Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Liberty

The Case for Combining Tuition-Free College with Debt Relief

This week, Bernie Sanders launched his campaign to annihilate all $1.6 trillion in student debt. This far exceeds the amount Elizabeth Warren promises to alleviate ($640 billion). Warren pledges to eliminate up to $50,000 in debts for those making less than $100,000 per year. Those who owe more than $50,000 would still have to pay the remaining balance, and those earning more than $100,000 would receive smaller reductions. By contrast, Sanders vows to eliminate all outstanding debt. Sanders also promises to use federal money to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Warren’s policy on tuition relies on state governments to provide a large percentage of the funding, and that means that Republican governors and state legislators would be able to refuse to participate, in much the same way that they refused to participate in Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion. This would create a two-tier system, in which Americans living in blue states would enjoy educational rights denied to Americans living in red states. The Sanders plan is the only plan predicated on the principle that further education ought to be a universal right of all Americans, regardless of where they live or how much money they earn.

But there are those who resist the Sanders plan, arguing that cancelling student debt and providing tuition-free college subsidises economically inefficient behaviour and rewards people who made mistakes. Others argue that debt relief is regressive, because college-educated Americans tend to be higher income than those who did not go to college. I think both of these arguments are wrong. Here’s why.

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The Left Can’t Even Agree on What Politics Is

In helping my undergrads prepare for their exams the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something–one of the major obstacles to successful left-wing organising is the left’s inability to agree on what politics itself is. Different political theorists understand “politics” differently. You can broadly divide conceptions of the political into two realms. Some people think politics is about pursuing the truth and the good, and other people think that politics is about managing disagreement about the truth and the good. Then within those camps you can make further divisions on the basis of what strategy people prefer to use to pursue the good or manage disagreement. Here, let me chart this out for you:

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Are We Trying to Make Everyone an Aristocrat or a Peasant?

On the left, we care a lot about equality. But we really, really don’t agree on what that means. Some of us want everyone to be an aristocrat. Some of us want everyone to be a peasant. Some of us want everyone to be a worker. Some of us want everyone to be middle class. Some of us want everyone to spend some time doing all of these things. We don’t talk about this difference very much, but it seems kind of important, because these proposals are not at all the same thing.

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The Slow Corruption of Public Discourse Since Watergate

In the 44 years since Richard Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States, political discourse has deteriorated. There are many reasons for the decline in the discourse, but today I want to focus on two forces which have come together in America–one sociological, the other technological–to impose a spontaneous order which greatly reduces the scope for authentic expression, both in public and in private. This new social order is not planned by anyone–it has no author, it requires no institutionalised hard coercion. It arises spontaneously from the interaction of the two forces.

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The Supreme Court is Gripped by an Unsustainable Conception of Individual Freedom

Today the Supreme Court voted, 5-4, to enable public sector workers to unilaterally withhold contributions from their unions. Justices Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kennedy were in the majority, with Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Breyer in dissent. The principle guiding the majority’s decision is simple and intuitively appealing. When workers pay unions dues, those unions use that money to fund political speech. Individual workers may not agree with the union’s speech acts, and therefore compelling them to pay dues ties their employment to their willingness to espouse a particular kind of political speech with their wallets. The court argues that requiring workers to make certain kinds of political speech acts with their wallets to retain employment violates their free speech rights. The argument is internally valid–it makes sense, given a particular conception of individual freedom. The trouble is that this conception of individual freedom is destabilising the labour market in a politically dangerous way, and in consistently choosing to interpret this principle in this way the court is threatening the legitimacy of the state.

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