Benjamin Studebaker

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

Which 2020 Democrat is the Most Experienced?

Tonight I found myself looking over and old post–“Who is the Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Ever?“, from September 2016. It was shortly before the presidential election, and Americans were arguing about whether Hillary Clinton was the “most qualified” candidate in history, in the sense of “most experienced”. To answer that question, I devised a formula I thought was cute. So tonight I’ll score the 2020 Democratic nominees.

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How and Why Slavery Got Abolished

One of the things I find odd about the American discourse about slavery is how rarely Americans think about slavery as an institution which existed outside America. Not only did slavery exist in the ancient world in a pre-racialised way–in which many slaves were white, and many masters were people of colour–but it also existed in many other places during the period in which it existed in America. In many of these places, slavery was abolished not by violence but by ordinary politics. Yet this is rarely acknowledged or discussed, and it is increasingly common for Americans to frame our history largely in terms of the slavery question. We don’t often ask why slavery was more contentious in the United States than in other places. That’s what I want to think about with you today.

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Have the UBI People Turned to the Dark Side?

Yesterday, I wrote a post highlighting the regressive effects of Andrew Yang’s UBI proposal, especially its impact on our poorest and most vulnerable. Yang promises to pay for his UBI (of just $1,000 per month–far lower than the living wage) with a combination of spending cuts and a regressive VAT, or national sales tax. Yang writes openly of fooling poor people into exchanging lucrative benefits with spending-restrictions for smaller lump sums:

Andrew proposes funding UBI by consolidating some welfare programs and implementing a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of 10%. Current welfare and social program beneficiaries would be given a choice between their current benefits or $1,000 cash unconditionally – most would prefer cash with no restriction.

The post has been picked up by parts of the basic income community and has been circulated in Yang subreddits. But to my horror, many people in these circles seem to be untroubled by these features. This leaves me deeply concerned about whether rank and file Yang supporters care about poor people on any level.

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Andrew Yang’s Basic Income is Stealth Welfare Reform

When I first heard Andrew Yang was running on a UBI platform, I thought he was running to popularise universal basic income as a policy option for the future. It has become increasingly clear, however, that Yang thinks he is a real presidential candidate and that his UBI is for now, not later. The thing is, UBI is traditionally marketed as a post-work policy. The point of UBI has always been to give every citizen a large enough basic income to give them a real choice about whether or not they take a job. This levels the playing field between employers and employees, forcing employers to offer people more substantial inducements to get them to work. But it’s increasingly clear that this is not what his UBI is for. Its purpose is more sinister–it is a vehicle for legitimating benefits cuts for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.

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Why Political Disagreement is so Hard to Settle

Last week, I went to one of the debates at the Cambridge Union about whether or not Britain ought to have a second referendum on Brexit. It struck me that the way this argument works is very misleading. The two sides pretend to be arguing about whether it would be democratic to have another referendum, and frame their arguments around procedural fairness and democratic legitimacy. But that isn’t really what the argument is about. There’s a much deeper disagreement, about whether Brexit is an acceptable outcome in the first place–if it’s the kind of result which, by its very nature, invalidates the process which led up to it.

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