Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Socialism

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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The Democratic Party Debate: 5 Reasons Why Sanders Won and Clinton Lost

I watched the first Democratic Party debate, hosted by CNN. CNN also hosted the second Republican Party debate, and in both debates it tried to get the candidates to fight each other on camera for the entertainment of the viewing public, repeatedly asking questions designed to get candidates to criticize or attack one another. In the republican debate, this tactic worked perhaps too well–the debate deteriorated into a series of personal attacks, with little relevant policy content. For that reason, I didn’t bother to write up an analysis of the second republican debate–there was little of substance to analyze. The democratic candidates did a better job of resisting their baser instincts, and we did manage to get some interesting exchanges on serious policy issues, particularly between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In these exchanges, it was quite clear that Sanders was the winner–his arguments were significantly stronger and more convincing than Clinton’s.

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Yes, there is a Difference Between a Democrat and a Socialist

In right-wing circles, this interview with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been doing the rounds:

Interviewer Chris Matthews asks Schultz to explain the difference between a democrat and a socialist and Schultz fires blanks. This has many on the right crowing that there really is no difference, that Barack Obama was the socialist they thought he was all along. This isn’t true–most democrats are not socialists, and there are clear distinctions that political scientists routinely draw among these groups. Unfortunately, these distinctions are not widely understood by the general public because they are often complex and nuanced. So I’ve come up with a way to explain the differences that I hope will be helpful to both those on the left and those on the right.

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Rise of the Machines: The Robot Economy of the Future

My attention has been drawn to a rather interesting phenomenon by Paul Krugman–that of a gradual shift in the distribution of wealth from labour to capital. As a percentage of the economic total, workers are earning less and less over time, and more and more of our output is landing in the hands of people who own capital–the land, the buildings, the tools, the machines that make things tick. This has interesting implications, and, if I might be permitted to speculate today, those implications may demand changes in how we view what we produce.

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