How to Build a Distributist Economy

Richard Aleman talks about his remarkable experiences at an Occupy Wall Street gathering that was ripe for the Chestertonian common sense of distributism.

Particularly fascinating was the rabbi who urged Aleman, “What you are doing is important. This is what we need. Keep doing what you are doing and continue to preach the Beatitudes of Jesus!”

Also interesting was Aleman’s description of a crowd that was very far from the trendy nutbars who tend to dominate media coverage. Hey! Why not? Do the prolifers you know look like the idiots the media so carefully and selectively portrays?

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  • Sherry

    Mark, I’m trying really hard to have an open mind about this Occupy Wall Street, but hearing and seeing the media coverage, even listening to NPR, reading multiple accounts, does show 1) a lot of waste (trash, time, energy and treasure) 2) a lot of loons and behavior that seems desirous of being a reality television show and 3) a lot of advocacy for marching on people’s homes and implied violence; putting out maps of where the millionares live, signs that say “Instead of killing yourselves, kill your parents.” Presuming these are outliers and that we should throw out the standard deviations on both sides, it still seems largely incoherrent, like a group of college students sitting around imagining the utopia that would be if only they were in charge. There may be social justice desires, but they are layered below a large frosting of radicalism that spans the entire bell curve of causes. Not that the status quo is great because it isn’t, a distributist economy isn’t always viable if there aren’t the local places and products you need. The drumming for a more socialist economy seems to conveniently forget that a lot of the communist/socialist governments (and subsequently economies) are not successful or good regimes. The poor there, want to come even if it is to be poor here, because poor here is better, and poor here can become something other than poor. Having family that lost everything when utopians took over in other countries, count me as skeptic when people start shouting about eating the rich; as though one injustice justifies another.

    It is folly to presume that just because different people are in charge, somehow, we still won’t wind up with something either as close to virtuous or close to vice as its creators and participants. We cannot create utopia here, we can only work towards the Kingdom of God by living as though we were citizens there, here.

    Occupy Wallstreet as a movement feels a lot like the Obama 2008 Campaign, where it is a void into which people project and pour their wishlist of both ills that shall be righted and desires that shall be granted with the presumption being, if you oppose it, you oppose all good that might come and hope no one gets any good, and if you support it, that you support all the lunacy that has been presented as demands.

  • Confederate Papist

    The more I read about Distributism, the more I like. I wonder what Richard would think about business (not large corporate) sponsored schools as an alternate to government schools? Businesses, local or regional, sponsor and subsidise these schools so that students, in addition to learning the three R’s also learn a trade or get prepped for collegiate level education. Vouchers and/or scholarships can be offered to those in the lower income areas as incentives to get them out of poverty-stricken areas, and upon completion are ready to work in the Distributist system. Just an idea I’ve had for a long time kindling in the back of my mind.

    • I’m not sure “business” – in the sense of commercial enterprise – has any business – in the sense of real concern or responsibility – running schools.

      A school is not a market, and is not a place for production or trade. It is a place for formation of young people into adult people.

      Now, that said, I would guess that many distributists would be full-on in favor of private schooling and home schooling. Moreover, I would wager that some form of apprenticing or mentoring program, in collaboration with businesses, would find support among distributists.

      But I would just as much guess that most distributists would oppose commercially-run school systems – largely for the reason that there is so much more to a person than mere commerce.

      Instead, the family should be the first and final authority in a child’s education.

      • Confederate Papist

        “Instead, the family should be the first and final authority in a child’s education.”

        No argument there. My thinking was long the lines of the trade guilds of old. Elementary education would be 3 R’s up to grade 8, then from grades 9~12 it would be 3 R’s plus business/technical/career-related courses. It may be a bad idea….I’m just floating it out there…

        • Trade guilds are very popular with distributists. I certainly see the appeal myself.

          All the same, I wouldn’t put a trade guild in charge of the whole formation of a child; just of their “professional” education.

          Rather, I’d love to see guilds and/or businesses partnering with schools or parents to bring up interested youths into experience.

          One problem, of course, is that a large part of our culture and economy is based on the mobility of the labor force; for example, I was told repeatedly that I would have seven distinct careers over the course of my working life. A guild or a partnership program assumes a great deal more stability than our current situation does.

  • James

    Distributsim: the new “ism.”

    • Mark Shea

      I thought it was the new sim.

      • James

        Good point.

        Let me restate: Distributism: the new “ism.”

        Another ideology. That’s the take home message.

      • lnxCthlc

        Ha Ha. I guess if you’re going to dissent, you gots to spell correctly. Good one.

        • James

          If it were a joke. Its just that for many distributism has become an ideology.

          • Mark Shea

            As far as I can tell, there aren’t a “many” for distributism to be an ideology for. Also, although I suppose some folk can believe that Distributism is an all explaining theory of everything, I haven’t met any such folk. The ones I know simply seem to regard it as a better and more common sense idea than our current regime. Prima facie evidence suggests they may have a point. For myself, I don’t believe in all explaining theories of everything and can happily point out what I think some of the problems with distributism are. But I still think its advocates are making some sense.

            • James

              Though I suspect “How to Build a Distributist Society” as a headline might lead some to think that one believes it is the solution to current problems. Especially if it represents the “Beatitudes of Jesus!”

              That is a line I’m not sure even the Acton Institute would use.

  • James
    • Mark Shea

      Yep. A lot of these people are ninnies.

  • James
    • Mark Shea

      And more ninnies. No argument from me.

      • James

        “Do the prolifers you know look like the idiots the media so carefully and selectively portrays?”

        I don’t know of any pro-lifers that equal those pictures.

        • Mark Shea

          Not even the idiots frightening Catholic schoolchildren with gory photos in Amarillo in order to use them as levers to force the bishop to knuckle under to Fr. Pavone’s selfish will?

          You’ve never seen the media selectively edit coverage of prolifers? Really?

          • James

            I thinkig more the naked body art/pooping on police cars/condoms donated for free/making love in the sleeping bag types. That stuff that the media does edit out.

            • Mark Shea

              As I say, you won’t get an argument from me that a lot of these people are not ninnies.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Well that must be where we are as a nation.

    If a plebeian works to tend his own property, and to help his neighbors acquire property to tend, he’s obviously an ideologue.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    I agree, James. I too would bet an orthodox rabbi would recognize the Beatitudes before the Actonites.

    • James

      Spoken like a true ideologue.

      • Mark Shea

        Questioning the Acton Institute makes you an ideologue? You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

        • James

          No, the response that an Orthodox rabbi would recognize the Beatitudes before members of the Acton Institute. I suspect they know them well and are seeking to apply them according to their economic understanding.

          Its an ideologue that dismisses them out of hand.

          • Mark Shea

            I don’t know Hezekiah. Do you? How do you know he dismisses Acton out of hand? For all we know, he’s made a close study of them for years.

            • James

              Then let’s here his argument that the Acton Institute does not know the Beatitudes as his apparently flippant comment seems to indicate. I’ll look tomorrow for it as I must leave now.

              • Hezekiah Garrett

                My flippant reply in no way indicated I believe the Acton Institute entirely unfamiliar with the Beatitudes, merely that they couldn’t pick them out of a crowd.

                Its a tongue-in-cheek criticism of their free-market ideology. I don’t see where it merits much more than that from me.

  • Sherry

    Bonus points for quoting the Princess Bride.

    Idealogues: One given to fanciful ideas or theories; a theorist; a spectator.

    We are all engaged in speculating about how to improve this economy and the current injustices that are a peculiar side effect of the existing tax structure and economic system, by proposing a chimera or mutant version of all that is good under this system, and all that is good from other systems. So I guess we’re all sort of idealogues.

    But I also would question distributism because we can never know how grand theories manifest themselves in reality except to know, there will be gamers, there will be cheating, there will be some who succeed and/or fail because the system is unfamiliar, there will be some committed to the ideal regardless of the reality, and some committed to the status quo regardless of the proposed virtue of the ideal.

  • James

    Though at least one dictionary disagrees with you:

    1: an impractical idealist : theorist
    2: an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology

    So I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  • Dave G.

    Sure looks like distributism could have its advantages. Just always remember that it, too, is a man-made structure with the best of intentions. And it, too, would no doubt be corrupted the same way that capitalism, which was a solution for its day with the best of intentions, has been.

  • B

    Dave G.,
    Your point is well stated. I’m a gov’t Libertarian type, but a personal socialist type. What I mean is, the gov’t can’t be made responsible for the care of the people b/c it’s a human institution and therefore can only be trusted withinimal powers of defense and infrastructure or power will corrupt it. But I live in a community, so should work to develope social justice within my community so all are cared for by their neighbors. This must be a free will act or the “charity” part of it is stripped from the doing.

    The trouble, of course, is that it seems adults ate acting like kids with the car keys and looking out for number one. No one seems willing to suffer in order to provide care…,she says typing on her iPhone…

    Also- unsung libitarian and socialist v loosely, lest someone quote mr. Montoya at me.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I think that this “Occupy” movement that seems to have caught on in some 950 cities and towns and over 80 countries (according to, although it appears rather disorganized, is saying at least one very important thing: Ordinary people of all stripes (or the 99% if they want) are tired of seeing governments always give most of their attention to the very well paid lobbyists than to the needs of the ordinary people. Even if only that one idea took some hold, and if it managed to sufficiently bother the politicians who think mostly on the “right” side of the spectrum that they would begin to look for ways to silence the 99% by trying to make a few changes, it would be a great benefit. And notice, people: there may be people in that crowd who look or act crazy, but on the whole, except in Rome, they have managed to avoid the kind of violence that would attract the media like a swarm of bees, eager to present the worst side… Maybe those demonstrations will bring some people in authority to begin thinking “outside of the box”.