Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Distributive Justice

Even Top Liberal Pundits Still Don’t Understand the Division in the Democratic Party

Today a friend of mine sent me a piece by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic. In the piece Foer gives some thought to what ails the Democratic Party, and he comes to a constructive conclusion–the party needs to reach out to the white working class. But the way Foer gets there troubles me. Too many liberal commentators don’t quite understand the division within the Democratic Party, even the ones who are actively trying to understand that division. Let me show you what I mean.

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Does Colin Kaepernick Have a Case?

San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick has drawn controversy for his decision to sit during the singing of the American national anthem. He said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

The protest undoubtedly puts the 49ers in a difficult situation–if they stand by their quarterback, they risk offending conservative supporters and if they repudiate him they risk offending supporters of Black Lives Matter. If they try to thread the needle, they risk upsetting all sides. From a football standpoint, protests like this are bad business. This is why Kaepernick makes no attempt to justify the protest from a football standpoint–for him, the issue is bigger than football. It takes a strong commitment for an athlete to do something like this. In 1996, the Denver Nuggets’ star point guard, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, also chose to sit during the anthem. He was fined $30,000 and traded to the Sacramento Kings at the end of the season, even though he had just had a career year averaging almost 20 points per game shooting almost 40% from three point range and 93% from the free throw line. All the Nuggets got in return was Sarunas Marciulionis, an ageing shooting guard who had been slowed by a crippling leg injury and averaged just 10 points per game for the Kings that year. Abdul-Rauf’s new team stuck him on the bench behind mediocre journeyman Anthony Johnson, and Abdul-Rauf was out of the league two years later. He was only 28. Three years later he attempted a brief comeback for the Vancouver Grizzlies–a Canadian franchise at that time–but it quickly fizzled. Abdul-Rauf was one of the greatest off the dribble shooters of his generation. Phil Jackson compared him to this year’s MVP, Steph Curry:

He infamously dropped 51 points on the Utah Jazz’s hall of fame point guard John Stockton, an elite defender with multiple all-NBA defensive team awards who holds the all-time career steals record (and it’s not close):

But in the middle of his prime he was cast aside for pennies on the dollar because the Nuggets did not want their brand associated with his politics. Abdul-Rauf received death threats for years, and in 2001 his home was burned to the ground–Abdul-Rauf suspects it was arson by the klan. That’s the risk Kaepernick is taking for his beliefs. He and his family may lose a lot of money and the safety of their property and persons may even be called into question. So I want to take what he’s saying seriously and consider its substance.

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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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3 More Ways Inequality Poisons Societies

Before I started writing this blog, I read an interesting book called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. It occurred to me the other day, when I found myself making use of some of the book’s statistics in an argument, that I have not yet shared its findings with blog readers. This struck me as something of a massive oversight–the book establishes statistical relationships linking numerous social pathologies to income inequality, and it even shows that inequality has a much stronger influence on these pathologies than raw wealth in absolute terms.

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Hate the Rioting, but Love the Rioters

Riots have erupted in Baltimore, Maryland after Freddie Gray, a 25-year old arrested for possession of a switchblade, died in custody after his neck was nearly severed. According to Baltimore’s deputy police commissioner, Jerry Rodriguez, when Gray was arrested and placed in the police van, he could talk, but when he emerged from the van, he could not breathe. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake concedes that “it’s clear what happened inside the van”. So let’s talk about this.

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