

The Production and Contestation of Inequality

Human Rights, Development and Inequality

Human Rights, Poverty and Inequality

Inequality and Human Rights

Human Rights Documents

Human rights has indirectly addressed the issues of economic inequality by affirming basic social and economic rights as well as international obligations of co-operation for the realization of these rights. It has also addressed the problem of international inequality between countries by affirming a right to development. More recently, there have been discussions of a “rights-based approach” to development, endorsed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000 – 2015) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2015 – 2030). The section below lists several human rights documents that could be read to encompass inequality concerns (discussed in chronological order).

Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 217 A(III), (10 December 1948).

  • Articles on social rights: right to social security (Article 22), right to work (and fair and just remuneration) (Article 23), right to rest and leisure (Article 24), right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being (Article 25), right to education (Article 26), as well as that everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which these rights and freedoms can be fully realized (Article 28).

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly Resolution 2200 A(XXI), (16 December 1966, entry into force 3 January 1976).

  • The ICESCR sets out economic and social rights as well as an obligation for State Parties “to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of rights recognized in the present Convent by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measure” (Article 2(1)). While the rights articulated in the ICESCR primarily represent a “minimum floor” of rights protections, various interpretations have argued that concepts of “maximum available resources” and “international assistance and co-operation” could be read in ways that emphasize redistributive and not simply sufficiency concerns.

Declaration on the Right to Development, General Assembly Resolution, 97th plenary meeting, A/RES/41/128 (4 December 1986).

  • It confirmed that “the right to development is an inalienable human right” and that “equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals” (preamble). It also articulated that States should ensure “equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income” (Article 8).

United Nations Millennium Declaration, General Assembly Declaration, Fifty-fifth session, Agenda item 60(b), A/RES/55/2 (8 September 2000).

  • The Millennium Declaration does not specifically mention inequality, but acknowledges that “while globalization offers great opportunities, at present its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed” (para 5). Its objective is to “ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people” and becomes “fully inclusive and equitable” (para 5).

Report of the Secretary-General, The road to dignity by 2030: ending poverty, transforming all lives, and protecting the planet: Synthesis report of the Secretary-General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, A/69/700 (4 December 2014).

  • “Income inequality specifically is one of the most visible aspects of a broader and more complex issue, one that entails inequality of opportunity. This is a universal challenge that the whole world must address” (para 68).

Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, General Assembly Resolution, Seventh session, Agenda items 15 and 116, A/RES/70/1 (25 September 2015).

  • Goal 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to Reduce Inequality Between and Within Countries. The Agenda states that “[s]ustainable development recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, combating inequality within and among countries, preserving the planet, creating sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and fostering social inclusion are linked to one another and interdependent” (para 13). It acknowledges that “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth” is only possible if “wealth is shared and income inequality addressed” (para 27).

Special Rapporteur Reports

Various reports by UN Special Rapporteur addressing the relationship between human rights and economic inequality are discussed in chronological order.

Ganji, Manouchehr. The Realization of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Problems, Policies and Progress, Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1108/Rev. 1 (1975).

  • A section of the report on the international context discussed “Disequilibrium and dependence in international development” (301-308) and “The widening income gap between rich and poor nations in monetary and real terms” (309-318).

Ferrero, Raúl. The New International Economic Order and the Promotion of Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1983/24/Rev.1 (1986).

  • This report examines the effects of the new international economic order on the implementation of human rights and analyzes relevant recommendations and guidelines adopted by UN bodies. He concludes that “the existing system not only nullifies all efforts to narrow the gap between developing and developed countries, but, still worse, magnifies that difference by depriving the former of their rightful say in decisions on international economic and commercial questions of vital interest to them” (para 256). The potential role of international organizations as corrective tools is stressed (para 295).

Türk, Danilo. The Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Final Report Submitted by Danilo Türk, Special Rapporteur, Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1992/16 (3 July 1992).

  • The report addressed as “the main challenges of our time” the issues of structural adjustment, debt, income distribution, misconceptions of the state, economic growth as panacea, privatizing human rights and misguided visions of development. He concludes the section on income inequality by noting:

Growing income disparities not only threaten the realization of economic, social and cultural rights but serve to polarize excessively and fragment societies into the precarious and destabilizing dualism of “haves” and “have nots”. Coupled with the “retreating” State, income disparity provides a dangerous basis for alienation, disenfranchisement and cynicism, which can lead ultimately to a deterioration in the very relations constituting civil society. Income distribution is a critical issue, if for no other reason than the relationship it has with democracy:
“History suggests that increasingly polarized societies in which growing numbers are pauperized, are enormously handicapped in the search for democracy (23).

Eide, Asjbørn. Preparatory document on the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular, economic, social and cultural rights and income distribution, prepared by Mr. Asjbørn Eide, in accordance with Sub-Commission resolution 1993/40, Sub-commission on the prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, forty-sixth session, Item 8 of the Provisional Agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/21 (5 July 1994).

  • He concludes: “There can be no doubt that the contemporary trend towards the concentration of wealth constitute serious obstacles to the realization of human rights, particularly to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. It also affects negatively the enjoyment of civil and political rights for a multitude of reasons, such as the effects of conflicts over the distribution of land and other productive resources, and the excluding impact of poverty on political participation and on personal security” (para 90).However, the focus of the analysis is “equality of opportunity” not “equality of outcome”. He writes: “It is generally recognized and has been repeatedly stated in the studies and reports quoted in this preparatory document that what should be achieved is greater equality of opportunity, not necessarily equality of outcome. Equality of opportunity means the provision of equal chances, from the outset of life, for human beings to manage their own future, and of arrangements to eliminate the negative consequences of accidental misfortune, such as serious illness, disability and structural unemployment” (para 91).

Bengoa, José. Preliminary report on the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular, economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution, prepared by José Bengoa, in conformity with resolution 1994/40 of the Sub-commission and decision 1995/105 of the Commission on Human Rights, Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-seventh session, Item 8 of the Provisional Agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/14 (10 July 1995).

  • He asserts that “inequitable income distribution is at present becoming the main threat to world peace, political stability among nations and the maintenance of social life. Extreme inequality within a society and between nations always goes hand in hand with a denial of basic human rights” (para 29).

Bengoa, José. Provisional report on the relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution, prepared by José Bengoa, Special Rapporteur, Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-eighth session, Item 8 on the provisional agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1996/14 (24 June 1996).

  • In this report he develops an analysis of income inequality as an “indicator” of the “degree of equity” within a society and the presence or absence of opportunities and therefore argues that as an indicator, income inequality can be “a tool for monitoring the fulfillment of human rights” (para 5).

Bengoa, José. The relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution: Final report prepared by José Bengoa, Special Rapporteur, Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-ninth session, Item 4 of the provisional agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/9 (30 June 1997).

  • He writes that “[g]rowing inequality in the distribution of wealth and poverty are the principal social problems affecting the economic development of the contemporary world at the close of the century” (para 1) and that the role of human rights – “as a code of values juridically accepted at the international level” – is to operate as a legitimate signal of the “ethically acceptable or unacceptable limits of economic policy measures and economic functioning” (para 4). He notes that economic globalization creates a very new context that requires the “rethinking” of economic, social and cultural rights (para 23).

Bengoa, José. The relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular, economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution – Poverty, income distribution and globalization: A challenge for human rights – Addendum to the final report prepared by José Bengoa, Special Rapporteur, Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Fiftieth Session, Item 4 on the provisional agenda, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1998/8 (10 June 1998).

  • He found that “growth in the world economy since 1987 – that is, since the end of the cold war – has been accompanied by a marked negative distribution of income at both the international and the national level” and that “growing inequality is the social characteristic of our era”. This growing inequality he finds has given rise to the two “simultaneous phenomena” of wealth concentration and social exclusion (para 4).

Sepúlveda Carmona, Magdalena. Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Human Rights Council, Twenty-sixth session, Agenda item 3, A/HRC/26/28 (22 May 2014).

  • In this report, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights presents fiscal policy, and particularly taxation policies, as a major determinant in the enjoyment of human rights. Taxation is a key tool when tackling inequality and for generating the resources necessary for poverty reduction and the realization of human rights, and can also be used to foster stronger governance, accountability and participation in public affairs. She outlines relevant human rights obligations to guide and inform State revenue-raising practices, including the duty to use the maximum available resources for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. She also analyzes the questions of how the principles of non-discrimination and equality and the duty of international cooperation and assistance should inform taxation policies at the global and national levels. After assessing how revenue-raising policies and practices can be strengthened through a human rights-based approach, she makes recommendations for fiscal and tax policies that are grounded in human rights and can lead to poverty reduction, sustainable development and the realization of transformative rights.

Alston, Philip. Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, Human Rights Council, Twenty-ninth session, Agenda item 3, A/HRC/29/31 (27 May 2015).

  • In this report, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights focuses on the relationship between extreme poverty and extreme inequality and argues that a human rights framework is critical in addressing extreme inequality.
    The Special Rapporteur provides an overview of the widening economic and social inequalities around the world; illustrates how such inequalities stifle equal opportunity, lead to laws, regulations and institutions that favor the powerful, and perpetuate discrimination against certain groups, such as women; and further discusses the negative effects of economic inequalities on a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The Special Rapporteur also analyzes the response of the international community, including the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to the challenge of extreme inequality, finding that human rights are absent in the inequality debate and little has been done to follow up on any of the studies or recommendations emerging from the United Nations human rights system.
    To conclude, the Special Rapporteur proposes an agenda for the future for tackling inequality, including: committing to reduce extreme inequality; giving economic, social and cultural rights the same prominence and priority as are given to civil and political rights; recognizing the right to social protection; implementing fiscal policies specifically aimed at reducing inequality; revitalizing and giving substance to the right to equality; and putting questions of resource redistribution at the center of human rights debates.

Bohoslavsky, Juan Pablo. Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, Human Rights Council, Thirty-first session, Agenda item 3, A/HRC/31/60 (12 January 2016).

  • In the report, the Independent Expert explores the interrelationships between income and wealth inequality, on the one hand, and financial crises, on the other, and their implications for the enjoyment of human rights. He illustrates how increased levels of such inequalities may contribute to increases in sovereign debt that may subsequently degenerate into financial crises. Furthermore, he examines the reverse relationship by assessing the distributional impact of financial crises and points to severe adverse effects on the enjoyment of human rights. He concludes with a set of policy recommendations designed to target economic inequality as a pressing human rights issue and a factor contributing to the emergence of financial crises.

Human Rights Resolutions

The section below includes various UN Human Rights Resolutions pertaining to economic inequality (in chronological order).

Seminar on the Effects of Existing Unjust International Economic Order on the Economies of the Developing Countries and the Obstacle that This Represents for the Implementation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Geneva, Switzerland, 30 June – 11 July 1980 (ST/HR/SER.A/8).

  • The seminar recognized “the great importance of the interrelationship between the right to development and the new international economic order for the complete realization of all human rights at the national and international levels” and recommended “that further research be undertaken with a view to establishing the practical, including the legal aspects, of the right to development and the ways and means of bringing about its realization” (131.1).

Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, Resolution 1992/29

  • Decided to consider a possible future study on income inequality and the realization of economic, social and cultural rights

Commission on Human Rights, Question of the realization in all countries of the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and study of special problems which the developing countries face in their efforts to achieve these human rights, Resolution 1993/14.

  • Noted the above mentioned Sub-Commission Resolution.

Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, Human Rights and Income Distribution, Resolution 1993/40.

  • Expressed it was “deeply alarmed that the gap between the rich and the poor has more than doubled over the past three decades” with the richest 20% receiving 83% of global income. It noted the “impact of inequitable income distribution on the realization of the rights to health, education, housing, food, environmental quality and other ESC rights.” In particular, it noted the need for further research by the human rights community about the relationship between rising poverty, income distribution and human rights violations. To that end it requested Asjbørn Eide produce a report on the “relationship between the enjoyment of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights, and income distribution, at both national and international levels, taking also into account matters related to the realization of the right to development, with a view to determining how most effectively to strengthen activities in this field.”

Commission on Human Rights, Question of the realization in all countries of the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and study of special problems which the developing countries face in their efforts to achieve these human rights, Resolution 1994/20 (1 March 1994).

  • Affirmed the above Sub-Commission Resolution (para 13) and articulated that the fair distribution of the benefits of development is one of the central purposes of the process of development (para 1).

Scholarly Texts

The section below includes various scholarly texts (in alphabetical order by author) examining the relationship between human rights and economic inequality.

Balakrishnan, Radhika, James Heintz and Diane Elson. Rethinking Economic Policy for Social Justice: The Radical Potential of Human Rights (New York: Routledge, 2016).

  • From the publisher: “Rethinking Economic Policy for Social Justice shows how human rights have the potential to transform economic thinking and policy-making with far-reaching consequences for social justice. The authors make the case for a new normative and analytical framework, based on a broader range of objectives which have the potential to increase the substantive freedoms and choices people enjoy in the course of their lives and not upon narrow goals such as the growth of gross domestic product. The book covers a range of issues including inequality, fiscal and monetary policy, international development assistance, financial markets, globalization, and economic instability. This new approach allows for a complex interaction between individual rights, collective rights and collective action, as well as encompassing a legal framework which offers formal mechanisms through which unjust policy can be protested.”

Balakrishnan, Radhika, James Heintz, and Diane Elson. “What does Inequality Have to Do with Human Rights?,” PERI Working Paper Series 392 (2015).

  • Abstract: “What is the relationship between human rights and inequalities in income and wealth? Different approaches to understanding inequality have distinct implications for how we think about issues of well-being and social justice. The human rights framework offers an approach that stands in marked contrast to neoclassical economic theory. The human rights approach has started to engage more thoroughly with the question of inequalities in income and wealth, but offers only partial guidance on the implications of increasingly polarized societies. This paper looks at how income and wealth inequality affects realized outcomes with regard to the enjoyment of specific rights and how the distribution of resources affects political dynamics and power relations within which specific rights are realized.”

Braverman, Paul, and Sofia Gruskin. “Policy and Practice: Poverty, Equity, Human Rights and Health,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 81, no. 7 (2003).

  • Abstract: “Those concerned with poverty and health have sometimes viewed equity and human rights as abstract concepts with little practical application, and links between health, equity and human rights have not been examined systematically. Examination of the concepts of poverty, equity, and human rights in relation to health and to each other demonstrates that they are closely linked conceptually and operationally and that each provides valuable, unique guidance for health institutions’ work. Equity and human rights perspectives can contribute concretely to health institutions’ efforts to tackle poverty and health, and focusing on poverty is essential to operationalizing those commitments. Both equity and human rights principles dictate the necessity to strive for equal opportunity for health for groups of people who have suffered marginalization or discrimination.”

Donald, Alice, and Elizabeth Mottershaw. Poverty, Inequality and Human Rights: Do Human Rights Make A Difference? (The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2009)

  • This report explores the ways in which human rights might be used to tackle poverty in the UK. Following an analysis of international applications of the human rights approach and its impact on policy, communities, and scholarly debate, the authors conclude that “now is the right time to explore ways of strengthening the integration of human rights and anti-poverty strategies in the UK” and that human rights might be “used to challenge regressive welfare reform and notions of personal responsibility that underpin it” (Summary).

Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko. “Reducing Inequality – The Missing MDG: A Content Review of PRSPs and Bilateral Donor Policy Statements,” IDS Bulletin 41, no. 1 (2010): 26-35.

  • Abstract: “Although important gains have been made in reducing global poverty, the pace of progress across the world is not on track to achieve the 2015 MDG targets. Is this due to lack of ownership on the part of national governments and the international community? This article examines whether the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and donor policy statements are aligned with MDG priorities and targets. The analysis found a high degree of commitment to MDGs as a whole but both PRSPs and donor statements are selective, consistently emphasizing income poverty and social investments for education, health and water but not other targets concerned with empowerment and inclusion of the most vulnerable such as gender violence or women’s political representation. The article concludes that a new, ninth Goal needs to be added – to reduce inequality to make the MDGs aligned to the original purpose of the Millennium Declaration.”

Hernandez-Truyol, Berta Esperanza, and Shelbi D. Day. “Property, Wealth, Inequality, and Human Rights: A Formula for Reform,” Indiana Law Review 30, no. 4 (2001): 1213.

  • Abstract: “This work proposes a human rights paradigm that provides a methodology to analyze, deconstruct and unravel the existing systematic inequalities in Black/white wealth. First, we examine the historical relationship between Blacks and whites in the United States in the context of property, wealth, and economics. Then, In Part II, we reveal the disturbing reality that not much has changed. Next, we make a two-part suggestion of how to ameliorate, or at least begin to remedy, current economic inequalities by proposing the application of a human rights paradigm of economic discrimination as violence. Finally, we analyze the role of republican liberalism in Black/white Economic inequality and reveal how, despite its equality-based dialect, it has translated into a model that has enabled inequality.”

Kabeer, Naila. “Social Justice and the Millennium Development Goals: The Challenge of Intersecting Inequalities,” The Equal Rights Review 13 (2014): 91-116.

  • This paper’s “point of departure is the growing body of evidence that inequalities matter for the wellbeing and prosperity of a society.” Kabeer argues that “certain sections of the world’s poor have been systematically bypassed by the ‘average’ rates of progress reported on the MDGs, thus betraying the promise of social justice held out by the [Millennium] Declaration” (Introduction, para 5).

Kallen, Evelyn. Social Inequality And Social Injustice: A Human Rights Perspective (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

  • From the publisher: “This book uses a human rights framework to analyze how group-level social inequalities and injustices are socially constructed and maintained through violations of human rights on grounds of race, gender, sexuality, etc., and how human rights legislation can help such violations to effectively be redressed. Although it focuses primarily on democratic nations, it uses international case material to highlight key global issues.”

Landman, Todd, and Marco Larizza. “Inequality and Human Rights: Who Controls What, When, and How,” International Studies Quarterly 53, no. 3 (2009): 715-736.

  • Abstract: “This article tests the empirical relationship between inequality and the protection of personal integrity rights using a cross-national time-series data set for 162 countries for the years 1980–2004. The data comprise measures of land inequality, income inequality, and a combined factor score for personal integrity rights protection, while the analysis controls for additional sets of explanatory variables related to development, political regimes, ethnic composition, and domestic conflict. The analysis shows robust support for the empirical relationship between income inequality and personal integrity rights abuse across the whole sample of countries as well as for distinct subsets, including non-communist countries and non-OECD countries… The analysis is discussed in the context of inequality and rights abuse in the specific country cases and the policy implications of the results are considered in the conclusion.”

Lettinga, Doutje, and Lars van Troost, eds. Can Human Rights Bring Social Justice? Twelve Essays (Amnesty International Netherlands, 2015)

  • Focusing on the potential of human rights to deliver social justice, this collection of essays contains debates on, among other topics, the de-legalization of human rights, the obligations of states to protect human rights, cooperation between human rights organizations and social justice groups and their respective roles, a legal rights approach to social justice, and problems within human rights norms themselves.

MacNaughton, Gillian. “Beyond a Minimum Threshold: The Right to Social Equality” in Lanse Minkler (ed) The State of Economic and Social Human Rights: A Global Overview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • From the introduction: “She contends that human rights scholars and policymakers alike have failed to recognize the evidence of the adverse impacts of social inequality. MacNaughton argues that the right to a national social order, in which the rights of the UDHR may be fully realized, implies a right to social equality just as it implies a right to civil and political equality”.

Marks, Susan. “Four Human Rights Myths,” LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No 10/2012 (2012).

  • Abstract: “This paper examines work by three scholars who have recently subjected the intellectual framework of human rights to critical scrutiny. For one, the central problem is that the universality of human rights is too readily presumed. For another, it is that the relative novelty of human rights is not properly appreciated. For yet another, it is that human rights are treated as somehow beyond politics, as opposed to being a politics in themselves. What are we to make of these claims? Where do they lead us in policy terms? How does each stand with respect to the core practical objective of putting abuses of human rights to an end?”

Marks, Susan. “Human Rights and Root Causes,” The Modern Law Review 74, no. 1 (2011): 57-78.

  • Abstract: “The human rights movement has traditionally focused on documenting abuses, rather than attempting to explain them. In recent years, however, the question of the ‘root causes’ of violations has emerged as a key issue in human rights work. The present article examines this new (or newly insistent) discourse of root causes. While valuable, it is shown to have significant limitations. It foreshortens the investigation of causes; it treats effects as though they were causes; and it identifies causes only to put them aside. With these points in mind, the article counterposes an alternative approach in which the orienting concept is not root causes, but ‘planned misery’.”

Martell, Luke. “Global Inequality, Human Rights and Power: A Critique of Ulrich Beck’s Cosmopolitanism,” Critical Sociology 35, no. 2 (2009): 253-272.

  • Abstract: “This article is a critique of Ulrich Beck’s advocacy of a cosmopolitan approach to global inequality and human rights. It is argued that cosmopolitanism does not bring a new and unique perspective on global inequality. In fact Beck’s proposals on migration would reinforce inequality and anti-cosmopolitanism. It is argued that his `both/and’ perspective on hybridization and contextual universalism is undermined by inequality, conflict and power that are glossed over in Beck’s approach. I argue that human rights interventionism as advocated by Beck falls short of cosmopolitanism, in ways which are shown by qualifications about power and inequality that Beck himself makes in his arguments.”

Moyn, Samuel. “A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism,” Law and Contemporary Problems 77, no. 4 (2014): 147-169.

  • This article examines a range of Marxist positions on the relationship between contemporary human rights discourse and the neoliberal era of capitalism and argues that “it is far too soon…to sign on to either the Marxist or mainstream position about the relationship between human rights and neoliberalism” (p. 149). The conclusion of the article “stresses that human rights offer a minimum of protection where the real significance of neoliberalism has been to obliterate the previous limitation of inequality” (p. 151).

Moyn, Samuel. “Do Human Rights Increase Inequality?,”, May 26, 2015, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Describing human rights as a “powerless companion” market fundamentalism, Moyn argues that “The tragedy of human rights is that they have occupied the global imagination but have so far contributed little of note, merely nipping at the heels of the neoliberal giant whose path goes unaltered and unresisted.”
  • See also a response: Joel R. Pruce, “Floors, Ceilings, and Beams: What’s Missing in Moyn’s Account of Inequality,” Humanity Journal Blog, June 23, 2015.

Salomon, Margot E. “Why Should It Matter That Others Have More? Poverty, Inequality, And The Potential Of International Human Rights Law,” Review of International Studies 37, no. 5 (2011): 2137-2155.

  • Abstract: “A concern with ensuring minimum standards of dignity for all and a doctrine based on the need to secure for everyone basic levels of rights have traditionally shaped the way in which international human rights law addresses poverty. Whether this minimalist, non-relational approach befits international law objectives in the area of world poverty begs consideration. This article offers three justifications as to why global material inequality – and not just poverty – should matter to international human rights law. The article then situates requirements regarding the improvement of living conditions, a system of equitable distribution in the case of hunger, and in particular obligations of international cooperation, within the post-1945 international effort at people-centred development. The contextual consideration of relevant tenets serves to demonstrate that positive international human rights law can be applied beyond efforts at poverty alleviation to accommodate a doctrine of fair global distribution.”

Salomon, Margot E. “Poverty, Privilege, and International Law: The Millennium Development Goals and the Guise of Humanitarianism,” German Yearbook of International Law 51 (2008): 39-73,

  • Abstract: “This study is an exploration of the ways in which international law both facilitates and accommodates privilege. While the poverty to which almost half the global population is relegated forms our subject of concern, our object of study is not the “global poor” but the “global rich,” and the role of international law in securing their privilege: To confine our enquiry to poverty would reveal only a partial account of its occurrence, in that ‘[t]o comprehend and explain poverty is also to explain riches’ (From Peter Townsend, Poverty in the United Kingdom (1979), 337).”

OpenDemocracy Debate

The Open Global Rights forum on the blog Open Democracy has published a series of post under the topic “Economic inequality – can human rights make a difference?” (Guest editors: Ignacio Saiz and Gaby Oré Aguilar). This Open Democracy Debate explore the consequences for human rights of rights wealth and income inequality and how the human rights framework might be able to help understand its causes and push for policy responses. Listed below (alphabetically) are some of the contributions to the growing and ongoing debate on this forum.

Alston, Philip. “Extreme Inequality As The Antithesis Of Human Rights,” OpenDemocracy, October 27, 2015,

Balakrishnan, Radhika, and James Heintz. “How Inequality Threatens All Human Rights,” OpenDemocracy, October 29, 2015,

Lettinga, Doutje, and Lars van Troost. “Justice Over Rights?,” OpenDemocracy, October 6, 2015,

Moyn, Samuel. “Human Rights And The Age Of Inequality,” OpenDemocracy, October 27, 2015,

Inequality and Social Outcomes

Why Does Inequality Matter for the Realization of Social and Economic Rights?

The texts in this section (organized alphabetically) address why inequality matters for the human rights from a variety of perspectives.

Beitz, Charles R. “Does Global Inequality Matter?,” Metaphilosophy 32, no. 1-2 (2001): 95-112.

  • Abstract: “Global economic and political inequalities are in most respects greater today than they have been for decades. From one point of view inequality is a bad thing simply because it involves a deviation from equality, which is thought to have value for its own sake. But it is controversial whether this position can be defended, and if it can, whether the egalitarian ideal on which the defense may depend applies at the global level as in individual societies. Setting aside directly egalitarian reasons for concern about global inequality, this paper explores several reasons for concern that derive from nonegalitarian values – primarily those associated with poverty and material deprivation, humiliation, the impact of inequality on the capacity for self-control and self-government, and the unfairness of political decision-making procedures with large economic inequalities in the background.”

Brinks, Daniel. The Judicial Response to Police Killings in Latin America: Inequality and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

  • From the publisher: “This book examines the effect of social and economic inequality, political influence, and institutional design on the effectiveness of legal systems in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It demonstrates that legal inequality is constructed out of the socio-economic inequality that denies the victims of police violence effective political citizenship and legitimizes their killing. Its focus is on the criminal prosecution of violent police officers, but it draws implications for democracy, the rule of law, court functioning, and police violence.”

Brinks, Daniel, and Sandra Botero. “The Social and Institutional Bases of the Rule of Law,” Reflections on Uneven Democracies: The Legacy of Guillermo O’Donnell, ed. D. M. Brinks, S. Mainwaring and M. Leiras (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

  • Why have all the formal legal improvements that are concomitants of 21st century democracy – new constitutions, better laws, improved judiciaries, more accountable security forces – failed in many respects to produce more “democratic rule of law,” especially for the underprivileged? The answer we propose rests on the gap, in highly unequal democracies, between the equal extension of voting rights – essentially one person/one vote – and the unequal distribution of social and economic resources. Many formerly marginalized populations in Latin America gained greater influence over legislative outcomes, which allowed them to secure greater formal rights. But their continued socio-economic marginalization makes it difficult to overcome resistance by groups with more resources and to engage effectively with the structures needed to make rights effective (pp. 2-3).

Corak, Miles. “Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility,” Institute for the Study of Labor Discussion, no. 7250 (2013).

  • “The paper offers a descriptive yet structured discussion of the underlying drivers of opportunity that generate the relationship between inequality and intergenerational mobility. The goal is to explain why the United States differs from other countries, how intergenerational mobility will change in an era of higher inequality, and how the process is different for the top 1 percent.” Drawing on a framework employing some influential economic models often used to examine the intergenerational transmission of inequality, “the article focuses attention on the investments made in the human capital of children influencing their adult earnings and socioeconomic status” (p. 80).

Korzeniewicz, Roberto Patricio, and Timothy Patrick Moran. “Theorizing the Relationship Between Inequality and Growth,” Theory and Society 34, no. 3 (2005): 277-316.

  • Abstract: “This article explores a promising theoretical approach for reassessing the relationship between inequality and economic growth. The article draws some insights from the influential inverted U-curve hypothesis originally advanced by Simon Kuznets, but drastically recasts the original arguments by shifting two fundamental premises. First, retaining Kuznets’s emphasis on the importance of economic growth in generating demographic transitions between existing and new distributional arrays, we argue that a “constant drive toward inequality” results after replacing a Schumpeterian notion of “creative destruction” for the dualistic assumptions in Kuznets’s model. Second, while Kuznets devoted considerable attention to the impact of institutions on distributional outcomes, we argue that institutions should be understood as relational and global mechanisms of regulation, operating within countries while simultaneously shaping interactions and flows between nations. The article argues that economic growth, unfolding through institutions embedded in time and space, produces a constant drive towards inequality that results in a multiple and overlapping matrix of distributional arrays, an overall income distribution (e.g., within and between countries) that is both systemic and historical.”

Massey, Douglas. Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008).

  • From the publisher: “America’s unrivaled disparities are not simply the inevitable result of globalization and technological change. As Massey shows, privileged groups have systematically exploited and excluded many of their fellow Americans. By delving into the root causes of inequality in America, Categorically Unequal provides a compelling argument for the creation of a more equitable society.”

Tilly, Charles. Durable Inequality (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999).

  • From the publisher: “Exploring representative paired and unequal categories, such as male/female, black/white, and citizen/noncitizen, Tilly argues that the basic causes of these and similar inequalities greatly resemble one another. Categorical distinctions arise, Tilly says, because they offer a solution to pressing organizational problems. Whatever the ‘organization’ is—as small as a household or as large as a government—the resulting relationship of inequality persists because parties on both sides of the categorical divide come to depend on that solution, despite its drawbacks. Tilly illustrates the social mechanisms that create and maintain paired and unequal categories with a rich variety of cases, mapping out fertile territories for future relational study of durable inequality.”

Saunders, Peter. Beware False Prophets, Natalie Evans, ed., (Policy Exchange, 2010) false prophets – jul 10.pdf.

  • This report refutes The Spirit Level’s claim to validity, arguing: “Its evidence is weak, the analysis is superficial and the theory is unsupported. The book’s growing influence threatens to contaminate an important area of political debate with wonky statistics and spurious correlations. The case for radical income redistribution is no more compelling now than it was before this book was published” (p. 8).

Wilkinson, Richard, and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010).

  • From the publisher: “It is a well-established fact that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem.The Spirit Level, based on thirty years of research, takes this truth a step further. One common factor links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for everyone within them-the rich and middle class as well as the poor. The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level exposes stark differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states.”

Intentional Inequality (Discrimination) as a Human Rights Violation

Human Rights Watch, “Discrimination, Inequality, and Poverty – A Human Rights Perspective,”, January 11, 2013, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • “Despite recognition in the Millennium Declaration of the importance of human rights, equality, and non-discrimination for development, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) largely bypassed these key principles. The fundamental human rights guarantees of equality and non-discrimination are legally binding obligations and do not need instrumental justifications. That said there is a growing body of evidence that human rights-based approaches, and these key guarantees in particular, can lead to more sustainable and inclusive development results.” (Executive Summary)

Klug, Francesca, and Helen Wildbore, Equality, Dignity, and Discrimination Under Human Rights Law: Selected Cases, (Centre for the Study of Human Rights, The London School of Economics and Political Science)

  • These cases, categorized according to the ‘6 equality strands’ to be given specific protection by the European Convention on Human Rights (gender, race and nationality, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion/belief), were selected for their advancement or clarification of the human rights principles of equality and discrimination; principles that CEHR will be under a duty to promote and monitor and encourage compliance with (p. 3).

Theorizing Inequality and Political Economy: Historical Perspectives

The section below lists (in chronological order) key texts thinking about inequality and political economy in order to help us think about the continuities and changes in such discussions over time.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin and Basic of Inequality Among Men (1755).

  • This “Second Discourse” attempts to answer the question proposed by the Academy of Dijon: What is the origin of the inequality among mankind; and whether such inequality is authorized by the law of nature? The work discusses the psychological impact of modern society on human nature and explores the relationship between human evolution and the development of inequality.

Smith, Adam. Wealth of Nations (1776).

  • From publisher (unidentified): “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world’s first collected descriptions of what builds nations’ wealth and is today a fundamental work inclassical economics. Through reflection over the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the book touches upon broad topics as the division of labour, productivity and free markets.”

Ricardo, David. Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817).

  • The book concludes thatland rent grows as population increases. It also presents the theory of comparative advantage, the theory that free trade between two or more countries can be mutually beneficial, even when one country has an absolute advantage over the other countries in all areas of production.

Marx, Karl. Communist Manifesto (1848).

  • The work contains Marx and Engels’ theories about the nature of society and politics, stressing that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (I).Briefly, it features their ideas on the eventual evolution of the capitalist society of the time into a socialist and finally a communist one.

Veblen, Thorstein. Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).

  • This “Classic of economic and social theory offers a satiric examination of the hollowness and falsity suggested by the term ‘conspicuous consumption,’ exposing the emptiness of many cherished standards of taste, education, dress, and culture. Since first appearing in 1899, it has become a classic of social theory that has contributed to the modernization of economic policy.” (Dover Thrift Editions)

Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920).

  • “As part of the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference after WW1, Keynes had detailed knowledge of the debates about reparations which were demanded of Germany. He believed the demands on defeated Germany were too harsh and he resigned his government position and wrote this book explaining his reasons.” (Online Library of Liberty)

Schumpeter, Joseph. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942).

  • In this famous book on social theory, the social sciences and economics, Schumpeter deals withcapitalism, socialism and creative destruction. First published in 1942, it is largely un-mathematical compared with neoclassical works, focusing on the unexpected, rapid spurts of entrepreneur-driven growth instead of static models.

Kuznets, Simon. “Economic Growth and Income Inequality,” The American Economic Review 45, no. 1 (1955): 1-28.

  • “The central theme of this paper is the character and causes of long term changes in the personal distribution of income. Does inequality in the distribution of income increase or decrease in the course of a country’s economic growth? What factors determine the secular level and trends of income inequalities?” (p. 1)

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971).

  • Rawls approaches the debate on distributive justice by utilizing a variant of the familiar device of the social contract. The resulting theory is known as “Justice as Fairness,” from which Rawls derives his two principles of justice: the “liberty principle” and the “difference principle.”

Sen, Amartya. On Economic Inequality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973) and Expanded Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • From the publisher: “This book, which was first published in 1973, presents a systematic treatment of the conceptual framework as well as the practical problems of the measurement of economic inequality. Alternative approaches are evaluated in terms of their philosophical assumptions, economic content, and statistical requirements. In a new annexe added in 1997, which is as large as the original book, Amartya Sen, jointly with James Foster, critically surveys the literature that followed the publication of the first edition of the book, and evaluates the main analytical issues in the appraisal of economic inequality and poverty.”

Hirschman, Albert. Essays in Trespassing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

  • From the publisher: “This book brings together fourteen articles and papers written by Albert O. Hirschman. About half deal with the interaction of economic development with politics and ideology, the area in which Hirschman perhaps has made most noted contributions. Among these papers are ‘The Rise and Declines of Development Economics’, a magisterial and yet pointed essay in intellectual history and his famous article ‘The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic Development’. Hirschman’s ability to trespass – or rather his inability not to trespass – from one social science to another and beyond is the unifying characteristic of the volume. Authoritative, searching surveys alternate here with essays presenting some of Hirschman’s characteristic inventions, for instance the ‘tunnel effect’ and ‘obituary-improving activities’.”

Sen, Amartya. Inequality Reexamined (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).

  • “The idea of equality is confronted by two different types of diversities: (1) the basic heterogeneity of human beings, and (2) the multiplicity of variables in terms of which equality can be judged. This book is concerned with both these diversities. It is also specifically concerned with the relation between the two. The heterogeneity of people leads to divergences in the assessment of equality in terms of different variables. This adds significance to the central question: equality of what?” (Introduction)

Inequality, Globalization, and World Politics, eds. Andrew Hurrell and Ngaire Woods (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • Abstract: “The evidence presented in this book suggests that globalization is creating sharper, more urgent problems for states and international institutions to deal with. Yet at the same time, investigations into core areas of world politics suggest that growing inequality is reducing the capacity of governments and existing international organizations to manage these problems effectively. The areas surveyed include: international order, international law, welfare and social policy, global justice, regionalism and multilateralism, environmental protection, gender equality, military power, and security.”

Contemporary Discussions of Inequality and/or Proposed Responses (General)


Atkinson, AB, and Salvatore Morelli. Human Development Report: Economic Crises and Inequality (United Nations Development Programme, 2011)

  • Abstract: “Sustainability for a society means long-term viability, but also the ability to cope with economic crises and disasters. Just as with natural disasters, we can minimize the chance of them occurring and set in place policies to protect the world’s citizens against their consequences. This paper is concerned with the impact of economic crises on the inequality of resources and with the impact of inequality on the probability of economic crises. Is it the poor who bear the brunt? Or are crises followed by a reversal of previous boom in top incomes? Reversing the question, was the 2007 financial crisis the result of prior increases in inequality? Have previous periods of high inequality led to crises? What can we learn from previous crises – such as those in Nordic countries and the Asian financial crisis? How far can public policy moderate the impact of economic crises?”

International Labour Organization. “A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All; Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization,”, February 2004, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • “We believe the dominant perspective on globalization must shift more from a narrow preoccupation with markets to a broader preoccupation with people. Globalization must be brought from the high pedestal of corporate board rooms and cabinet meetings to meet the needs of people in the communities in which they live. The social dimension of globalization is about jobs, health and education – but it goes far beyond these. It is the dimension of globalization which people experience in their daily life and work: the totality of their aspirations for democratic participation and material prosperity. A better globalization is the key to a better and secure life for people everywhere in the 21st century” (p. vii).

Gupta, Sanjeev, et al. Should Equity Be a Goal of Economic Policy?, (International Monetary Fund, 1999)

  • International Monetary Fund staff working in the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department pose the question: should governments be concerned with issues of equity? After concluding that widespread economic expansion has not been met with declining inequalities, the authors attempt to determine the impact of globalization on the distribution of income. They conclude by suggesting that one of the more promising strategies for economic growth with equity involves investing in human capital.

Jaumotte, Florence, and Carolina Osorio Buitron. Inequality and Labor Market Institutions, (International Monetary Fund, 2015)

  • Their work finds that the erosion of labor market institutions and of minimum wages, as well as the decline in unionization, is related to the rise of inequality in advanced economies and recommends that deciding whether labor market institutions are appropriate be decided on a country-by-country basis as part of a multi-pronged approach to addressing the increase in inequality.

United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. “Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics,”, 2010, accessed July 12, 2016,$file/PovRep (small).pdf.

  • This report explores the causes, dynamics and persistence of poverty; it examines what works and what has gone wrong in international policy thinking and practice and lays out a range of policies and institutional measures that countries can adopt to alleviate poverty. The report analyses poverty reduction as part of long-term processes of social, economic and political transformation, but also draws important lessons from the experiences of those countries that have successfully combined economic development and active social policy to reduce poverty over relatively short time periods. The report also examines the complex ways that poverty alleviation outcomes are shaped by the interconnection of ideas, institutions, policies and practices in a triad of economic development, social policy and politics. (Overview)

United Nations Commission on Trade and Development. “Trade and Development Report 2012,”, 2012, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • This report discusses risks to the post-2008 world economy, including the recession in a economically intertwined Europe and dominating fiscal austerity policies, which report predicts will “serve to reinforce the trend towards greater inequality, which has become a visibly damaging feature of finance-driven globalization”. The report calls for a reorientation of fundamental policy and contends that “Neither globalization nor technological improvements inevitably require the kind of dramatic shift in the distribution of income that favours the very rich and deprives the poor and the middle-class of the means to improve their living standards. On the contrary, with more appropriate national and international policies that take into account the crucial importance of aggregate demand for capital formation, structural change and growth dynamics, job creation can be accelerated, inequality reduced and the requisite degree of economic and social stability guaranteed.” (Overview, I)

World Bank. “Analyzing the World Bank’s Goal of Achieving “Shared Prosperity”,” Inequality in Focus 2, no. 3 (2013)

  • This issue involves a discussion of “shared prosperity”, a goal of the World Bank. World Bank economists Ambar Narayan, Jaime Saavedra-Chanduvi and Sailesh Tiwari here explore the relationship between shared prosperity with growth, inequality, and inequality of opportunity and trace potential pathways toward achieving shared prosperity.

Scholarly Texts

Atkinson, Anthony B. Inequality: What can be Done? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

  • From the publisher: “He presents a comprehensive set of policies that could bring about a genuine shift in the distribution of income in developed countries. The problem, Atkinson shows, is not simply that the rich are getting richer. We are also failing to tackle poverty, and the economy is rapidly changing to leave the majority of people behind. To reduce inequality, we have to go beyond placing new taxes on the wealthy to fund existing programs. We need fresh ideas. Atkinson thus recommends ambitious new policies in five areas: technology, employment, social security, the sharing of capital, and taxation. He defends these against the common arguments and excuses for inaction: that intervention will shrink the economy, that globalization makes action impossible, and that new policies cannot be afforded.”

Bourguignon, François, and Thomas Scott-Railton. The Globalization of Inequality (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2015).

  • From the publisher: “Demonstrating that in a globalized world it becomes harder to separate out the factors leading to domestic or international inequality, Bourguignon examines each trend through a variety of sources, and looks at how these inequalities sometimes balance each other out or reinforce one another. Factoring in the most recent economic crisis, Bourguignon investigates why inequality in some countries has dropped back to levels that have not existed for several decades, and he asks if these should be considered in the context of globalization or if they are in fact specific to individual nations. Ultimately, Bourguignon argues that it will be up to countries in the developed and developing world to implement better policies, even though globalization limits the scope for some potential redistributive instruments.”

Cingano, Federico. “Trends in Income Inequality and its Impact On Economic Growth,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers no. 163 (2014): 65.

  • This report suggests that income inequality has a negative and statistically significant impact on subsequent growth. It argues that policies to reduce income inequalities should be pursued not only to improve social outcomes, but also to sustain long-term growth, and asserts that redistribution policies via taxes and transfers are a key tool to ensure that the benefits of growth are more broadly distributed. It goes on to evaluate the human capital accumulation theory, finding evidence for human capital as a channel through which inequality may affect growth and noting the importance of promoting equality of opportunity in access to and quality of education. (Abstract)

Feiveson, Laura. “Seven Questions on Inequality,” IMF Research Bulletin 13, no. 2 (2012): 6-9,

  • Her Q&A attempts to highlight basic points about recent trends in income inequality, including factors involved and the potential negative consequences of its increase. She points to progressive tax and transfer policies and government involvement in equalizing access to services as effective methods of stemming inequality.

Frankfurt, Harry G. On Inequality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015)

  • He argues that economic inequality is not morally objectionable as such, but, rather, “to the extent that it is truly undesirable, it is on account of its almost irresistible tendency to generate unacceptable inequalities of other kinds” and that it is therefore not only misguided to endorse economic inequality as an authentic moral idea, but it may actually be harmful to regard economic equality as a morally important goal (x-xi).

Galbraith, James K. Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  • From the publisher: “Inequality and Instability demonstrates that finance is the driveshaft that links inequality to economic instability… [and] presents straightforward evidence that the rise of inequality mirrors the stock market in the U.S. and the rise of finance and of free-market policies elsewhere…. By measuring inequality at the right geographic scale, Galbraith shows that more equal societies systematically enjoy lower unemployment. He shows how this plays out inside Europe, between Europe and the United States, and in modern China. He explains that the dramatic rise of inequality in the U.S. in the 1990s reflected a finance-driven technology boom that concentrated incomes in just five counties, very remote from the experience of most Americans-which helps explain why the political reaction was so slow to come. That the reaction is occurring now, however, is beyond doubt. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, inequality has become, in America and the world over, the central issue.”

Galbraith, James K. Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  • From the publisher: Galbraith “offers a comprehensive introduction to the study of economic inequality, including its philosophical and theoretical origins, the variety of concepts in wide use, empirical measures and their advantages and disadvantages, competing modern theories of the causes and effects of rising inequality in the United States and worldwide, and a range of policy measures.”

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Measured, Unmeasured, Mismeasured, and Unjustified Pessimism: A Review Essay of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Erasmus Journal for Philosophy & Economics 7, no. 2 (2014): 73-115.

  • Critique of Thomas Piketty’s economic analysis and ethical approach to inequality in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Milanovic, Branko. The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (New York: Basic Books, 2011).

  • This book discusses a series of issues, including: how inequality can be measured between countries, the relationship between inequality and economic growth within a state, the effect of inequality on societies and whether or not globalization contributes to absolute world inequality. Through essays and vignettes, the book examines inequality within nations, among nations, and globally.

Narayan, Ambar, Jamie Saavedra-Chanduvi and Sailesh Tiwari. “Shared Prosperity: Links to Growth, Inequality and Inequality of Opportunity,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 6649 (2013).

  • Abstract: “Establishing conceptual links between income growth of the bottom 40 percent, the overall growth rate and reviewing existing evidence on how these relate to inequality, the paper discusses two main ideas. First, shared prosperity is strongly correlated with overall prosperity, implying that the whole host of policies that are important to generate and sustain growth remain relevant. Second, boosting shared prosperity will also require a concerted effort to strengthen the social contract, particularly in the area of promoting equality of opportunity. Growing evidence suggests that improving access for all and reducing inequality of opportunities — particularly those related to human capital development of children — are not only about “fairness” and building a “just society”, but also about realizing a society’s aspirations of economic prosperity.”

Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014).

  • Picketty’s central assertion is thatinequality is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism that can only be reversed through state interventionism. The book argues that, unless reformed, capitalism is a threat to the democratic order.

Saad-Filho, Alfredo. “Growth, Poverty and Inequality: From Washington Consensus to Inclusive Growth” DESA Working Paper No. 100, November 2010.

  • Abstract: “This paper reviews recent economic policy debates about the relationship between growth, poverty and inequality. These debates have tended to focus on whether market-led growth is sufficient to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, or whether specific policies are necessary because untargeted growth may be insufficient or even perverse. The paper charts the degenerating outcomes of these debates, and the emergence of the inclusive growth (IG) paradigm within the World Bank. A critical examination of IG suggests that its weaknesses are best addressed through a more ambitious restatement of the pro-poor goals of economic policy”.

Stiglitz, Joseph. The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012).

  • As those at the top continue to enjoy the best health care, education, and benefits of wealth, they often fail to realize that, as Joseph E. Stiglitz highlights, “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live … It does not have to be this way.” Inthis book, Stiglitz lays out a comprehensive agenda to create a more dynamic economy and fairer and more equal society.

Stiglitz, Joseph. The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015).

  • Examining the dimensions, causes, and consequences of inequality in the United States, Stiglitz draws on lessons from around the world to argue that inequality is a political and moral choice and that the US can change its policies to become a more prosperous and equal society.

Wade, Robert H. “Income Inequality: Should We Worry About Global Trends?” European Journal of Development Research 23, no. 4, (2011): 513-520.

  • Abstract: “This essay summarizes some of the bulldozer trends in income inequality on a global scale, their causes and some of their effects. The long slump underlines the importance of understanding these inequality trends, because it is clear that rising inequality — including the falling share of labour income in most major economies — was a primary driver of the build-up of financial fragility in the years preceding the slump, and not just the current slump but also many previous ones, including the Great Depression (Wade, 2009). In particular, this essay highlights how global trends and their mechanisms set limits to what national governments can do — against the general tendency to assume a high margin of voluntariness in public policy, as though the government of country X could readily reduce income inequality if only it set its mind to it. The essay also suggests directions of policy not normally considered in discussion of inequality.”

Wade, Robert H. “Should We Worry about Income Inequality?,” International Journal of Health Services 36, no. 2, (2006): 271-294.

  • Abstract: “Liberals (in the European sense) argue that a liberal free-market economic policy regime—nationally and globally—is good for economic growth and poverty reduction and for keeping income inequality within tolerable limits. Second, they argue that substantial income inequality is desirable because of its good effects on other things, notably incentives, innovation, and panache; and conversely, they dismiss concerns about growing inequality as “the politics of envy.” Third, they argue that the core liberal theory of capitalist political economy satisfactorily explains the central tendencies in the role of the state in advanced capitalist economies. This essay challenges all three arguments on both conceptual and empirical grounds. It then suggests why the arguments are nevertheless widely accepted, proposes criteria for deciding how much inequality is fair, and ends by suggesting ways for achieving higher salience for income redistribution (downwards) in political agendas.”

Methodological Questions Related to Measuring Inequality

The materials in this section (organized alphabetically) provide an overview of methodological debates on how to measure economic inequality as well as about the different frames (within countries, between countries and between citizens of the world) used to track economic inequality.

Milanovic, Branko. “Global Income Inequality in Numbers: in History and Now,” Global Policy 4, no. 2 (2013): 198-208.

Owen Fiss is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law of Yale University. He was educated at Dartmouth, Oxford, and Harvard. He clerked for Thurgood Marshall (when Marshall was a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit) and later for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. He also served in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice from 1966 to 1968. Before coming to Yale, Professor Fiss taught at the University of Chicago. At Yale he teaches procedure, legal theory, and constitutional law.

Professor Fiss is the author of many articles and books, including The Civil Rights Injunction, Troubled Beginnings of the Modern StateLiberalism DividedThe Irony of Free SpeechA Community of Equals, A Way Out/America’s Ghettos and the Legacy of RacismAdjudication and its Alternatives (with Judith Resnik), The Law as it Could Be, and The Dictates of Justice/Essays on Law and Human Rights. His most recent books are A War Like No Other/The Constitution in a Time of Terror and Pillars of Justice/Lawyers and the Liberal Tradition.

Professor Fiss also participates in extensive Law School programs in Latin America and the Middle East and, along with Anthony Kronman, directs the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization. Professor Fiss is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, Universidad de Buenos Aires, and Universidad de Palermo (Buenos Aires). He was also awarded La distinción Sócrates from Universidad de Los Andes (Bogotá) and Profesor Visitante Distinguido at del Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.

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