The Right to Development: Importance of Human and Social Capital as Human Rights Issues


One of the most far-reaching decisions of the United Nations General Assembly was the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development in 1986. The Declaration was adopted with an expectation of optimism about progression to a new global economic dispensation. This did not happen. However, the Declaration remains an important symbol of global expectation. Notwithstanding it is an instrument that remains contested in many global fora. To the extent that the expectations of the Declaration received modest success, it is possible to explain this by the fact that the Declaration anticipated an economic theory that had not been intellectually and scholastically developed to make it work in practical policy arenas. On the other hand, a competing theory had evolved which embodied an import- ant level of intellectual coherence and was justified by a version of conventional economics that supported the political perspectives of the capital-intensive states and related interest groups. In this competitive universe of economic paradigms, the right to development initiative was seriously disadvantaged. However, things are changing today.

1. Introduction
“The central problem with the conventional wisdom of economic theory is that its 19th century roots were significantly influenced by a conception of science identified with a Newtonian universe.”

In a recent volume of Cadmus, a publication of the South East European Division of the World Academy of Art and Science, the editors boldly called for a “Revolution in Economics.” They declare that “the discipline of economics is at a crossroads. Either it undertakes a complete re-evaluation of its fundamental postulates and a critical reassessment of their utility to solve real problems or it risks sliding further into irrelevance.” The editors believe that now is the time renaissance of thinking in economics.” They maintain that “inadequate thought” leads to “failed policies.”

The central problem with the conventional wisdom of economic theory is that its 19th century roots were significantly influenced by a conception of science identified with a Newtonian universe. This approach generates an approach to economic order that is largely mechanistic having an autonomous machine-like character. This approach also serves as a foundation and a constraint on economic thinking. The editorial note in Cadmus illustrates that the conditions of economic organization have changed. Economic evolution has developed a knowledge-based service economy. Under these conditions, the central fact of economic importance is the critical value of human capital. This is a profoundly important insight for understanding economics in its relation to the social and psychological sciences, including law, and the necessity of understanding the interdisciplinary interdependence of social science, economics and law.

“The individual human being as a bearer of social and economic capital is of central importance in the development of a theory of development it- self. The central place of the human being and the necessity of integrating knowledge across disciplinary lines are emerging as important elements in a revolution in economic thinking.”

It is a part of the intellectual legacy of the World Academy of Art and Science that a former President of the Academy, Harold Lasswell, also recognized the centrality of human and social capital in the social sciences and law. He spent a lifetime seeking to create a com- prehensive theory for inquiry about the individual human being in the global social process. This focus on the individual as a capital resource is also an important idea behind the con- temporary development of human rights perspectives and practices in global society. The right to development refines the human rights perspective by making the individual a central component of development from a human rights point of view. The individual human being as a bearer of social and economic capital is of central importance in the development of a theory of development itself. The central place of the human being and the necessity of integ- rating knowledge across disciplinary lines are emerging as important elements in a revolution in economic thinking.

According to the editors of Cadmus, “today there is an urgent need to reconnect disparate fields of thought in the social sciences-economics, politics, sociology and psychology. Unification of the social sciences and the humanities can generate precious insights into social process.” I would add the discipline of law to this process as well.

One of the great insights of President Franklin Roosevelt was his statement with regard to the crisis of the Great Depression, when he observed that this crisis was not the product of an autonomous machine. It was a crisis created by human choices and one that could be ended by human choices. This insight suggests that human choice is integral to human and social capital. Connecting the idea of human capital to human choice brings in the centrality of understanding choice in terms of decision and the architecture of decision itself. The related challenge is the direction of decision making and choice with respect to defensive human goals and values. The most defensible goal of choice and development is the common good of all. Human choice is implicated in the Declaration of the Right to Development and there- fore expresses a challenge of new economic thinking to give decision making a central place in theory and to understand challenges of decision for giving operative effect in policy arenasfor the advancement of human and social capital in global economic order.

As the editors of Cadmus indicate, we need a richer and more scientifically integrated understanding of a multitude of disciplines which can inform a new paradigm of revolutionary thinking in the development of a useable theory of human capital defined developmental processes. I believe that the new thinking pioneered in WAAS is one of the most challenging initiatives for grappling with a coherent and defensible economic theory to give credibility to a global right to development. In short, the context presented by the new economic thinking suggests a promising root to fully understand the problems and possibilities of an emphatic emphasis on human and social capital for triggering the dynamism of development in social process.

Here it seems to me that the model developed by former WAAS President, Harold Lasswell, may facilitate the new economic thinking processes. Lasswell developed a human centered social process description that could serve as a model for knowledge integration across disciplinary lines. Lasswell expressed this in an elegant and reasonably simple frame- work: Social process means social interaction at any level. Social process/interaction consists of human beings (human capital) pursuing values, through institutions based on resources. This model can be expressed with greater complexity and clarity at any level of social organi- zation. I would suspect indeed, that it is a tool that can bridge the divide between the universe of macro-economics and the universe of micro-economics. This model, as will be shown later, is compatible with the UN Declaration of the Right to Development as well.

2. The Conceptual Challenges of the Right to Development

The conceptual basis of the international right to development is to be found in the Atlantic Charter which Roosevelt declared in the U.S. Congress in 1941. The Charter emerged as an agreement with Churchill to codify the war aims of the allies. The Charter contains the famous Four Freedoms for which the war was being waged. The Four Freedoms were a merger of Roosevelt’s New Deal liberalism and Churchill’s eclectic humanistic conser- vatism. The Four Freedoms became the war aims of the allies and the basis for a post-war form of global organization. The Four Freedoms were: the freedom from fear (security); the freedom of speech and expression (political); the freedom of conscience and belief (confes- sional); the freedom from want (economic and material well-being). It should be recalled parenthetically that when the UN unleashed its millennium development project it recalled that the project was intrinsically a part of the Four Freedoms articulated by Roosevelt.

The end of the war generated conditions which held an uneasy coexistence with the Four Freedoms and the UN Charter. The Red Army had largely beaten the Nazis on the continent. This represented the geographic reality of a socialistic sphere of influence. In certain economic circles this fact saw the state and its control over the means of production as repre- sentative also of the extinction of private property and correspondingly, an extinction of human freedom. A group of individuals met in Mount Peleron and devoted their intellectual efforts to resisting state tyranny. Among the tools they used was a recasting of forms of 19th century capitalism as an intellectual barrier to the unlimited growth of state power. The consequence of the Mount Peleron initiative is a good example of the durability and power of ideas especially when coherently and elegantly expressed, as well as justified at the altar of scientific verification. The fundamental ideas had ideological traction: strong state equals weak freedom. This idea challenged the Roosevelt idea that necessitous human beings expe- rienced diminished freedom. In this view the state was not a destroyer of freedom but an active promoter of freedom by expanding opportunity and promoting equality.

Winston P. Nagan: Member of the Board of Trustees, World Academy of Art and Science; Director, Institute for Human Rights, Peace and Development, University of Florida

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