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Columbia Law Review


Human rights treaties play an important role in international relations but they lack a foundation in moral philosophy and doubts have been raised about their effectiveness for constraining states. Drawing on ideas from the literature on economic development, this Essay argues that international concern should be focused on human welfare rather than on human rights. A focus on welfare has three advantages. First, the proposition that governments should advance the welfare of their populations enjoys broader international and philosophical support than do the various rights incorporated in the human rights treaties. Second, the human rights treaties are both too rigid and too vague-they do not allow governments to adopt reasonable policies that advance welfare at the expense of rights, and they do not set forth rules governing how states may trade off rights. A welfare treaty could provide guidance by supplying a maximand along with verifiable measures of compliance. Third, the human rights regime and international development policy work at cross purposes. Development policy favors the poorest states, whereas the human rights regime condemns the states with the worst governments: Unfortunately, the poorest states usually have the worst governments. This Essay surveys various possible welfare treaties as alternatives to the human rights regime.

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