An Overview of Positive Economic Rights in American Political Thought
Positive economic rights are entitlements an individual has for the state to provide for their basic needs. Though codified in international law, the existence of such rights remains deeply controversial in the United States. This thesis will explore the concept of positive economic rights throughout American history, beginning in the Colonial Period and ending with the recent revival of positive economic rights discourse since Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. The thesis will explore political literature related to positive rights, state duties to the poor, and positive liberty—a concept frequently invoked by advocates for positive economic rights. Through political literary analysis, I will argue that while the concept of state duties to the poor spans the full duration of American history, the framing of such duties in terms of individual rights is largely a product of the New Deal Era. The thesis will also explore arguments against positive economic rights, which began to intensify during the late 1960s. Though positive economic rights receded to the fringes of American discourse during the Reagan years, support for these rights appears to be making a comeback.