Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Libertarianism

Liberal Hypocrisies and the Alternatives to Them

All social orders are supported by “legitimation stories”. These are the reasons orders give us to support them, or at least to stay out of their way. Legitimation stories don’t have to be true, but they have to be persuasive. The social order has to create a set of conditions that are similar enough to the stories that we mistake what we have for what we were promised. Legitimation stories are chiefly about “good order”. Order is straightforward–social orders promise to protect us from violence, starvation, instability, and precarity. They promise to make us feel secure. “Good” is less obvious, because “good” tends to mean different things to different people in different contexts. Liberal legitimation stories understand “good” in three senses:

  1. A good order is one in which the subjects of the order are “free” or have “liberty” in some relevant sense.
  2. A good order is one in which the subjects of the order are treated as “equal” to one another in some relevant sense.
  3. A good order is one in which the order “represents” the subjects in some relevant way.
  4. A good order is “dynamic”, it is capable of delivering real change.

The trouble is that terms like “free”, “equal”, and “representative” don’t have stable social meanings. Our understandings of these terms can easily slide out of alignment with the understandings we need to have for legitimation stories to work. If we understand “equality” to mean “a fair distribution of resources” but the liberal order wants us to understand “equality” as “everyone gets to have their say”, the order has to convince us that we’ve misunderstood the meaning of equality. It has to get us to think about it in a whole different way. When gaps open up between the conditions the order produces and our expectations, it is often because the order has lost control over how we understand the words it uses to tell its stories. When this happens, the order appears “hypocritical”–it appears to say one thing and do another, to tell stories it has no intention of realising. That’s what today’s post is about–the liberal order’s hypocrisies.

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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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The Left-Wing Case Against Catalan Independence

Catalonia is holding an independence referendum on October 1st. The referendum is not sanctioned by the Spanish government. Many are inclined to support the Catalan cause, particularly on the left. After all, the left tends to sympathize with minority and regional groups that seem culturally marginalized, and the Spanish government–led by the austerity-promoting Mariano Rajoy–feels icky. When Catalans portray themselves as plucky upstarts taking on a corrupt and indifferent Madrid bureaucracy, it’s easy to see the appeal. But this isn’t really about Catalonia versus Madrid–it’s about Catalonia versus Andalusia.

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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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Cruz vs Rubio: The Unfinished Business from the Republican Primary

After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, the Republican Party establishment decided it needed to expand its base and wrote a report to this effect. The plan was for the party to triangulate to some degree on immigration and social issues to win more votes from Hispanics and women, moderating its positions and principles to make itself more attractive to these demographic groups. As Jeb Bush flamed out, Marco Rubio became the poster boy of this new style of conservative politics. But the Republican anti-establishment never bought into this strategy. Led by Ted Cruz, they firmly believed that Romney lost because he failed to excite the Republican base and that the answer was for the party to nominate a “true conservative”. The 2016 Republican primary was all set to be a showdown between “reform conservatism” and the Cruz counterrevolution, but then Donald Trump showed up and made the whole thing about him and about the public’s growing economic frustration. It now looks increasingly likely (but far from certain) that Trump will lose by a significant margin. What effect will that have on this debate and the party’s prospects in 2020?

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