Putting universal human rights to Work: Policy actions in the struggle for social justice by Archibald Stuart.

Author:Luminais, Misty
Position:Book review
 
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Stuart, Archibald. Putting Universal Human Rights to Work: Policy Actions in the Struggle for Social Justice. New York: Gordian Knot Books. xi + 241 pages. Paper, $20.00.

In Putting Human Universal Rights to Work, Archibald Stuart, an emeritus professor of social work, intends to lay out a logical policy strategy for increasing social justice. He notes, "Social justice can be a vague and abstract objective unless concepts and steps for action are defined in detail" (p. 3). Stuart focuses primarily on class struggle, relegating cultural or social issues to a second tier. He shows how privatization, capitalism, and the free-market often exploit workers and prevent people from escaping poverty. He delineates traditional arguments about equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, explaining how the former is touted as the pinnacle of social justice yet in fact further alienates workers from each other. In a shrinking or stagnant economy, finding a job is a zero-sum game, so simply offering more education does little to alleviate unemployment without concurrent restructuring of the labor market. His solution rests, in large part, on the provision of social security services and government regulation. He also suggests how the economy could be improved by different fiscal policies. For example, Stuart describes how tax credits might give consumers more spending money and thereby grow the economy.

Such an effort to increase the well being of a population in a state-level society would be very useful, but the book's weaknesses leave it short of this lofty goal. Repeatedly, Stuart claims he will suggest means of building support for policy actions, yet he conflates all conservatives under the rubric of a "laissez-faire conservatism [which] expresses the theme that the uncontrolled private market should dominate the social and economic process and the best government is one that governs the least" (p. 11). Meanwhile, he characterizes his own social liberalism as "concerned with the social order and social conditions. It is based on the belief in the dignity and worth of each individual..." (p. 15) as if his adversaries did not share those same beliefs. His portrayal of one side as corrupt, uncaring capitalists and the other as moral and just does not create a space for working together and fosters the very antagonism he critiques.

Stuart reduces complex socio-cultural motivations to economic interests; for example, he explains, "The economic...

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