Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

A Response to Adam Tooze’s Piece about John Mearsheimer

I ran across this piece by Adam Tooze about John Mearsheimer. Mearsheimer is the University of Chicago professor who gave this controversial talk about Ukraine, which has gone viral:

I was at University of Chicago for my MA in 2014, when John started giving this talk. I took his American Grand Strategy class. I sometimes call him “John” because in his lectures he often refers to himself in the third person by his first name. John describes himself as a “realist par excellence.”

Tooze is an economic historian. Online, he’s become increasingly prominent for his economic analysis. He was a reader at the University of Cambridge while I was doing my PhD there. He’s now at Columbia. I often read his stuff. I like both of these people, and I like both Chicago and Cambridge. I want to talk a little bit about how they relate to each other.

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What’s Really Going on in Ukraine

Most of the people writing about the Ukraine crisis are too busy trying to prove that they are on the right side to give decent analysis of it. They are worried about appearing too friendly to either Russia or the United States, and their career concerns are crippling their ability to say anything useful. Let’s talk about what’s really going on.

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A Covid Christmas Prophecy

A number of people have asked me why I’ve been relatively quiet on the blog lately. There are three key reasons:

  1. My father, Paul Studebaker, died of prostate cancer in August, at the age of 67. The months leading up to his death were very arduous, and it’s taking some time to get wind back in my sails.
  2. I am quietly working on a very big project, and it’s taking a lot of my available energy.
  3. The dominant political issue for much of the past two years has been coronavirus. It is very hard to write anything about coronavirus that has any value, because most people’s positions on coronavirus are irrational.

I want to say a bit more about #3, and then I want to make a prediction.

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The Wrong Kind of Unity

On the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the American media reflected on the war on terror. It was just a month after our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and you might think that the American press would be introspective about its own role in promoting our expensive blunders in the Middle East. But instead, the press expressed nostalgia for the “unity” the country experienced in the years immediately following the attacks.

Post-9/11 “unity” enabled our government to start a series of expensive, destructive wars. More than 200,000 people died in Afghanistan. More than 200,000 people died in Iraq. All told, the war on terror cost $8 trillion and killed an estimated 900,000 people. Both parties were culpable. Democrats voted to authorize these wars, and President Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya cut that country’s per capita GDP in half:

Libya GDP per capita PPP

Unity has value, but this is not the right kind of unity. What is the right kind?

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At Most, Larry Elder is the Next Bruce Rauner

As California Governor Gavin Newsom desperately tries to save himself from being recalled, he’s resorted to the same set of tactics Joe Biden used to silence left-wing dissent in 2020. Californians are now told, over and over, that the leading Republican challenger, Larry Elder, is the next Trump, that he poses some kind of existential threat not just to California but to the whole country. Anyone who votes to recall is helping the authoritarian right. Anyone who runs as a Democrat in the recall election is encouraging more Californians to vote to recall Newsom, and that makes it more likely that a Republican will win. They’re using a “threat inflation” strategy. If Californians believe Larry Elder poses an existential threat to them, they will line up behind Newsom no matter how incompetent he is, no matter how poorly he administers the state. The trouble is, it’s just not true. Larry Elder is not the next Trump. He’s the next Bruce Rauner.

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