Changing the Rhetoric: The Missing Link Between Regional Economic Growth, Human Rights and Economic Inequality

Authors: Elisa Giuliani*, University of Pisa
Topics: Economic Geography, Human Rights, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Regional economic growth, human rights, economic inequality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the southern Italian city of Taranto children die 30 per cent more than national average. In the last 40 years, abnormal cancer rates skyrocketed due to the toxic emissions of one single steel plant, which nonetheless contributed to some 10% of the regional GDP and provided jobs to some 24,000 workers. This case has sparked intense political debate in Italy, which has been framed using a ‘jobs vs. health’ rhetoric, implying that if the company would have had to invest in ensuring higher safety, health and environmental standards, it would have gone bankrupt and this would have jeopardized economic growth and job opportunities. This is not an isolated story where national/regional governments prioritize economic growth over the protection of fundamental human rights, on the premise that economic growth will, at some stage, have a positive impact on humanity – i.e. ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ rhetoric. We claim that this rhetoric is fallacious as it overlooks the abnormal concentration of wealth that comes with economic growth. Going back to our example, as the steel plant’s toxic emissions condemned people to death, its majority shareholders accumulated over 10 billion Euros in personal wealth, some hidden in tax havens. In this paper we explain why siphoning off resources from where they get abnormally accumulated can be a way to promote processes of economic growth without undermining human rights. We seek to change the policy discourse from the ‘jobs vs. health’ one to one juxtaposing ‘extreme wealth’ with ‘human rights’.

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