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Economics And Human Rights: Common Ground Or Continual Conflict?

Speakers: Professor Timothy Besley; Professor Geraldine Van Bueren; Mr Alfredo Sfeir-Younis
Chair: Professor David Gordon, Director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research, University of Bristol
November 2003


Economics and human rights are two of the largest areas of modern intellectual life. Each attracts huge numbers of students in the universities, and influences the way in which diplomats, civil servants and political leaders discharge their public duties. Yet they seem at polar opposites in our post Cold War society, with economics emphasising efficiency and the optimal use of resources, while human rights focuses on the dignity of the individual and the demands of justice and fairness. Is there any common ground between these two big ideas? Must they exhaust themselves in perpetual opposition or are there things that each can sensibly learn from the other?

Timothy Besley is director of the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) at LSE. He is also a research fellow at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). He has published widely and is currently a co-editor of the American Economic Review. He is currently a consultant to HM Treasury.

Geraldine Van Bueren is Professor of International Human Rights Law at Queen Mary, University of London and also in the University of Cape Town. She is a barrister in Doughty Street Chambers and is a Fellow of Goodenough College. She is one of the drafters of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world's most widely ratified human rights treaty and has acted as a consultant to the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

Alfredo Sfeir-Younis is an economist and a Senior Advisor to the Managing Directors Office at the World Bank. His work at the World Bank focuses on human rights and the social dimensions of globalisation. Mr Sfeir-Younis has worked on sustainable development and the environment, agricultural and rural development in West Africa, and human rights. He has also made contributions in the areas of poverty eradication, the financing of development, gender and women's issues, and indigenous rights.