Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Technocracy

The Wrong Kind of Unity

On the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the American media reflected on the war on terror. It was just a month after our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and you might think that the American press would be introspective about its own role in promoting our expensive blunders in the Middle East. But instead, the press expressed nostalgia for the “unity” the country experienced in the years immediately following the attacks.

Post-9/11 “unity” enabled our government to start a series of expensive, destructive wars. More than 200,000 people died in Afghanistan. More than 200,000 people died in Iraq. All told, the war on terror cost $8 trillion and killed an estimated 900,000 people. Both parties were culpable. Democrats voted to authorize these wars, and President Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya cut that country’s per capita GDP in half:

Libya GDP per capita PPP

Unity has value, but this is not the right kind of unity. What is the right kind?

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The Four Centrisms

Back in 2016, I argued that the centrist consensus of the 90s was breaking down, and that instead there was a wider menu, with three meaningfully distinct choices:

  • Left Egalitarianism, which critiqued the consensus on the grounds that it enabled capitalists to exploit workers
  • Neoliberalism, which defended the consensus through the traditional center-right and center-left parties
  • Right Nationalism, which critiqued the consensus on the grounds that it enabled foreigners to exploit citizens

I no longer believe that this menu exists, and it may never have existed. Instead, I think there are four different types of centrist position. These types of centrism are aesthetically different but substantively nearly identical. By differentiating aesthetically, the 90s consensus is able to accommodate a higher level of cultural polarisation while protecting the core commitments of the 90s consensus.

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The Quarantine is Failing because Our Institutions Weren’t Built For It

All around us, the quarantine is beginning to die. In the United States, the Southern states are slowly abandoning it and many Midwestern states are planning to follow. But it’s not just Republicans. The European states are bailing too. If you ask Democrats why states are beginning to defect, they will tell you it comes down to greed and stupidity. They’ll tell you the rich Republicans are greedy and the poor Republicans are stupid. But this policy was never a good fit for either the American or European political systems. To work, it needed a lot of economic support from regional authorities, and it never got that support.

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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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Three Failing Movements and the One that Can Succeed

One of the key things I always like to remember about politics is that there are no political systems or political organizations which are wholly elitist or wholly populist. All regimes and all organizations are mixed. Autocracies and aristocracies still need their peoples to recognise them as legitimate and cooperate with their decisions. If they ignore legitimacy, their peoples will destroy them. Democracies still rely on elite professional civil servants, politicians, lawyers, and economists to design and implement policies that address the interests of the people and the subgroups which comprise it. If they ignore those elites, they won’t be able to govern effectively and they’ll disappoint the people they set out to help.  It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, despite this, there are always political movements which operate dogmatically from an elitist or populist standpoint, ignoring the need to find the right mix of both. I want to describe three such movements, and the alternative path we can take to avoid their mistakes.

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