Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Communism

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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The Left Cannot Defeat the Right Through Violence and Suppression

In radical left wing circles, there’s this notion going around that the right can be intimidated into going away, through no-platforming and physical violence. “Bash the fash,” they say. “Make racists afraid again.” “Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face.” In the past I’ve argued that this kind of censorship turns right nationalists into martyrs and generates public sympathy for them. But today I want to make another, related point–the left is structurally physically weaker than the right and cannot prevail by force.

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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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Yes, there is a Difference Between a Democrat and a Socialist

In right-wing circles, this interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been doing the rounds:

Interviewer Chris Matthews asks Schultz to explain the difference between a democrat and a socialist and Schultz fires blanks. This has many on the right crowing that there really is no difference, that Barack Obama was the socialist they thought he was all along. This isn’t true–most democrats are not socialists, and there are clear distinctions that political scientists routinely draw among these groups. Unfortunately, these distinctions are not widely understood by the general public because they are often complex and nuanced. So I’ve come up with a way to explain the differences that I hope will be helpful to both those on the left and those on the right.

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Cuba: Why Obama Made the Right Call

US President Barack Obama has decided to normalize relations with Cuba. Since 1960, the United States has attempted to isolate, weaken, and ultimately destroy the Castro regime by cutting off diplomatic ties, imposing a trade embargo, and preventing American tourists from visiting Cuba. Given that the US has been following this strategy for 54 years but the Castros remain in power, it’s reasonable to question the efficacy of that policy. So let’s look into it.

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