Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: France

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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A Critique of Sam Harris

Over at Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson and Eli Massey have written the critique of Sam Harris. Robinson offers a magisterial, detailed overview of the rhetorical sleights of hand Harris uses to give relatively weak, unoriginal positions the imprimatur of “science” and “reason”. I want to add something to this discussion–something Robinson touches on but which I want to stay with for a minute. There is a core problem with the way Harris thinks which necessarily generates bad takes on Islam and the Muslim world.

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Why Italy is in Trouble

Italy finally has a coalition government–consisting largely of Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement, two Euroskeptic populist parties. The new coalition was elected to take Italy in a new direction, but this will prove difficult to do. Italy is a great example of what’s gone wrong in Europe. Let me tell you its story…

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