This depends a lot upon what is meant by a human right. Personally, I do not go for ideas of rights, only of duties. But the question remains valid - does the government have a duty to make sure anyone who wants a job can get one?

The 17th Century philosophers Locke and Hobbes aimed to theorise what human society should look like by taking as a base the manner in which humans beings behave in a “State of Nature”. However, they came up with very different pictures of what it would be like to live under such circumstances. Whilst Locke believed that in general people would behave according to a moral code, and respect one another’s rights over the fruits of their labour, Hobbes believed anarchy meant lawlessness, and that life in the State of Nature would be nasty, brutish and short.

For Hobbes, it was the duty of the state to create an arbitrary system of laws, and punish with death anyone who breaks these laws. This would be the only way to ensure order, as human beings are naturally selfish. There can be no human rights under Hobbes, and whatever the state does is just.

For Locke, on the other hand, the state does not have its origins in the same kind of violence as pervades Hobbes. The state of nature is a state of tranquillity and peace, governed by the natural law, a kind of Garden of Eden. A state is only necessary, when the community grows sufficiently large, to codify the natural law, to prevent any confusion or disagreement. The state is not so much making laws as it is upholding what are already self evident truths – namely the right to private ‘property’, what Locke defines as “Life, Liberty and Estate”.

So where does the right to work fit into this? Certainly it is the duty of the government to ensure the freedom to work. However, in a state of nature as seen by Locke, one gets the idea that everyone is self employed, as farmers, hunters, or craftsmen of whatever sort. If a job means self-employment, then surely the onus must be on the individual to get out there and cut some firewood.

However, today’s post-industrial economy is different from that of Locke’s day. Everything is owned by someone or other. Without capital, you cannot set up your own enterprise. Instead you rely upon other people to offer you employment, to buy your labour and skills to put to productive use for their own gain, and compensate you with a salary.

If it were entirely down to you whether or not you are able to obtain a “job”, so to speak, then there would be no sense in calling the right to work a human right. If you don’t have a job, then you should get on your bike and find work, because there is work available. However, in today’s complex economy, this is not necessarily the case. It is possible for there to be a surplus of labour in the economy. To be specific, it may be the case that level of profits which the owners of capital require to coax them to higher labour is below the marginal cost of labour (the going wage rate). This will result in a labour surplus, more widely known as unemployment.

If it is the case, as most economists believe, that the government can do something about this unemployment, and so ensure everyone who is willing to accept work, at the going wage rate, is able to find a job, then we must equate “freedom to work” with a corresponding duty upon the government to make sure there is always work available – i.e. to create demand for labour in the economic, making full employment a goal of its macro-economic policy.

Therefore, having a job should be a human right, as long as the humans in question are prepared to do it.

I would disagree with C-Dawg's write-up below on the basis that as I have explained, the social contract puts a duty on the state, acting as the social collective, to ensure that sufficient jobs are available to make sure everyone who wants work can find it. I don't think that denying the state exists is a valid basis for understanding the complexity of human relations.

This was writen on behalf of Glowing Fish as a nodeshell challenge