Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Inequality

How to Read That Productivity/Wage Gap Chart We’re Always Seeing

You’ve probably seen this chart before. It’s everywhere now. I’ve used it more than a few times over the years. It’s the chart from the Economic Policy Institute that shows that while US productivity has continued to increased over the last few decades, real inflation-adjusted wages haven’t kept pace:

I’ve seen two bad misreadings of this chart lately, and I want to clear them up.

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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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How the Democratic Party Can Win the South

Since Donald Trump’s election I have increasingly become interested in how the left engages with white America. The left isn’t getting enough white support. Even with over 90% of the African-American vote, alleged pedophile Roy Moore came absurdly close to winning in Alabama. This can’t just be because white Americans are racist, stupid, or evil. There has to be more to it. In the past I’ve identified many things wrong with our approach–we’re too condescending and patronising toward white voters, and too quick to blame and shame them. We don’t spend enough time talking about and emphasizing programs and policies that help all marginalized people, including poor, working, and middle class whites. But today I want to go further and discuss in detail a new way of looking at the South and at middle America more broadly–one that takes these people and their concerns seriously. If we’re willing to tell a different story about the South, or at least acknowledge a different story, and build that acknowledgement into our policy and rhetoric, I think we can make some gains.

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The Doug Jones Victory Belongs to the People of Alabama, Not Just African-Americans

In the past week there’s been a weird narrative in the media about the Alabama Senate race between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican (and alleged serial mall predator) Roy Moore. The story goes something like this: the bad white southerners were willing to vote for the scummy pedophile theocrat, but then black people showed up and saved America from Roy Moore. It’s built on two key facts–most white Alabamans voted for Moore and the overwhelming majority of black Alabamans voted for Jones:

But this seems like a bizarre and misleading way to interpret the result of this election. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »

The Right Doesn’t Know What the Word “Bourgeois” Means

A friend of mine sent me a link to a bizarre opinion piece by Robert Woodson published in The Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Woodson claims that “black Americans need bourgeois norms”. He echoes and cites an earlier piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Amy Wax and Larry Alexander, which argues:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

This argument is instructively bad for many reasons. (Are bourgeois values even something we want?) But today I want to focus on the fact that the right seems to have forgotten what the word “bourgeois” means and where “bourgeois values” come from.

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