United Nations

Austerity Measures: Can They Be Justified?

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By Viktor Persson

 

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In the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis that incurred a massive economic destabilization on a global level, the neoliberal concept of ‘austerity measures’ have now reached the western hemisphere, with Greece and Spain as its more notable victims. In particular, the Greece bailout, which is allegedly a saving package, has imposed a myriad of conditions and restrictive measures on the Greece economy. The purpose of these structural restrictions is apparently to empower and stabilize the Greece economy, however, the opposite has happened, as has been documented in several high profile investigations.

The concept of austerity measures ranges back to the 17th century, and have more recently been adopted by the neoliberal economic doctrine as a way of dumping market failures on the state and indirectly, on the public. That austerity measures has the capacity of causing detrimental effects for the general public has been proven in Greece, and there is a history of failures with the so-called Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund as part of their lending to developing countries, due to the conditions of austerity that these loans impose on the debtor.

Several independent sources indicate that austerity measures, such as cuts in public spending in the health, education, and other mechanisms of social security, creates human suffering on a widespread scale. With Greece, we have been given the opportunity to closely observe the social catastrophe that is created by austerity. The Truth Committee has noted that, unemployment has gone from 7.3% in 2008 to 27.9% in 2013. Youth unemployment reached a staggering 64.9% in may 2013. Due to cuts in public health expenditure more than 2.5 million persons, or one fourth of the total population of Greece, are without health insurance. Furthermore diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV have increased, and mental health problems have ballooned. Pensions have been reduced by 40 %, which have caused 45 % of Greece pensioners to fall below the poverty line. 500,000 people lives in conditions of homelessness, insecure or inadequate housing. To put it mildly, there is a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

What have been left out from the discussion on austerity measures are human rights, primarily the economic and social rights established by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This convention is binding on the contracting states – and Greece together with the Eurozone countries has all ratified the convention. You would hence think, that in detailing the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the Troika, that contains the austerity conditions imposed on Greece, there must have been a discussion on the potential impacts on Human Rights that the austerity measures could create. However, there has not been such a discussion. Instead the EU member states, the EU commission, EU central bank and the International Monetary Fund have displayed a disregard for how the austerity policies would affect the Human Rights of the people of Greece. Court rulings by the highest Greece court that have ruled the pension cuts as unconstitutional and as a breach of Human Rights, have in the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding been referred to as ‘fiscal risks’. Such a use of vocabulary when referring to the Human Rights is nothing short of remarkable.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted the Guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights in July 2012. According to paragraph 56 ‘Debt relief efforts must not compromise the provision of basic services. In particular, debt relief conditions that may adversely impact the realization of human rights or undermine development in the beneficiary State must be avoided’. The UN General assembly has in September 2015 adopted a resolution (A/69/L.84), which defines nine principles on how a debt restructuring process should be directed. Among these principles is the principle of sustainability, which implies that sovereign debt restructuring should lead to a stable debt situation in the debtor state, preserving creditors’ rights while promoting economic growth and sustainable development, reducing economic and social costs, ensuring the stability of the international financial system and respecting human rights.

Not surprisingly, these principles were adopted by vote and not by consensus, with the developed countries claiming that Human Rights should not be a consideration when it comes to debt and debt relief. However this position cannot be accepted as legitimate. Obviously Human Rights is and must be an important part of economical decisions, because the very foundation of economics is Human Beings. The consequence of separating economics from Human Rights is such perversities as slavery. Possibly, this is what the new era of austerity and debt has become, a more refined form of slavery, which is free from the moral constraints of its predecessors, because it is now justified with the slick vocabulary of neoliberalism and market economy. Though, when scrutinized, austerity measures are a soulless machine working for an anonymous creditor, fueled with the accepted belief that this is the way things must be. The debt must allegedly be paid back at all costs… because… well because, the market wants it that way.

To create a heaven on earth, it is clear that all forms of commercial agreements, debt contracts accounted for, must be able to be declared null and void if they happen to breach Human Rights. This is how it should have always been, and we must ask ourselves, why this has not yet happened. The United Nations has been around for 60 years, yet still, flagrant violations of Human Rights are allowed with reference to commercial agreements. What is missing; motivation, drive, integrity or compassion? And how come we accept and allow the life of countless human beings to be reduced to numbers on a balance sheet?

Clearly, there is a rift between the reality of our world, and the principles conceptualized in our Human Rights instruments. The process of making these principles a living reality will without a doubt be a challenging venture, yet it will be through the respect for Humans on a global level, that we will be able to create a world that truly worth living in. And let us not forget that there are solutions to these problems. Even though the massive bureaucracy that is involved can make us as individuals feel as if we are small ants facing the enormous Goliath, the system is comprised of individual human beings, like you and me. By standing up, one by one, and supporting a new direction in politics and economics, we will have an impact. In democracy we each have one vote, and that is how we will be able to shift direction, through coming together and unanimously voting for a new world that is best for all.

 

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Living Income Guaranteed – How does it all come together?

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Guestpost by Viktor Persson

UDHR+LIGThe Living Income Guaranteed is based on human rights that have been drafted and agreed upon by members of the United Nations. Hence, it is not only a political proposal but also a legal proposal. It represents the means to fulfill the judicial obligations we have taken upon ourselves to fulfill as responsible guardians of this world and as the people of the United Nations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is by many considered to be customary international law. This implies that the declaration on a general basis is accepted to be part of international law regardless of country or culture. Furthermore, the purpose of the declaration is to define the meaning of the words fundamental freedoms and human rights that can be found in the United Nations Charter article 1.3. The United Nations Charter is for the member states a legally binding document.

Article 1 UDHR states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This implies that all have an equal right to a dignified life which evidently is not possible without equal economic support and assistance. Herein the Living Income Guaranteed provides a practical method wherein each individual can engage with the resources they require to sustain a dignified life through the use of one’s Living Income. Herein, the Living Income Guaranteed safeguards this human right indirectly by assigning a Living Income to those who are without the means to provide for themselves, who can then use their Living Income tailored to their specific needs.

Article 3 UDHR states that all human beings have the right to life, liberty and security of person. What must be understood is that this cannot be realized unless there is an economic support structure that ensures all receive that which makes life possible. Life cannot exist without food, water, and housing and such resources are thus a right implicit within the right to life. The Living Income Guaranteed will create the necessary environment to allow the right of life to be realized and sustained.

Article 23 UDHR states that all human beings have the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and protection against unemployment. Moreover, it states that everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work and that everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.

What becomes apparent in looking at the conditions of today’s world is that we have failed miserably in this promise. All too many people presently feel the hardship of unemployment without access to sufficient support which would allow them to change their situation. Additionally, we do not have the ability to freely choose our employment as our path has already been determined by the setting within which we are born into – where we are either born into wealth or not. This in turn impacts on all the decisions we make in life as well as what employment we decide to take on (willingly or unwillingly).

We have in today’s world utterly failed to deliver equal pay for equal work that is proven by the very existence of the corporative tactic of outsourcing production to third world countries. It is clear that in order to fulfill our obligations towards humanity as a whole we require a social economic structure that makes sure all have access to their basic needs wherein employment and right to have a living wage is one of them. The Living Income Guaranteed will yet again revive the economy and produce countless opportunities for employment. In addition, the Living Income Guaranteed will make sure that the salary is not allowed to be less than a minimum amount making sure that all can create a life for themselves that is dignified and enjoyable.

Article 25 UDHR states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. What is clear is that without financial support, without a clear economic foundation, we cannot create an environment that provides and fosters a dignified standard of living.

The Living Income Guaranteed will guarantee that each human being can create for himself or herself a life that is dignified.

Article 26 UDHR states that everyone has the right to education. In our contemporary world this is not a reality. Even though many countries have a free and public educational system, there are severe discrepancies in terms of the effectiveness of the education given by schools that charge money in comparison to the public schools that do not. Thus those born in unfavorable conditions are disadvantaged and deprived of an effective education compared to their wealthy counterparts.

To create a truly supportive and effective education for all, we yet again require a financially stable structure. The Living Income Guaranteed will make sure that public education does not dumb children down, make them completely dysfunctional and unable to create something extraordinary out of their lives. Herein must be understood that a great education is not something that can be supplied only through a schooling system but that the parent is a primary teacher during the first years of the child’s life. Though, without a sustainable income the parent is not able to attend to his or hers responsibilities and thus the education of the child is forsaken in the name of survival. The Living Income Guaranteed will ensure that parents have the necessary time to educate and support their child to become the best that they can be.

We can conclude that we as humanity through the words written as a promise to coming generations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have not only an opportunity but also an obligation to realize a world wherein human beings can live a dignified life. Thus far we have failed to live up to our own words as we have not in a practical manner structured our economic system to support the implementation and actualization of human rights. The Living Income Guaranteed stands as the practical tool through which we will be able to make sure that human rights and a dignified life does not just remain a dream on paper but becomes a daily living experience for all human beings.

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