Can a democracy fully function without a set of universal economic rights? -Prabhat Patnaik and Jayati Ghosh

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published Published on Aug 15, 2020   modified Modified on Aug 16, 2020

As India celebrates its 74th Independence Day, its citizens need to take a hard look at the relationship between their democratic rights and basic economic security

While the need for instituting a set of fundamental political rights is generally recognized and enshrined in all democratic Constitutions, there has scarcely been any similar recognition of the need for a set of fundamental economic rights. On the contrary, serious theoretical reservations have been aired on the question of the provision of such economic rights.

These reservations come from two sources. First, there is a liberal argument regarding economic rights, which contends that a right has no meaning unless the state is in a position to guarantee it. Since economic rights cannot be guaranteed by the state, as their fulfilment depends upon the capacity of the economic system, it is pointless to legislate a set of economic rights. What is the point, for instance, in enacting a right to employment if the functioning of the economy is such that it cannot be guaranteed? Economic rights, therefore, are best left un-enacted, but the ideas behind them can be used as markers for pointing to the type of society we should be aiming to build. It is perhaps such an understanding which underlies the fact that the Indian Constitution institutes a set of social and political rights but relegates what should have been economic rights to the Directive Principles of State Policy.

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