Why Distributism?

Why Distributism? October 3, 2013

Robert Newman: “Our population problem isn’t too many humans on the planet, but too few owning too much of it.”

or, in the words of the Prophet Chesterton: The trouble with capitalism is that it produces too few capitalists.

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  • chatsworth

    The problem with distributism is that it produces too few producers.

    • Andy, Bad Person


    • On its face that claim seems pretty ridiculous. The object of distributism is to make as many people producers as possible by spreading ownership of productive capital. Its certainly arguable that the producers in a distributist economy may be less efficient but there seems no denying that a genuinely distributist economy would be predominated by an exceptionally large portion of producers. Contrast that with the modern capitalist model which is marked by relatively few capitalists and producers and a vast majority of wage earners/consumers. Capitalism is a consumer economy whereas distributism is, arguably, a producer economy.

      Maybe I’m wrong here. If so, lets see the proof that demonstrates distributism’s failure to make production accessible.

      • thisismattwade

        No CO, you’re pretty much spot on.

      • Clare Krishan

        forgive me for butting in as contrarian, but please clarify “genuinely” distributist. In what sense, ie define distributology (as distinct from the modern profession of ‘logistics’) ? Too many ‘romantic’ conservatives embrace nostalgia for historical concepts (that were plagued by some unpleasant Old World firebrands like Fr. Coghlan, a notorious anti-Semite) without critically analyzing the theory of subsidiarity behind CST. Before anyone debate “ownership” (especially under a FIAT regime — or debt-based currency — as ours is) I recommend they gen up on the legal doctrines they are basing their claims on – read for example “The Constitution under Social Justice” by Bl. Antonio Rosmini http://books.google.com/books?id=y63Mggc2irEC&q=income+taxes#v=snippet&q=income%20taxes&f=false. Traditionally ‘ownership’ implied exclusive rights of stewardship of something we cannot ‘keep’ when we die, only pass on as stewards to ‘entitled’ heir’s: ie God’s Creation.

        In a dictatorship of relativism where the state can expropriate you for failure to pay the taxes levied on the privilege of holding said title (to land, or other classes of taxable goods) no one owns anything, they ‘lease’ it from the State rather like folks in London trade leases in real estate held by the richest Roman Catholic of the United Kingdom, the Duke of Westminster. This is how no abortionists can open shop in Harley Street – they can’t legally hold title to the premises (lease terms prohibit it).

        There are many ways economically juridically and politically to make the world more just; distributism may be one way, but it is certainly not the only or best way… to compare and contrast prudently we need first and foremost intellectual capital in the shape of Catholic scholars versed in CST – sadly something neglected at US institutions of higher ed. in recent decades (the book I cited, written at the time of Italian independence 150 yrs ago, was only recently translated from the Italian, for shame!)

        Re: distributism’s failure. Consider Africa, Nigeria in particular – the poverty of northern periphery can be traced to their rulers declining the railway a century ago under colonialism. Under independence their rulers remain… and their antipathy to railways and Western education also (radical islamist brotherhood Boko haram means ‘Western education forbidden’).

        Localism is perhaps a better anthropological term, seen from a anti-fragile or ‘fractal’ perspective of each person’s station in life. He needs the property ‘proper’ to him, he is owed that much. That may or may not be ownership of capital — especially if he has not the means proper to use of that capital, ie the talents or skills (or access to funds to remunerate those who do have them for their time, ie the cash to pay the wages, or at minimum the interest on a loan to reimburse them later via bond or insurance) — to use it wisely. The modern economy is extremely complex and much harm can be inflicted by reductionist ideologies (mass starvation in some

        historical cases in Russia and China). Our FIAT currency threatens a global crisis on a similar scale (seriously, our profligacy may be just as bad as communist tyranny) since we permit ourselves the luxury to borrow “cash” from our commercial trade partners to pay for things we can’t pay for ourselves in taxes. Because too many are out of work or out of business and pay no taxes, so we raise the debt limit and borrow the funds instead by issuing Treasury bills in payment.

        • JP

          The Duke of Westminster is not Catholic. His eldest daughter married a Catholic (in an Anglican ceremony) but he is not Roman Catholic. Perhaps you ment the Duke of Norfolk, an old Catholic family and the permier Duke in the United Kingdom.

          • Clare Krishan

            JP thanks for correcting my rather imprecise history lesson that conflated two things: the former swamplands that are now Monopoly board’s Mayfair and Park Lane, in today’s Belgravia came into the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor family via a Catholic:

            “Mary, Lady Grosvenor, converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after her marriage. Because of this, and because Eaton Hall was used as a meeting place for Catholics, Grosvenor’s loyalty to the king was questioned” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Thomas_Grosvenor,_3rd_Baronet

            while Harley Street, part of the Howard de Walden Estate,
            is indeed connected to the Duke of Norfolk

            My error doesn’t, I believe, undermine my rhetorical point though. I think you may agree?

            The moral hazard of economics isn’t ideological it’s scientific: permit the ruler to tamper with the soundness of money and a transfer of wealth happens (out of the pockets of the have-nots into those of the haves) in the reverse direction to that which social justice demands (a laborer ought not be denied his wages). Distributism’s tendency to warrant interfering in the economy via monetary policy undermines its catholicity (solidarity and subsidiarity may not be undermined by a ruler’s arbitrary caprice) IMHO. Janet Jellen is the new ruler, let’s see how she ‘distributes’ the dollar. By way of illustration assume I have 1/100th of a dollar: I own one percent, or 1 ¢ right? Now via QE she has the power of distributism, to create by her own FIAT 100 more denominator units on the accounts, so my cent is now recorded by the banks as 1 of 200 units. Do I still have a cent? No. The ruler/FED chairman has just stolen half of my purchasing power (by creating a second 1 ¢ of equal validity that competes with mine) leaving me with the purchasing power of ½¢ – an insidious ‘inflation’ as political tool akin to encomienda privileges of ye olden days of Spain. I can pay my taxes with my coin but since its only worth ½¢ in the new inflated economy, the government is left a little short and must either raise taxes or borrow funds elsewhere.

            That’s the moral hazard we’re arguing over in DC right now – should ‘have-not’ taxpayers be burdened with ‘distributing’ ie borrowing more money via increasing the debt limit to allow those who ‘have’ to avoid the science/mathematics of running out of money to spend as they wish?

            My beef is that the only concession worth negotiating over is the HHS mandate NOT the distributist mechanism of our monetary policy, since that’s sadly a given until more folks wise up. But the news isn’t about the mandate anymore is it? The distributism we should be worried about – our liberty to share in the economy of grace – is being swept under the carpet by all the hullaballoo… and Jesus wept.

  • ivan_the_mad

    There also much unused farmland in this country (that isn’t bought up by the wealthy as a weekend retreat). Much of this has to do with the problem, as indicated in the Salatin article referenced by an recent blog post, that the number of farmers is decreasing. When an old farmer dies, there isn’t always someone to assume the operation of the farm. Thankfully, some governments are aware of this problem and have taken steps to remedy it. My state and a neighboring state both have programs to apprentice would-be farmers with experienced farmers for a year, and then provide very low-interest loans to help provide the initial capital needed to purchase farm and equipment.

  • Dan F.

    I’ve seen the examples of how Distributism is working in practice at companies like Mondragon (in Spain) and other smaller firms. I would be very interested to see case studies of failure so as to better understand where the pitfalls, challenges and potential failure points are. I’m working right now on building a business (right now I have three employees: me, myself and I) and I would like to model it on these principles if possible.

  • The wealth of the planet is not a constant. It is a variable. It is perfectly possible to create more wealth and we should do so in preference to seizing wealth and redistributing which inevitably involves wealth destruction.

  • Martin

    ‘The wealth of the planet is not a constant. It is a variable.’ –

    Whenever I read sentences like that, I always remember that Adam Smith never passed Economics 101.