Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Labor

How the Left Should Think About Trade

As the Democratic primaries start to heat up, it’s become clear that Bernie Sanders wants to hit Joe Biden hard on trade:

When people take a look at my record versus Vice-President Biden’s record, I helped lead the fight against NAFTA–he voted for NAFTA. I helped lead the fight against permanent normal trade relations with China–he voted for it. I strongly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership–he supported it.

Since 2016, American politics has focused quite heavily on immigration. It’s a much more visible issue than trade. Immigrants and refugees are physical people you can see, or even interview. The border is a place you can go, a wall is a physical thing that either gets built or it doesn’t. Some of us are friends of immigrants, some of us are immigrants, and all of us are descended from immigrants. Trade is different. The effects of trade are hard to see and hard to measure. You can see stuff in your local big box store stamped with “Made in China”, but otherwise trade doesn’t make itself obvious to you unless you’re one of the people who loses a job to outsourcing. So the mainstream press doesn’t write about trade very much, unless it’s implying that President Trump is going to visit unspeakable horrors on us through a trade war with China. Even the left press is typically quiet about it. This is a shame, because trade has much larger impacts on ordinary American workers than immigration does.

You can see the rest of this one over at Current Affairs:

https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/05/how-the-left-should-think-about-trade

Angela Nagle, Hillary Clinton, and the Left’s Border War

In the last week, two prominent voices have called for both the left and the center to triangulate on immigration. First, there was left-wing author Angela Nagle, who argues that the left’s commitment to “open borders” is naive, impractical, and damaging to the material interests of domestic workers. Then, from an entirely different direction, Hillary Clinton urged the leaders of Europe to clamp down on immigration in a bid to preempt the further development of Trumpian far right political parties in Europe. Nagle’s piece has been particularly inflammatory–in calling those who support immigration “useful idiots of big business” from the pages of American Affairs, a right-wing publication, Nagle has insulted a lot of people who thought she was on their side. I have friends on the left who are on different sides of this–what follows is my best effort to adjudicate their dispute.

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The Southernization of the Midwest

Amidst the talk of House and Senate races in the midterms, there are a number of Midwestern states in which there is a significant chance that Democrats will take governorships. In 2008, Barack Obama won Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won only Illinois and Minnesota, and Minnesota was a close call, decided by just a single point. This is the region that has changed the most politically in the last decade. Most of these states have, at some point in the last 10 years, fallen under control of a Republican governor who has attempted to radically reform their labour laws and pension systems in bids to remodel these Midwestern states after the states of the deep south. Their strategy is simple–lower taxes, stifle wage growth, strangle unions, kill regulations, and pirate jobs and investment from the states that fail to do the same. It’s a great Midwestern race to the bottom. But at the midterms on Tuesday, there’s an opportunity to throw some sand in the Republican gears. Here follows the story of each of these states, to inspire you and your friends to do what you can to save each of them from southernization.

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Why Corporate Responsibility is a Myth

People get mad at individual corporations a lot. The other week, a famous shoe company started running ads with a controversial football player in them, and that made some people very happy with the shoe company and other people very angry with it. These people wrote about the shoe company a lot, and by writing about the shoe company they gave it $43 million in free advertising. See, it didn’t matter to the shoe company which stance it took on the controversial football player–by taking any stance, it could induce the media to give it free attention, and that free attention translated into sales for the company. People thought the shoe company was taking a stand because of some kind of commitment to social responsibility–but this is a shoe company which has happily, for years, employed child labourers in sweat shops, stolen their wages, and verbally and physically abused them. But this isn’t because the shoe company is especially immoral–it’s because all companies are subject to a set of structural incentives which, by design, prevent them from taking moral considerations into account independently of their ability to contribute to revenue.

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Comparing Keynesian Neocorporatism and Market Socialism

There is a lot of fuzziness and misunderstanding about what the left is trying to do, economically. A while back, I discussed some of the things which distinguish postwar liberals–who remain committed to reforming capitalism–from democratic socialists, who seek to one day abolish capitalism outright. Today I want to get into a bit more detail and discuss more precisely how these economic models work. The case I want to make to you is that despite what you may hear, the postwar liberals and democratic socialists have more overlap in their proposals than either side realises.

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