Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Capitalism

The Church Left is Proving My Point

A couple days ago, I wrote a piece about the tendency for left wing organizations to behave like church communities rather than strategic political organizations. I told a story about an upcoming election at the East Bay DSA branch in California, criticising one of slates for taking unstrategic positions and using church tactics–shunning, shaming, perhaps expulsion–to target those who publicly do not embrace their platform in every detail. Anxious to prove everything I said correct, this slate and its supporters have immediately begun coming after me in precisely the ways I anticipated. They have begun personally targeting me, attempting to depict me as some kind of heretic or sinner. If I am not a true lefty (a heretic) or if I am someone who sometimes takes wrong positions or says wrong things (a sinner) then I am bad and should be shunned, shamed, and drive out of left-wing discourse.  The trouble is, I’m a lone wolf on the internet. I don’t tend to join organizations–my influence, such as it is, has always come from the ability of my writing and arguments to draw attention and support. I don’t rely emotionally or psychologically on the acceptance and approval of a church community which they can turn against me. This limits their leverage over my behavior. Churches can try to shun and shame the people who don’t go to church, but it doesn’t work so well.

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Universal Basic Income Isn’t About Now–It’s About Later

In reading the recent piece by Daniel Zamora at Jacobin and some of the reactions to it, I’ve been struck by how limited the conversation about universal basic income (UBI) is. For the uninitiated, UBI is fairly straightforward–instead of having social programs like welfare or food stamps which people qualify for on the the grounds that they fall below some income threshold, UBI gives everyone a set minimum income. UBI has fans and detractors across the political spectrum because depending on how it’s constructed it could be made to do very different things. Some on the right want to use it to reform welfare and some of the left want to use it to make work optional. Some in both camps want to use it to help workers displaced by automation or outsourcing. The key problem with the conversation is that it tends to be based around whether we could or should implement UBI now, or very soon. This misunderstands what makes UBI interesting. Properly understood, UBI is not about today. It’s about capitalism’s endgame–what the world looks like when capitalism truly exhausts itself.

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What’s Really Going on In Venezuela

Many in the western press are oversimplifying the story about Venezuela, blaming its economic crisis more or less exclusively on the socialist policies of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Government policy has contributed to the shape the crisis has taken, but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. I want to try to tell a fuller story.

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The Left: Should We Be More Concerned with Distributive Inequality or Status Inequality?

Last week, Professor Jonathan Wolff gave an interesting presentation at Cambridge concerning the difference between two kinds of equality–distributive and status. Distributive equality focuses on discrete goods or benefits and how they are distributed among people. These benefits can take many forms (e.g. resources, opportunities, welfare, etc.). Status equality focuses instead on asymmetric relationships and cases in which groups of people are socially excluded or alienated. Wolff argues that we ought to pay more attention to status inequalities and less attention to distributive inequalities. Over the last few days, I’ve been pondering Wolff’s case and its connection with a broader conflict between two different forms of leftism. One is an older left wing tradition that views the economic system as the fundamental source of most forms of inequality, and the other is focused more on identity politics and pays less attention to class issues. In recent years, these two parts of leftism have found themselves more and more at odds with one another. This is dangerous–infighting within the left diminishes its ability to build broad solidaristic coalitions, making it weaker and less politically influential. So how can these two sides be appropriately reconciled, and if they cannot be reconciled, which side should we choose?

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The Democratic Party Debate: 5 Reasons Why Sanders Won and Clinton Lost

I watched the first Democratic Party debate, hosted by CNN. CNN also hosted the second Republican Party debate, and in both debates it tried to get the candidates to fight each other on camera for the entertainment of the viewing public, repeatedly asking questions designed to get candidates to criticize or attack one another. In the republican debate, this tactic worked perhaps too well–the debate deteriorated into a series of personal attacks, with little relevant policy content. For that reason, I didn’t bother to write up an analysis of the second republican debate–there was little of substance to analyze. The democratic candidates did a better job of resisting their baser instincts, and we did manage to get some interesting exchanges on serious policy issues, particularly between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In these exchanges, it was quite clear that Sanders was the winner–his arguments were significantly stronger and more convincing than Clinton’s.

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