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 withcapitalismsocialism 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.

  • Abstract: “This article presents an overview of calculations of global inequality, recently and over the long term, and outlines the main controversies and political and philosophical implications of the findings. It focuses in particular on the winners and losers of the most recent episode of globalization, from 1988 to 2008. It suggests that the period has witnessed the first decline in inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution. However, the decline can be sustained only if countries’ mean incomes continue to converge (as they have been doing during the past ten years) and if internal (within-country) inequalities, which are already high, are kept in check. Mean-income convergence would also reduce the huge ‘citizenship premium’ that is enjoyed today by the citizens of rich countries.”

Milanovic, Branko. “Globalization and Inequality”, in Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson & John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 377.

  • In this chapter, World Bank expert Branko Milanovic explores three different measures of inequality: unweighted international inequality, international inequality weighted by population, and global inequality based on individuals’ household income. Using the three different measures of global inequality, he begins the process of untangling the conflicting conclusions and prescriptions with regard to findings concerning the gap between rich and poor countries.

University of Texas Inequality Project, “UTIP Global Inequality Data Sets 1963-2008: Updates, Revisions and Quality Checks: Working Paper 68,”, May 6, 2014, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Abstract: “This paper summarizes a comprehensive revision and update of UTIP’s work on the inequality of pay and incomes around the world, covering the years 1963 to 2008. The new UTIP-UNIDO data set of industrial pay inequality has 4054 country-year observations over for 167 countries, while the updated and revised EHII data set of estimated gross household income inequality has 3871 observations over 149 countries. The paper also provides comparisons of the EHII data set with a wide range of measures and estimates drawn from other work. They show in general that EHII is a reliable reflection of trends, and a reasonable, though not perfect, estimator of the levels of inequality found in surveys.”

Measures of Inequality

This section includes recent materials (organized alphabetically by author or organization) that discuss respectively: inequality between citizens of the world, inequality between countries and inequality within countries.

Inequality between Citizens of the World

Credit Suisse. “Global Wealth Report 2015,”, accessed July 12, 2016,

Jolly, Richard. “Global Inequalities,” The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, ed. David Alexander Clark (Cheltenham and Northhamption: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2006): 196-199.

New Economics Foundation. “Growth isn’t working: The unbalanced distribution of benefits and costs from economic growth,”, accessed July 12, 2016,

Pogge, Thomas. “Growth and Inequality: Understanding recent trends and political choices”, Dissent 55, no. 1 (2008): 66-75.

Oxfam. “The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All,”, January 18, 2013, accessed July 12, 2016,

Oxfam. “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More,”, January 2015, accessed July 12, 2016,

Inequality between Countries

Firebaugh, Glenn. “Empirics of World Income Inequality,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 39.

  • Firebaugh disputes the findings of those who argue that the world continues to experience a widening of the gap between rich and poor countries.

Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, “Declaration,”, 2015, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • The organization proposes reforms in various areas of taxation. These reforms include: regarding tax multinationals as single firms, curbing global tax competition, strengthening enforcement of criminal penalties on abusive tax practices, increasing transparency, reforming tax treaties, and building inclusivity into international tax cooperation.

International Labour Organization. “World of Work Report 2008: Income Inequalities in the Age of Financial Globalization,”, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • This report includes the following chapters: “Trends in employment and inequality”, “The role of financial globalization”, “Labour institutions and inequality”, “Changing employment patterns”, “Redistribution through taxes and social transfers”, and “Decent Work as a coherent policy package”. The report finds, among other things, that the global economic slowdown is affecting low-income groups disproportionately and that the tax/transfer system can be a powerful redistribution mechanism.

International Monetary Fund. “Annual Report 2014: From Stabilization to Sustainable Growth,”, 2014, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • The report presents recommendations on the use of state fiscal policy as a primary tool to affect income distribution, including “options for reform of expenditure and tax policies to help achieve distributive objectives efficiently in a manner consistent with fiscal sustainability and recent evidence on how fiscal policy measures can be designed to mitigate the impact of fiscal consolidation on inequality” (p. 37).

Smith, John T. Passé. “Characteristics of the Income Gap Between Countries,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 11.

  • This chapter explores the long-term characteristics of the gap between rich and poor countries. Using the World Bank’s income categories, Smith examines global inequality between countries in the post-World War II era.

United Nations Development Programme. “Human Development Report 2005: International cooperation at a crossroads: Aid, trade and security in an unequal world,”, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • This report, asserting that governments have primary responsibility in developing countries and calling for a “renewed commitment to cooperation backed by practical action (p. 2),” focuses on three pillars of cooperation: development assistance, international trade, and security. The report discusses the relationship between these pillars and reducing global inequality and declares that “the fundamental question that remains to be answered five years after the Millennium Declaration was signed is whether the world’s governments have the resolve to break with past practice and act on their promise to the world’s poor (p. 14).” (Overview)

Wade, Robert H. “Globalization, Growth, Poverty, Inequality, Resentment, and Imperialism,” Global Political Economy, ed. John Ravenhill, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • Through a discussion of neoliberalism in the context of the aftermath of the 2008 crash and the economic rise of the South, this chapter gives an account of the performance of the world economy as a whole, in terms of economic growth, income inequality between and within countries, and poverty. The chapter particularly emphasizes the “ambiguities in evidence about economic performance and illustrates a real ‘epistemic uncertainty’ around economists’ prescriptions for more globalization and the dangers posed by the combination of economists’ high influence over the life-chances of others, their epistemic certainty, and their epistemic uncertainty vis-a-vis the public they serve.”

Wade, Robert H. “The Rising Inequality of World Income Distribution,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 31.

  • Robert Hunter Wade argues that conflicting conclusions about the gap have arisen in part due to the measures of inequality used, whether and how the measure is weighted, and the method of converting to a common currency. The varying recipes produce eight different measures of income inequality. Wade concludes that seven of the eight measures of inequality clearly show that the gap is worsening and the last suggests the gap is stable.

Inequality within Countries

Falling Inequality in Latin America: Policy Changes and Lessons, ed. Giovanni Andrea Cornia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  • This volume presents a comparative analysis of the decline in income inequality taking place in the majority of Latin American countries in the past decade, focusing on Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. Factors explored include economic structures, political regimes, and inequality trends, as well as policy approaches and external shocks.

Shelby, Tommie. “Integration, Inequality, and Imperatives of Justice: A Review Essay,” Philosophical and Public Affairs 42, no. 3 (2014): 253-285.

  • In this essay, Shelby offers a critique of Elizabeth Anderson’s The Imperative of Integration (2010), asserting the integration is not a requirement for racial injustice and is instead a by-product of a just multiracial society of equals. He argues, “In our attempts to bring about social conditions that realize justice, sophisticated knowledge of empirical realities will of course be necessary, as we need to know what practical measures are most promising in this endeavor” (p. 258).

Soares, Fabio Veras, et al. “Cash Transfer Programmes in Brazil: Impacts on Inequality and Poverty,” UNDP International Poverty Centre Working Paper No. 21 (2006): 1-35.

  • Abstract: “This paper evaluates the contribution of cash transfer programmes to the observed fall in inequality in Brazil between 1995 and 2004 as well as its impact on poverty… We find that both BPC, the means tested old age pension and disability grant programme, and Bolsa Família are quite well targeted…and that they were jointly responsible for 28% of the fall in the Gini inequality between 1995 and 2004 (7% from BPC and 21% from Bolsa Família). This contribution is quite sizable since BPC and Bolsa Família together account for a tiny 0.82% of the total family income reported in the National Household Survey. It is also striking that pensions equal to the minimum wage, contributory or not, contributed 32% to the fall in the Gini index, but this better performance was due to the fact that they make up 4.6% of the total family income.”

United Nations Development Programme. “Human Development Report 2013: Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries,”, November 2013, accessed July 12, 2016, Reduction/Inclusive development/Humanity Divided/HumanityDivided_Full-Report.pdf.

  • “This Report reviews the conceptual approaches that have been adopted in the analysis of inequality and explains why inequality matters. It also examines trends and drivers of inequality in income and non-income dimensions of well-being as well as the trends and drivers of gender inequality as an example of inter-group inequality. After illustrating the results of an investigation of policy makers’ views of inequality, it concludes with a comprehensive policy framework to confront inequality in developing countries.” (Overview)

University of Texas Income Inequality Project. “Inequality and Economic and Political Change: Working Paper 51,”, September 21, 2008, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Abstract: “This paper was prepared for the United Nations Research Institute on Social Development. It describes the broad evolution of inequality in the world economy over the past four decades, and summarizes the relationship between inequality, economic development, political regimes and the functional distribution of income. The evidence on inequality comes from a series of data sets built by the University of Texas Inequality Project, freshly updated through 2003, showing a decline in global inequality after 2000. Data on the related factors is developed in background papers by Hyunsub Kum, Sara Hsu and Olivier Giovannoni.”

Western, Bruce, and Jake Rosenfeld. “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in American Wage Inequality,” American Sociological Review 76, no. 2 (2011): 513-537.

  • This article explores the consequences of a forty-year decline in union membership and, in particular, the correlation between deunionization and rising inequality in hourly wage earnings. Western and Rosenfeld argue that unions reduce inequality by establishing norms for fair wages. Their research suggests that union decline explains one third of the growth in inequality — an effect equal to the growing stratification of earnings by education.

The Production and Contestation of Inequality

The materials in this section (organized alphabetically) provide different frameworks for thinking about the way in which economic inequality is produced, reinforced or contested.

Eriksen, Silja, and Indra de Soysa. “A Fate Worse than Debt? International Financial Institutions and Human Rights, 1981-2003,” Journal of Peace Research 46, no. 4 (2009): 485-503.

  • Abstract: “Some report that human rights are likely to be violated when poor countries sign up to structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). These violations apparently occur because ordinary people revolt against the neo-liberal policies that SAPs push. This study examines the effect of the actual flow of finances from the World Bank and the IMF, holding constant all other bank-based financial flows, on government respect for human rights. The authors find that pay-in periods are beneficial for human rights, whereas loan dry-ups correlate with violations. Loan dry-ups are likely to occur because of noncompliance with SAPs rather than implementation, since the international financial institutions (IFIs) release loans in tranches to solve the time inconsistency problem. The overall level of indebtedness is robustly related to human rights abuses, but the higher the stock of debt owed to IFIs relative to total debt, the lower the human rights violations. Accumulating debt to IFIs, thus, seems to improve the level of human rights. Additionally, a higher government consumption to GDP ratio reduces human rights, a result that does not suggest that governments that are capable of commanding a higher share of the country’s wealth are less likely to face threatening social dissent. Moreover, a proxy for neo-liberal policies, the index of economic freedom, correlates strongly with better human rights. These results do not square well with the view that neo-liberal policy reforms and the attendant austerity measures drive dangerous dissent.”

Frank, Andre Gunder. “The Development of Underdevelopment,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 257.

  • This chapter is the classic work that initiated what would eventually grow into a tidal wave of “dependency theory” research. In it, the author argues against the classical theory of economics, in which all countries will eventually become developed. He takes a very long-term view, but from his perspective, the cause of underdevelopment is that great colonial powers became wealthy at the expense of the colonies that they exploited and continue to exploit even after the formal colonial period ended.

Gill, Stephen. “Constitutionalizing Inequality and the Clash of Globalizations,International Studies Review 4, no. 2 (2002): 47-65.

  • Abstract: “Intensified inequalities, social dislocations and human insecurity have coincided with a redefinition of the political in the emerging world order. Part of this redefinition involves the emergence of new constitutionalism. New constitutionalism limits democratic control over central elements of economic policy and regulation by locking in future governments to liberal frameworks of accumulation premised on freedom of enterprise. New political “limits of the possible” are also redefined by a “clash of globalizations” as new constitutionalism and more generally “globalization from above” is contested from below by nationalists, populists and fundamentalists as well as diverse progressive movements in innovative forms of global political agency.”

Herkenrath, Mark, and Volker Bornschier. “Transnational Corporations in World Development: Still the Same Harmful Effects in an Increasingly Globalized World Economy?,” Journal of World Systems Research 9, no. 1 (2003): 105-139.

  • Abstract: “Transnational corporations (TNCs) have reached historically unprecedented weight and power in the worlds political economy. Thus, the old question of how these corporations affect global development is nowadays more significant than ever. While some scholars claim that corporate globalization will eventually close the worldwide development gap, many others contend that TNC activities lead to insufficient exploitation of growth potentials within the host country, thereby hindering convergence of national income levels. The present study aims at assessing the validity of these controversial positions by confronting them with the results of past and present empirical research. In the first part, we examine the effect of TNC presence on intra-national income inequality by reviewing the most recent cross-national studies dealing with this issue. In the second part, we present the results of our own research, which analyzes the effect of TNC presence on economic growth in a sample of 84 countries. The contemporary empirical evidence discussed in the first part as well as the results of our own analyses tend to confirm earlier findings. They suggest that dependence on TNC activities increases inequality without adding to economic growth. However, the strong negative effect of TNC presence on growth found in analyses of data from the late 1960s cannot be reproduced in our contemporary analysis. In a significant number of cases, the potentially harmful consequences of TNC activities seem to have been overcome by adequate countervailing state actions.”

Hymer, Stephen. The Multinational Corporation and the Law of Uneven Development (New Haven: Yale University, 1972).

  • In this essay, written in 1972, Hymer predicts a new structure of international industrial organization and a new international division of labor. He first traces the evolution of the corporation and then goes on to examine trends in business enterprise and their relationship with the evolution of the international economy. He predicts: “a regime of North Atlantic multinational corporations would tend to produce a hierarchical division of labor between geographical regions corresponding to the vertical division of labor within the firm. It would tend to centralize high-level decision-making occupations in a few key cities in the advanced countries, surrounded by a number of regional subcapitals, and confine the rest of the world to lower levels of activity and income, i.e., to the status of towns and villages in a new imperial system. Income, status, authority, and consumption patterns would radiate out from the centers along a declining curve, and the existing pattern of inequality and dependency would be perpetuated” (p. 129).

Kaplinsky, Raphael. “Globalisation and Unequalisation: What can be learned from value chain analysis?,” Journal of Development Studies 37, no. 2 (2000): 117-146.

  • Abstract: “Although many have gained from globalization, there remains a stubbornly large number of people living in absolute poverty and a rise in inequality within and between countries. This study shows how value chain analysis can be used both to chart the growing disjuncture between global economic activity and global income distribution and to provide causal explanations for this outcome.”

Kennedy, David. A World of Struggle: How Power, Law and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

  • From the publisher: “In this provocative book, David Kennedy draws on his experience working with international lawyers, human rights advocates, policy professionals, economic development specialists, military lawyers, and humanitarian strategists to provide a unique insider’s perspective on the complexities of global governance. He describes the conflicts, unexamined assumptions, and assertions of power and entitlement that lie at the center of expert rule. Kennedy explores the history of intellectual innovation by which experts developed a sophisticated legal vocabulary for global management strangely detached from its distributive consequences. At the center of expert rule is struggle: myriad everyday disputes in which expertise drifts free of its moorings in analytic rigor and observable fact. He proposes tools to model and contest expert work and concludes with an in-depth examination of modern law in warfare as an example of sophisticated expertise in action.”

Olson, Jr., Mancur. “Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations Are Rich, and Others Poor,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality, eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 317.

  • Olson argues that all governments and policies are not made equally and countries do not produce as much as their natural endowments permit, but rather strong institutions that get the policy right are the decisive factor in country’s economic performance. According to Olson, convergence theorists are not right about convergence because most poor countries, despite having a higher propensity to grow than richer countries, have poorer economic policies ad institutions than richer countries.

Salomon, Margot E. “Of Austerity, Human Rights, and International Institutions,” European International Law Journal 21, no. 4 (2015): 521-545.

  • Abstract: “Austerity measures have led to the denial of social rights and widespread socio-economic malaise   across      In   the   case   of   countries   subjected   to conditionality imposed by international institutions, the resultant harms have highlighted a range of responsibility gaps.  Two  legal  developments  come  together  to  expose  these gaps: Greece’s argument in a series of cases under the European Social Charter that it was not responsible for the impact on rights brought about by austerity measures as it was only giving effect to its other international obligations as agreed with the Troika; and the concern to emerge from the Pringle case before the European Court of Justice that European Union (EU) institutions could do outside of the EU what they could not do within the EU — disregard the Charter of Fundamental Rights. That the Commission and the European Central Bank were in time answerable to international organisations set up to provide financial support adds an additional layer of responsibility to consider. Taking Greece as a case study, this article addresses the imperative of having international institutions respect human rights.”

Töngür, Ünal, and Adem Yavuz Elveren. “Deunionization and pay inequality in OECD countries: a panel Granger causality approach,” Economic Modeling 38 (2014): 417-425.

  • Abstract: “By utilizing two inequality data sets both provided by the University of Texas Inequality Project this paper contributes to the literature, analyzing the causality relationship between deunionization and pay inequality for 24 OECD countries for the 1963-2000 period within a panel Granger structure. Our findings show not only that there is causality from union density to income inequality but also, perhaps more importantly, point out that there is causality running from income inequality to union density for various set of countries and time periods.”

World Bank Policy Research Report. “The New Wave of Globalization and its Economic Effects,” Development and Underdevelopment: The Political Economy of Global Inequality eds. Mitchell A. Seligson and John T. Passé Smith, 4th ed. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 391.

  • The report team describes three eras of globalization and their economic impact. They examine each era and try to determine what motivated globalization and which countries benefited and which did not.

Human Rights, Development and Inequality

The materials in this section (organized alphabetically by author or organization) are focused primarily on the relationship between human rights and development. However, many also touch on issues of inequality or may assist in thinking about the relationship between human rights, development and inequality.


Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. Realizing the Right to Development: Essays in Commemoration of 25 Years of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development (2013),

  • Abstract: “This book is devoted to the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development. It contains a collection of analytical studies of various aspects of the right to development, which include the rule of law and good governance, aid, trade, debt, technology transfer, intellectual property, access to medicines and climate change in the context of an enabling environment at the local, regional and international levels. It also explores the issues of poverty, women and indigenous peoples within the theme of social justice and equity. The book considers the strides that have been made over the years in measuring progress in implementing the right to development and possible ways forward to make the right to development a reality for all in an increasingly fragile, interdependent and ever-changing world.”

United Nations Development Programme. “Equity, Inequality, and Human Development in a Post-2015 Framework,”, 2013, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • “First, the paper situates equity and inequality within the capability approach, and justifies the focus on promoting greater equality in multiple dimensions—citing its intrinsic value and instrumental consequences. The paper then reviews the evidence on levels and trends of inequality among countries, among people and among generations. Next, it considers sources of inequality, and finally, it discusses possible options for reducing inequality within a post-2015 framework. Argues that “When dealing with economic inequalities, we should therefore pay specific attention to the overlap between economic inequalities and group-based inequalities (horizontal inequalities), because they can indicate discrimination as an important cause of inequality.” (Introduction)

United Nations Development Programme. “Issues for a Global Human Development Agenda,”, 2013, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Discusses changes since 2000 including: demographic shifts, economic volatility and macroeconomic management, human development changes, planetary boundaries, thresholds, and tipping points, fighting poverty in richer countries, employment and employment security, and equity and inequality, human development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and addressing core challenges including maintaining the planet’s life support systems, achieving decent employment for all, moving towards a less unfair world, achieving equity and inequality within countries and among countries, and reducing poverty.

United Nations Development Programme. “Sustainability and Inequality in Human Development,”, 2011, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Abstract: “This paper analyzes the theoretical and empirical links between inequality in human development on the one hand and sustainability on the other. It specifically looks at causality in both directions. Inequality in various dimensions of human development is analyzed with respect to both weak and strong sustainability, where weak sustainability presumes substitutability among different forms of capital, while strong sustainability reject substitutability and calls for preservation of so-called critical forms of natural capital independent of the amount of investment into other forms of capital.”

Scholarly Texts

Alston, Phillip. “A Human Rights Perspective on the Millennium Development Goals,”, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • This report discusses the seemingly-dissonant relationship between human rights norms and the Millennium Development goals. It suggests that most of the critiques regarding their relationship can be dealt with by specific, targeted measures and reviews some of the reasons why the development community should consider making the necessary adjustments so that the MDG campaign can benefit fully from the advantages offered by incorporating the human rights dimension. The report notes an overlap between a range of human rights and key MDG targets and attempts to tackle two major issues: how the MDG process can be made more human rights-aware and how the human rights framework can enhance the effectiveness of the MDG initiative.

Alston, Philip. “Ships Passing in the Night: The Current State of the Human Rights and Development Debate Seen Through the Lens of the Millennium Development Goals,” Human Rights Quarterly 27, no. 3 (2005): 755-829.

  • Abstract: “The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the most prominent initiative on the global development agenda and have a great deal in common with human rights commitments. But neither the human rights nor development communities have embraced this linkage with enthusiasm or conviction. This article explores the reasons why the two agendas resemble ships passing in the night, even though they are both headed for very similar destinations. The empirical evidence examined includes analyses prepared by a range of human rights NGOs, the MDG National Plans adopted by many developing countries, and the relevant analyses undertaken by UN human rights treaty bodies and special rapporteurs. The author calls upon the human rights community to engage more effectively with the development agenda, to prioritize its concerns rather than assuming that every issue needs to be tackled simultaneously, and to avoid being overly prescriptive.”

Donnelly, Jack. “Human Rights, Democracy, and Development,” Human Rights Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1999): 608.

  • “In the past decade, development, democracy, and human rights have become hegemonic political ideals. Regimes that do not at least claim to pursue rapid and sustained economic growth (“development”), popular political participation (“democracy”), and respect for the rights of their citizens (“human rights”)place their national and international legitimacy at risk. Without denying important practical and theoretical linkages, this article focuses on tensions between the logics of human rights, democracy, and development. In doing so, this article challenges the comfortable contemporary assumption that, as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights) put it, “[d]emocracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing’.” (Introduction)

Freistein, Katja and Bettina Mahlert. “The Potential for Tackling Inequality in the Sustainable Development Goals” Third World Quarterly, (2016, forthcoming).

  • Abstract: “The recently passed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encompass a variety of explicit and implicit goals that address inequality. Although formulations remain vague and targets abstract, the SDGs go much further than previous development goals in addressing inequality as a central issue. Against the background of insights from inequality research, the article assesses their potential to become discursive resources for fundamental reforms of established development ideas.”

Marks, Stephen. “The Human Right to Development: Between Rhetoric and Reality,” Harvard Human Rights Journal 17 (2004): 139-168.

  • “The right to development (RTD) has been part of the international debate on human rights for over thirty years but has not yet entered the practical realm of development planning and implementation. States tend to express rhetorical support for this right but neglect its basic precepts in development practice. Paradoxically, the United States opposes or is reluctant to recognize development as an international human right, and yet the current administration has proposed to nearly double its development spending under a program that is strikingly similar to the international RTD model. The purpose of this Article is to explore this paradox and through it reflect on the obstacles to the realization of the RTD and its compatibility with U.S. foreign policy.” (Introduction)

Piovesan, Flavia. “The Right to Development from a Human Rights Approach: Conceptual Bases, Legal Fraework, and Contemporary Challenges” in Lanse Minkler (ed) The State of Economic and Social Human Rights: A Global Overview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 12.

  • From the introduction: “Flavia Piovesan deciphers and advocates for the controversial right to development, which can be thought of as a right to an enabling environment that will allow people to realize the full range of human rights. She argues that the right adds the principle of solidarity, which is necessary to generate the international cooperation called for in the UDHR and underlies international obligations.”

Salomon, Margot E. Global Responsibility for Human Rights: World Poverty and the Development of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  • From the publisher: “This book explores developments in the system of international safeguards meant to correspond to the deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights today. By analyzing the approach, contribution, and current limitations of the international law of human rights to the manifestations of world poverty, the reader is challenged to rethink human rights and, in particular, the framing of responsibilities that are essential to their protection.”

Rajagopal, Balakrishnan. “Right to Development and Global Governance: Old and New Challenges Twenty-Five Years On,” Human Rights Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2013): 893-909.

  • Abstract: “Right to Development (RTD) called for a fundamental transformation of global governance at its origin. This transformation would enable RTD’s full realization by overcoming international barriers to greater influence for the voices of the developing countries in global economic and political decision-making and to more solidarity. Twenty-five years later, elements of that agenda have in fact been achieved, enabling greater voice and influence for some developing countries, while their very success has raised new challenges to global governance of the future. This article analyzes key challenges that arise to the future of the right to development due to the “rise of the rest” and concludes that a fundamental rethinking of RTD and alternative structural changes in global governance are needed to realize the moral and political ideals of the right to development.”

Uvin, Peter. Human Rights and Development (Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, 2004).

  • From the publisher: “Peter Uvin extends the examination of development aid and human rights violations that he presented in his book on the Rwandan genocide, Aiding Violence. Whereas that book is diagnostic, Human Rights and Development is a prescriptive response to requests from development and human rights organizations to help them effect strategies for reducing conflict and improving human rights outcomes. By advocating a rights-based approach to development, Uvin shows how practitioners can surmount the tough ethical and human rights obstacles encountered in their endeavors.”

Human Rights, Poverty and Inequality

The materials in this section (organized alphabetically by author or organization) are focused primarily on the relationship between human rights and poverty. However, many also touch on issues of inequality or may assist in thinking about the relationship between human rights, poverty and inequality.

UN Reports

Bengoa, José. Implementation of Existing Human Rights Norms and Standards in the Context of the Fight Against Extreme Poverty, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, 55th session, item 4 of the provisional agenda, E/CN.4/Sub 2/2003/17 (16 June 2003).

  • The present report was prepared pursuant to resolution 2002/13 of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which requested an ad hoc group of experts coordinated by José Bengoa to submit a working paper on the need to develop guiding principles on the implementation of existing human rights norms and standards in the context of the fight against extreme poverty.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights and Poverty Reduction (2004), accessed July 12, 2016,

  • “What is a human rights approach to poverty reduction? It links poverty reduction to questions of obligation, rather than welfare or charity. It compels us to look behind national averages and identify the most vulnerable people — and design strategies to help them. A human rights approach is grounded in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and binding provisions of human rights treaties. Moreover, it sharpens the moral basis of the work carried out by economists and other policy-makers, directing their attention to the most deprived and excluded, especially those excluded by discrimination. It describes how a political voice for all people and access to information are integral to development. Informed and meaningful participation in development is a matter of right rather than a privilege. The Conceptual Framework presents a clear vision of a human rights approach to poverty reduction, a vision that explicitly encompasses accountability and empowering people as actors for their own development.” (Foreword)

Scholarly Texts

Baxi, Uprenda. “International Development, Global Impoverishment, and Human Rights” in Scott Sheeran and Sir Nigel Rodley, Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law, (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), Chapter 33.

  • From the article: “The juxtaposition of these three keywords – international development, global impoverishment, and human rights – enables some meaningful conversation, and global social action, concerning international development (now often named as ‘global governance’). In particular, the discourses concerning ‘extreme poverty’ (EP) and global poverty (GP) offers key linkages reconceptualizing the ‘tasks’ of development and the ‘ends’ of human rights.”

Browning, Edgar K. “Inequality and Poverty,” Southern Economic Journal 55, no. 4 (1989): 819-830.

  • Abstract: “…I intend to argue that we may have gone too far in attempting to promote economic equality through government policies. In taking this position, I run the risk of being labeled hard hearted, and perhaps soft-headed as well. An important part of my argument, however, is based on distinguishing between economic inequality with in the large non-poor part of the population and the poverty that afflicts a small portion of our population. I favor a role for government in helping the truly needy, but I will attempt to show that extending that role to permit redistribution among the general population is often counterproductive.”

Craven, Matthew. “The Violence of Dispossession: Extraterritoriality and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,” Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Action, eds. Mashood A. Baderin and Robert McCorquodale (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  • “In the course of this chapter I want to explore the significance of the ideas of space or territory for the contemporary understanding of social rights. In the process, I will touch upon the debate surrounding the imposition of economic sanctions and the position adopted, in respect of the question of extraterritoriality, by the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. But the main focus will be to place the discussion of extraterritoriality and its relation to justificatory arguments about social rights in the context of the Arendt’s critique of the ‘Rights of Man’ as it has been developed in the work of Agamben and Balibar. It will be argued that the Arendt’s warning that the advancement of human rights might justify processes of exclusion and dispossession at precisely the same moment at which it opposes them, retains considerable force for the contemporary social rights project, particularly when the latter is understood in purely national terms.” (Introduction)

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)

Fredman, Sandra. Human Rights Transformed: Positive Rights and Positive Duties (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • Abstract: “This book moves beyond the artificial boundary between socio-economic and civil and political rights and instead focuses on the positive duties to which all rights give rise. Human rights have traditionally been understood as protecting individual freedom against intrusion by the State. This book argues that human rights are based on a far richer view of freedom, going beyond absence of coercion and focusing on the ability to exercise such freedom. This requires positive action to facilitate freedom, and substantive equality. It also recognizes the essentially social nature of human beings, and the crucial role of social interaction in advancing freedom. Drawing on political theory and social policy, as well as comparative experience from India, South Africa, the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU, US, Canada, and the UK, the book aims to create a theoretical and applied framework for understanding positive human rights duties.”

Gibney, Mark. “Establishing a Social and International Order for the Realization of Human Rights” in Lanse Minkler (ed) The State of Economic and Social Human Rights: A Global Overview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 10.

  • From the introduction: “Mark Gibney firstly explores the ethical underpinnings of the Article [Article 28, UDHR], and then examines why international human rights law has generally failed to ensure that states meet their international obligations. He closes by noting that some recent developments may signal positive change.”

Korpi, Walter, and Joakim Palme. “The Paradox of Redistribution and Strategies of Equality: Welfare State Institutions, Inequality, and Poverty in the Western Countries,” American Sociological Review 63, no. 5 (1998): 661-687.

  • Abstract: “Debates on how to reduce poverty and inequality have focused on two controversial questions: Should social policies be targeted to low-income groups or be universal? Should benefits be equal for all or earnings-related? Traditional arguments in favor of targeting and flat-rate benefits, focusing on the distribution of the money actually transferred, neglect three policy-relevant considerations: (1) The size of redistributive budgets is not fixed but reflects the structure of welfare state institutions. (2) A trade-off exists between the degree of low-income targeting and the size of redistributive budgets. (3) Outcomes of market-based distribution are often more unequal than those of earnings-related social insurance programs. We argue that social insurance institutions are of central importance for redistributive outcomes. Using new data, our comparative analyses of the effects of different institutional types of welfare states on poverty and inequality indicate that institutional differences lead to unexpected outcomes and generate the paradox of redistribution: The more we target benefits at the poor and the more concerned we are with creating equality via equal public transfers to all, the less likely we are to reduce poverty and inequality.”

Marks, Susan. “Human Rights and the Bottom Billion,” European Human Rights Law Review 1 (2007): 37-49.

  • This article argues that the failure to secure the socioeconomic rights of so many people is largely a consequence of a global system that structurally disadvantages half the world population.

Pogge, Thomas. “Severe Poverty as a Human Rights Violation,” UNESCO Poverty Project (2004).

  • This essay, under the premise that there is some range of a human right to basic necessities, is concerned with whether and under what conditions severe poverty violates human rights in the moral sense. The essay concludes with the assertion that the continuing imposition of the global economic order constitutes a massive violation of the human right to basic necessities and is a violation for which the governments and electorates of the more powerful countries bear primary responsibility.

Pogge, Thomas. “Severe Poverty as a Violation of Negative Duties: A Reply to the Critics,” Ethics and International Affairs 19, no. 1 (2005): 55-83.

  • Pogge focuses on the present radical inequality between the bottom half of humankind, suffering severe poverty, and those in the top seventh, whose per capita share of the global product is 180 times greater than theirs (at market exchange rates). Holding that this radical inequality and the continuous misery and death toll it engenders are foreseeably reproduced under the present global institutional order as it has been shaped, he asserts that most of it could be avoided if this global order had been, or were to be, designed differently. The feasibility of a more poverty-avoiding alternative design of the global institutional order shows, he argues, that the present design is unjust and that, by imposing it, we are harming the global poor by foreseeably subjecting them to avoidable severe poverty. (Abstract)

Pogge, Thomas. World Poverty and Human Rights, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity, 2008).

  • From the publisher: “Some 2.5 billion human beings live in severe poverty, deprived of such essentials as adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, adequate shelter, literacy, and basic health care. One third of all human deaths are from poverty-related causes: 18 million annually, including over 10 million children under five. However huge in human terms, the world poverty problem is tiny economically. Just 1 percent of the national incomes of the high-income countries would suffice to end severe poverty worldwide. Yet, these countries, unwilling to bear an opportunity cost of this magnitude, continue to impose a grievously unjust global institutional order that foreseeably and avoidably perpetuates the catastrophe. Most citizens of affluent countries believe that we are doing nothing wrong. Thomas Pogge seeks to explain how this belief is sustained. He analyses how our moral and economic theorizing and our global economic order have adapted to make us appear disconnected from massive poverty abroad. Dispelling the illusion, he also offers a modest, widely sharable standard of global economic justice and makes detailed, realistic proposals toward fulfilling it.”

Pogge, Thomas (ed), Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • Collection of essays by leading academics about severe poverty. The essays seek to explain why freedom from poverty is a human right and what duties the right creates in the affluent.
  • Includes:
    • Stéphane Chauvier, “The Right to Basic Resources”.
    • Álvaro de Vita, “Inequality and Poverty in Global Perspective”: Distinguishes justice from international humanitarian aid, discusses the “proper focus of our moral concern” as far as international socioeconomic disparities are concerned, questioning whether inequality matters, and examines three normative grounds for international distributive justice.

Salomon, Margot E. “International Human Rights Obligations in Context: Structural Obstacles and the Demands of Global Justice,” Development as a Human Right: Legal, Political, and Economic Dimensions, eds. Bård Anders Andreassen and Stephen P. Marks, 2nd ed., (Antwerp: Intersentia Publishing, 2010).

  • Drawing on the right to development and on the authoritative interpretations of several UN human rights treaty-bodies, the first part of this chapter focuses on the evolving normative human rights framework as applied to the structural determinants of global injustice, manifested in the form of world poverty. The latter part of this chapter considers the attribution of responsibility to collective state conduct for violations of socio-economic rights. It argues that the design of the asymmetrical global order, disproportionately benefiting some at the expense of others, is a satisfactory indicator of causation and therefore responsibility, and, secondly, that the responsibility of powerful states acting together can be ascertained based on whether they could have foreseen and averted the deleterious effects of their decisions.

Townsend, Peter. “Poverty, Social Exclusion and Social Polarisation: The Need to Construct an International Welfare State,” World Poverty: New Policies to Defeat an Old Enemy, eds. Peter Townsend & David Gordon (Bristol: Policy Press, 2002).

  • From the publisher: “This chapter presents a general account of trends in development from the 1960s, when poverty was placed at the forefront of international concern. The continued emphasis on economic growth by the Bretton Woods institutions has attracted increasingly critical attention. The partial shift of attention to ‘social exclusion’ has widened the understanding of the causes of poverty but has not led to the mobilisation of effective action on the part of the international agencies or the most powerful states. It is the phenomenon of ‘social polarisation’ that is attracting too little interest, and yet is fuelling increasingly difficult and even dangerous, as well as contentious, social conditions.”

United Nations University. “Working Paper: Channels and Policy Debate in the Globalization-Inequality-Poverty Nexus,”, June 2005, accessed July 12, 2016,

  • Abstract: “The paper offers a critical literature review of the debate surrounding the globalization poverty nexus, focusing on channels and linkages through which globalization affects the poor. After introducing four different concepts used to measure trends in world income inequality, it examines first the ‘growth’ conduit through which globalization affects poverty. Treating inequality as the explicit filter between growth and poverty reduction, the causal chain of openness-growth-inequality-poverty is scrutinized, link by link. The paper then moves on to examine other channels in the globalization-poverty nexus that operate through changes in relative factor and good prices, factor movements, the nature of technological change and diffusion, the impact of globalization on volatility and vulnerability, the worldwide flow of information, global disinflation, and institutions, respectively. The paper concludes with a discussion of strategic policy issues within the context of the globalization debate.”
Project & Publications Type: Bibliographies