Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: France

Notre Dame is Not a Monument to “Whiteness” or “Western Civilization”

The fire at Notre Dame in Paris might have been an opportunity for us to come together to express our appreciation for history and for the beautiful things that emerge from it. But there are some people who think Notre Dame is about contemporary political debates to do with racism, colonialism, or terrorism. Already I am seeing wokescold anarchists rejoicing in the fire, calling Notre Dame a symbol of “whiteness” or “colonialism”:

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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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Beware Arrogant Candidates Who Can’t Win But Will Split the Vote

As I look at the 2020 Democratic primary field, I’m reminded of the 2017 French presidential election. Do you remember? In the first round, the Left Party’s candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got 19.6% of the vote, failing to secure the 21.3% he needed to beat Marine Le Pen and advance to the second round. Mélenchon just narrowly missed the boat because he didn’t command the whole left block. 6.4% of French voters instead picked the Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon. A further 1.7% of French voters chose the candidates of the Communist Union or New Anticapitalist Party. The left could have commanded as much as 27.7%. It only needed about a fifth of these additional left-leaning voters to slip past Le Pen. But these left wing candidates refused to drop out of the race, and the result was a depressing second round, in which the only alternative to France’s status quo was right nationalism. So when I look at the Democratic Party’s field, I ask myself–who is the Mélenchon, and who are the Hamons?

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Why the French Take to the Streets

One of the things I’ve noticed about the coverage of the Gilets Jaunes or “Yellow Vests” protests in France is this tendency to think of the French taking to the streets as a cultural phenomenon. People in the Anglosphere think the French protest because that’s the way the French are. So whenever there’s a commotion in France of any variety, everyone wants to make all sorts of callbacks to the French Revolution, and invariably the takes on the new protests will resemble the takes on the old protests. You’ll have some people write pieces asking “why can’t we be like the French”, but the undertone will be that the French are the way they are because they’re French, and that while we might wish we could be like the French we never will. I hate cultural explanations, because they’re lazy. State institutions produce different kinds of incentives in different contexts, and these different incentives give rise to different behaviour. We attach that behaviour to peoples, but it is the product of particular institutional configurations. If the French had different institutions, they wouldn’t do what they do.

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