Document Type


Publication Title

Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems

Publication Date

Spring 2011


The Economic Covenant, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“Civil Covenant”) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, comprise the International Bill of Rights. This Article examines the legal, historical, and practical reasons for the Obama Administration's reluctance to “seek action” on the Covenant and explains why, despite these reasons, it should. Indeed, the United States has never needed the Economic Covenant more.

The Covenant is a straightforward exposition of Franklin D. Roosevelt's “freedom from want,” an international instrument setting out what he referred to as the “Second Bill of Rights.” It requires nation-states to recognize the rights of their people to the basic necessities of life, including work, an adequate standard of living, education, health, and social security. Every industrialized democracy except the United States has ratified it. Domestically, the Covenant resonates with the ground-breaking initiatives of the Obama Administration for universal healthcare, job creation, educational reform, and expanded benefits for the most vulnerable. Abroad, the Covenant's ratification would contribute to the “restoration” of America's reputation as a champion of human rights.

The two major obstacles to ratification are the Tea Party and Goldman Sachs. The angry group of “patriots” and the financial services superstar are stand-ins, of course, for right-wing ideologues and the ultra-rich, who have not only grown fatter during the current famine, but now have the additional security of being “too big to fail.” This Article uses stand-ins to give them a human face and bring them down to human scale. The Covenant faces difficult, but not insurmountable, obstacles. Ratification is no more improbable than the election of a black president.



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