The “age of human rights”, says legal historian Samuel Moyn, has been “kindest to the rich”. It is hard to argue otherwise, with a staggering rise in economic inequality between the haves and have-nots coinciding with the expansion of human rights discourse over the past 50 years. This trend shows no sign of abating. Since 2020, the richest 1% have pocketed nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world put together.
Moyn goes on to declare that human rights are simply “not enough” to confront these shocking levels of inequality.
Sure, he argues, human rights provide for the basics in life – food, water, sanitation, housing, healthcare – but beyond that they have very little to say about, and are in fact ill-equipped to address, the explosion of global wealth and income inequality. Kári Hólmar Ragnarsson, an assistant professor of law at the University of Iceland, summarises this neatly: human rights have established “a ‘floor’ of decent living while remaining unconcerned with the ‘ceiling’ of economic inequality”.