Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Roman Empire

Cuba Under Fidel Castro

When an important leader dies or leaves office, I sometimes like to write retrospective posts on their performance. There are any number of places where you can get a Fidel Castro obituary–what I’m offering is a hard look at the consequences Castro’s policies had for the Cuban people. My intent is neither to polish nor tarnish Castro’s image, but to present his government’s policies and institutions as they were.

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Barack Obama’s Role in Giving Us the Trump Presidency

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is remembered as a great philosopher and successful military commander, but he is also remembered for picking his feckless son Commodus as his successor, an emperor who infamously cared more about making showy performances as a gladiator than he did governing the empire. Barack Obama is still a popular president–his favorability rating is +10 and his job approval rating is +8. In recent months many pieces have been written lamenting his imminent departure, and many more will likely be written before January. But no matter how likeable Obama is or how well Obama governed while in office, the fact that he could not ensure the election of a competent successor counts against his legacy. How did Barack Obama end up giving us a Commodus? What, if anything, could Obama have done to avoid this?

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Inequality: Better to be Greek or Roman?

Oftentimes when we discuss whether or not economic inequality is justifiable, we have the tendency to consider only the most extreme form of the left wing position. The right often defends its model of the  market economy by comparing it to the old communist states, to the Soviet Union–countries in which everyone, at least in theory, had the same income. In places like the Soviet Union, incentives fell apart. If you will be paid the same amount no matter how much work you do, there is little reason to do additional work. The trouble is that this argument straw mans all left wing positions as strictly egalitarian. The left wing position need not be that societies should be perfectly economically equal, it need merely be that much of the economic inequality we see is superfluous and unnecessary. That is the argument I intend to make today.

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Niall Ferguson is Wrong about World War I

I ran across a piece in The Guardian in which Niall Ferguson, a British historian, made the increasingly popular argument that it was in the British national interest to avoid participating in World War I, that the decision to do so was a mistake. This argument, which I am seeing made all over the place in the popular press (as 2014 is the 100-year anniversary of the 1914 start of the war), is deeply misguided. I contend that it was an absolute strategic necessity that Britain enter the war to prevent Germany from defeating France. Here’s why.

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Resisting Stagnation and the New Dark Age

There’s a lot of talk lately by Summers, Krugman, and others that we may be in a period of secular stagnation, in which the rate at which the economy grows in the wealthiest countries falls substantially and permanently. Observing this, some are quick to point to demography as the cause. If populations are not growing as swiftly as they once did, it would indeed make sense that growth rates would fall. Under this thinking, slower growth isn’t a problem, because per capita growth is theoretically still strong–the economy is growing slower in aggregate, but it’s growing at the same speed relative to the size of the population. The trouble is that on further investigation, the demographic explanation does not sufficiently account for what’s going on. Not only are growth rates slowing, but per capita growth rates are slowing, and have been slowing for a while, beginning far before the recent economic crisis. This throws Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating returns into doubt, and undermines the central precept underlying our capitalist society–that the labors of this generation today are meant to make the next generation’s lives go better. If stagnation is the way of the future, it’s a much more serious problem than we presently recognize, one that ultimately threatens not merely our dreams of better lives for ourselves, but the very stability of our civilization.

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