Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Power of Freedom

A friend recommended a new Cato Institute book by Jean-Pierre Chauffour titled "The Power of Freedom: Uniting Human Rights and Development." The book makes a convincing case that freedom is absolutely necessary for human rights and economic development to happen and coexist. Here's the book synopsis (italics are mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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