Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Industrial Revolution

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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3 Ways to Think About the American Revolution

This Fourth of July, I noticed that some Americans are taking an interest in challenging the popular narratives surrounding the American Revolution. Over at Jacobin, William Hogeland has a go at the revolution, while Jeff Stein defends it at Vox. I find both views too strong for my taste–as I see it, the revolution has three core faces to it. We tend to only focus on one of these aspects at any given moment, but to truly understand the revolution as a historical event we need all three.

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Mechanics and Statesmen

I have spent a lot of time in academic institutions the last several years. There is a level of insularity to such places, of being in a kind of bubble. Being in places in which most everyone around you shares interests that are similar to your own has a distorting effect on the mind. I often hear students complaining about the limits of conversation outside the hallowed halls, of having to talk small or explain their work to “general readers”. There is a certain level of incredulity to these accounts. We forget the extent to which our specializations are niche when we are surrounded for extended periods by others who share them. We know, on some level, that we are oddballs, that most people do not share our idiosyncrasies and predilections, but we nonetheless often find ourselves projecting our interests onto people who not only do not share them, but find the subjects that amuse us thoroughly boring. There is a group of people out there, a group that comprises most of the human species writ large, that not only does not read this blog or blogs like it, but cannot so much as comprehend what anyone would find interesting or worthwhile about such things. They are the disinterested, the apathetic, the politically indifferent. Confronted by these individuals, we rationalize our eccentricity by disparaging and devaluing them, by implying that it is in some “immoral” not to share the political or philosophical inclination. This piece I dedicate to the indifferent, to those who will never read it, and I write it in their defense.

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Resisting Stagnation and the New Dark Age

There’s a lot of talk lately by Summers, Krugman, and others that we may be in a period of secular stagnation, in which the rate at which the economy grows in the wealthiest countries falls substantially and permanently. Observing this, some are quick to point to demography as the cause. If populations are not growing as swiftly as they once did, it would indeed make sense that growth rates would fall. Under this thinking, slower growth isn’t a problem, because per capita growth is theoretically still strong–the economy is growing slower in aggregate, but it’s growing at the same speed relative to the size of the population. The trouble is that on further investigation, the demographic explanation does not sufficiently account for what’s going on. Not only are growth rates slowing, but per capita growth rates are slowing, and have been slowing for a while, beginning far before the recent economic crisis. This throws Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating returns into doubt, and undermines the central precept underlying our capitalist society–that the labors of this generation today are meant to make the next generation’s lives go better. If stagnation is the way of the future, it’s a much more serious problem than we presently recognize, one that ultimately threatens not merely our dreams of better lives for ourselves, but the very stability of our civilization.

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The Value of Time

From time to time I am asked what I am going to do with my summers. Am I going to get a job? An internship? What productive, respectable use will I make of my time? The answer is no such use at all–I spend my summers enjoying myself. Why? Because time is valuable.

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