Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Marxism

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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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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Corbyn, Stein, and the Left’s Anti-Imperialism Problem

If you ask the British people what they think about Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, it’s clear that any skepticism they may have about his economic agenda is far surpassed by misgivings about his foreign policy:

Since becoming Labour leader, Corbyn and his supporters have been accused of being “terrorist sympathizers” and anti-Semitic. This perception is tied to a suite of policy positions and attitudes which are best described as “anti-imperialist”. Left wing politicians and movements which embrace anti-imperialism face a set of political obstacles that they avoid if they jettison it. Today I’d like to think a little bit about how anti-imperialism works, both as a theory of international politics and in terms of its influence on the success and failure of the left in domestic politics.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates Doesn’t Understand Racism

Ta-Nehisi Coates recently attacked Bernie Sanders for refusing to support reparations for black Americans. Coates has been trying to put race reparations on the American political agenda for a while. Coates knows a great deal about the many horrible, immoral ways that the United States government has exploited and expropriated its black population throughout its history. But Coates is a journalist, not a political theorist, and over the last few days I’ve identified some elementary problems in the way he conceptualizes racism as a political force that indicate that there is a lot of political theory he just has not read.

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The Left: Should We Be More Concerned with Distributive Inequality or Status Inequality?

Last week, Professor Jonathan Wolff gave an interesting presentation at Cambridge concerning the difference between two kinds of equality–distributive and status. Distributive equality focuses on discrete goods or benefits and how they are distributed among people. These benefits can take many forms (e.g. resources, opportunities, welfare, etc.). Status equality focuses instead on asymmetric relationships and cases in which groups of people are socially excluded or alienated. Wolff argues that we ought to pay more attention to status inequalities and less attention to distributive inequalities. Over the last few days, I’ve been pondering Wolff’s case and its connection with a broader conflict between two different forms of leftism. One is an older left wing tradition that views the economic system as the fundamental source of most forms of inequality, and the other is focused more on identity politics and pays less attention to class issues. In recent years, these two parts of leftism have found themselves more and more at odds with one another. This is dangerous–infighting within the left diminishes its ability to build broad solidaristic coalitions, making it weaker and less politically influential. So how can these two sides be appropriately reconciled, and if they cannot be reconciled, which side should we choose?

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