Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Recession

How Brazil Got the Worst Austerity Program in the World

Brazil’s new president, Michel Temer, has introduced austerity via constitutional amendment, freezing Brazil’s state spending at 2016 levels for 20 years, allowing it to increase only at the rate of inflation. This is really dumb–if Brazil’s population grows, or Brazil has an economic crisis, or Brazil has to go to war, it will be trapped within 2016 fiscal parameters. So as its population grows, the same level of spending will be divided across ever larger numbers of people, and if Brazil gets into major trouble it will only be able to pay for emergency measures by lashing social spending. To make matters worse, the amendment disallows its own repeal for a 10 year minimum, so there is nothing anyone in Brazil can constitutionally do about this ridiculous rule until 2027. But you know what makes this even more incredible? Temer was never elected president of Brazil in the first place. What follows is the bizarre story of how Brazil’s broken constitution empowered a man committed to an absurd political agenda.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Bernie vs Hillary Matters More Than People Think

Lately the internet has become full of arguments about the merits and demerits of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been discussing and pondering all the various views about this, and I’m increasingly of the opinion that most of the people engaging in this debate don’t really understand what is at stake in the democratic primary. This is in part because many Americans don’t really understand the history of American left wing politics and don’t think about policy issues in a holistic, structural way. So in this post, I want to really dig into what the difference is between Bernie and Hillary and why that difference is extremely important.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why American Families are Worse off Now Than They Were in 1997

When we evaluate whether or not the economy is performing well, we sometimes pay too much attention to GDP. Gross domestic product tells us about the total amount of exchange going on in an economy, but many of those exchanges only serve to enrich those at the top of the economic ladder. To get a better sense of how ordinary people are doing, we need to look at real (inflation-adjusted) median household income. Today I checked in on the American figures, and they are bleak:

The median American family is not only poorer than they were before the 2008 crisis–they’re poorer than they were during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. What on earth is going on?

Read the rest of this entry »

The 3 Ways Governments Raise Money Part I: Taxation

One of the things I’ve noticed lately is that there is a lot of confusion about how governments finance themselves. Many people try to make sense of the state’s finances by extrapolating from their own experiences with household budgets or running businesses. This leads to a lot of misconceptions, the most prominent of which is the idea that whenever governments borrow money, they must be acting irresponsibly. So I’m embarking on a 3-part series that I hope will clear things up for some people.

Read the rest of this entry »

Candidate Evaluations: Rand Paul

One of the big problems in our election coverage is the tendency for journalists to focus on descriptive questions (who will be president?) rather than normative ones (who should be president?). This is understandable, given journalism’s focus on objectivity, but the result is that we often spend much more time talking about whether a candidate is electable than we do about whether or not the candidate would actually do a good job. Voters need to know which candidates support policies that will help them and those they care about–they don’t need to know which candidates pundits think are likely to prevail. So my response is to continue my Candidate Evaluations series, which considers a candidate’s background, policy history, and explicit statements to determine whether or not the candidate would actually be any good at being president. Previously, I did Ted Cruz. Today, I tackle Rand Paul, who declared his intent to run earlier this week.

Read the rest of this entry »