Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Distributism

As a way of a preface, there are two types of people that read this blog, lovers of Chesterton or scholars of Chesterton. These are not mutually exclusive because you have to be lover of an entity before you can become a scholar of that entity. However the former will not guarantee the later. I lack the patience needed to be a scholar but I have the patience required to be a lover. I can watch children play for hours but will only spend a few minutes on why they play the way they do. I also know that when one loves an entity they will work to learn as much as they can about that entity. A scholar can calmly communicate that love. Distributism, (I had not heard the term until eighteen months ago) is something that requires a scholarly approach, so I will do what I always do and bow to the masters, both the yeas and the nays. To keep it ‘short’ this review of distribution comes primarily from a true Economic and Chesterton scholar, Thomas Storck. What follows is a paraphrasing or quotations from his work all filtered through my not calm worldview. I found Mr. Storck’s writing to be insightful and enlightening you would do yourself no small favor by adding him to your reading list.
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In my first art class with the master sculptor Michael Skop we spent several sessions on the definition of terms in aesthetics. When finally one kid said what we were all thinking, “When are we going to do art? Why all this vocabulary?” Mike told us that, “How you define words determines how you think. How you think determines how you act. If you are holding onto the wrong definitions you will never be able to comprehend truth and thus never be able to apprehend it either.”

So to begin with distributism we need to define what we mean as put forth by Chesterton and Belloc. Distributism is nothing more than an economic system in which private property is well distributed; in which "as many people as possible" are in fact owners. Probably the most complete statement of distributism can be found in Hilaire Belloc's book, The Restoration of Property (1936). Note the title, The Restoration of Property. “For the distributists argued that under capitalism property, certainly productive property was the preserve of the rich, and that this gave them an influence and power in society far beyond what they had any right to. Yes, the formal right to private property exists for all under capitalism, but in practice it is restricted to the rich.”

John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (no. 14). If "as many people as possible...become owners," then that fatal separation of ownership and work will be, if not removed, at least its extent and influence will be lessened. It will no longer be the hallmark of our economic system, even if it still exists to some extent. (Emphasis mine) Chesterton put it this way; "Making the landlord and the tenant the same person has certain advantages, as that the tenant pays no rent, while the landlord does a little work." - "Hudge and Gudge," What's Wrong with the World

As a way to dismiss this economic theory, some have dubbed this approach as a “back to nature movement”, (see As a way to dismiss this economic theory, some have dubbed this approach as a “back to nature movement”, (see Harland Hubbard, a man I knew, that lived the Distributism life) “a return to the Dark Ages”, or “just plain na├»ve” .

It has elements of all that within it but it is much wider and deeper than that. I believe they say all this is because Distributism was put forth by writers, artists and Churchmen and as you know that group is seriously out of touch with reality. They forget the mantra of the 80’s “Greed is good.” (Can you say Enron?).

Capitalism is defined as, according to Pope Pius XI, (Quadragesimo Anno (1931)), "that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production" (no. 100). In other words, under capitalism normally people work for someone else. Someone, the capitalist, pays others, the workers, to work for him, and receives the profits of this enterprise. According to Belloc's definition the illusion we live under in the capitalist system is, “You may call yourself politically free, but you are economically enslaved as a wage-earner to a government or corporate body.”

It is even worse today in that most college graduates now have to work a corporate body because of massive tuition debt. “The loans often hound the children into their forties, forcing them to work intensely to pay the principal and interest. Does a man with a snootful of office life and savage commutes dream of what so many great men, from Epictetus to Russell Kirk, lauded: a leisure tinged with slight poverty, a small amount of money but a large assortment of books, a meager stock portfolio but a blooming garden, a mediocre car but lots of time with his children?” (From Eric Scheske’s article.)

The Communist economic model has failed in a spectacular way so we won’t get into that here. But its failure does not leave us with only the Capitalistic model. John Paul II points out that mankind's choices are not restricted to capitalism. "We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called `Real Socialism' leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization" (no. 35).

Now is there anything wrong with capitalism, with the separation of ownership and work? In itself there is nothing unjust about my owning a factory or a farm and employing others to work for me, as long as I pay them a just and living wage.”, (see Matthew 20 Laborers in the Vineyard http). If this were happening why are so many bread winners having to work two jobs to keep hearth and home afloat while rarely seeing their children or why are so many wives sucked into this swirling sucking eddy of minimum wage now in anguish because they have to balance work and family and to tired to do either effectively. All to save up for a down payment on house that the bank will own for the next 30 years or simply to just make rent and put food on the table. It is the family that suffers, as the owners become the only winners.

The first generation of day care children is now entering the workforce and political arena. This is a generation of children that was raised by strangers or at best in a type of group home setting. There is no stretch of the imagination that can call that the nursery Chesterton recalls with fondness. A child can not nurture the magic, joy, and wonder of the fairytales in a cattle pen. Is there any doubt why they feel same sex marriage is ok, have a contraceptive/abortion mentality, have coined the phrase “starter marriage”? They have no idea what a real family is. They have a weird hatred for those with four or more children and they themselves are avoiding starting their own families to get more stuff but underneath it is because they do not want their children or the children of others to go through what they went through.

Sorry Hillary it doesn’t take a village to raise a child it takes a family to raise a village.

Before you fill up the comment section on women’s right to find fulfillment in the work place ask the next ten women you meet if they were financially able to would they stay at home to raise their children or continue being a cashier at Wal-mart or an assembler at that foreign owed company at the edge of town.

"I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free." - GKC What's Wrong World

These are the fruits of rampant Capitalism. Rampant Capitalism leads to runaway Welfare programs. And both are unsustainable. Look at the government’s low cost housing program, a good idea at the time, yes a roof was provided but its tenants are now enslaved to the program. I believe it was C. S. Lewis who said, “Social science is the only science that does not factor time into the equation.” Visiting any housing project you can see the effect of time, it is social failure. Imagine how would that project be different if this program was a rent to own program? A large scale Habitat for Humanity type of program would have worked better.

"To give nearly everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody; that is what I assert without apology." GKC

The capitalistic system is dangerous and unwise; its fruits have been harmful for mankind. Any one who has been “downsized” after years of service knows this harm (I know this one personally). My father used to say, “Never love the company you work for because it is incapable of loving you back” and “Never think you are indispensable to a company that makes dispensable products. The graveyard is full of indispensable company men, yet the company still stands.” But he knew no other way for none was given him. Distributism on the other hand makes you the company so you can love it and your family is the corporation where you and they are indispensable. And its product has a lasting impact on the future.

To define economic activity: economic activity produces goods and services for the sake of serving all of mankind, and any economic arrangements must be judged by how well they fulfill that purpose.

Thomas Storck tells us. “Now when ownership and work are separated there necessarily exists a class of men, capitalists, who are one step removed from the production process itself. Stockholders…this class of capitalists naturally comes to see the economic system as a mechanism by which money, stocks, bonds, futures, and other surrogates for real wealth, can be manipulated in order to enrich themselves, instead of serving society by producing needed goods and services. As a result, men have made fortunes by hostile takeovers, mergers, shutting down factories, etc., in other words, by taking advantage of private property rights, not in order to engage in productive economic activity, but to enrich themselves regardless of its effect on consumers or workers. A further feature of distributism that follows from this is that in a distributist economy, the amassing of property will have limits placed on it. Before one objects that this sounds like socialism, he would do well to remember Chesterton's remark (in What's Wrong With the World, chap. 6), “that the institution of private property no more means the right to unlimited property than the institution of marriage means the right to unlimited wives!”
Thomas Storck continues, “For if private property has a purpose and end, as Aristotle and St. Thomas would insist, it surely is to allow a man to make a decent living for himself and his family by serving society. But one living, not two or three. (emphasis added) If my business supports myself and my family, then what right do I have to expand that business so as to deprive others of the means of supporting themselves and their families? For the medievals saw those in the same line of work, not as rivals or competitors, but as brothers, brothers engaged in the very important work of providing the public with a needed good or service. And as brothers they joined together into guilds, engaged priests to pray for their dead, supported their widows and orphans with insurance funds, and generally looked after one another. Who would not admit that this conception of economic activity is more akin to the Catholic faith than the dog eat dog ethic of capitalism? I realize that much of what I say here must sound strange to many readers. Most Americans are acquainted only with capitalism and socialism. But a little knowledge of Catholic economic history and of traditional Catholic economic thought will be enough to convince any fair minded reader that there is an entire world out there of genuine Catholic thought on this subject nearly unknown in the United States. And if the current "science" of economics contradicts this thought, then ask yourself, what authority does that "science" have? It arose from the deistic philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and it is curious that some Catholics, while condemning (rightly) the philosophy of that unfortunate century, warmly embrace its economic theories, not realizing that those economic theories arise from the same poisoned well as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. But it is not too late to remake our thinking after the very pattern of Jesus Christ and his Church--if we are willing to banish from our lives the idols that are worshipped in our own country and embark on the fascinating journey of discovering Catholic economic thinking.”

To take Christ seriously, we have to take theology seriously; and if we do that, we may find ourselves looking at economics in a different light.

What Chesterton said in his book Saint Thomas Aquinas is apropos here because in a real way he and Belloc were martyred by the system wrought by the Enlightenment. Every English class I have taught in I find most of the students had heard of G.B. Shaw but until I walked in none had heard of Chesterton.
“The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need.”

Distributism is the antidote not only for our economic well-being but for our social stability as well.

Nicholas J. Healy, Jr. from Franciscan University of Steubenville tells us, “If we believe, as apparently does much of the Catholic tradition, that small entrepreneurship, worker participation in the ownership of industrial concerns, and family farming are also good, i.e., conducive to a more stable society and tending to foster a more Christian way of life, then a set of policies and a legislative agenda to promote these are not difficult to formulate. Tax incentives (and disincentives) alone can easily encourage small-scale entrepreneurship and the growth of ESOP's (Employee Stock Ownership Plans). The elimination of agricultural subsidies to large concerns would benefit the family farm. Zoning laws can favor traditional shops over the proliferation of Wal-Marts and other megastores. Even giving the poor access to capital can be achieved by adjustments in the tax treatment of loans or seed capital to those not yet in the "circle of productivity and exchange." The issue then is not whether the distributist ideal can be approached through the democratic process; it certainly can and in some aspects it already has. The real issue is whether we as a Christian people are willing to put limits on our material prosperity for the sake of a more authentically Christian way of life.”

A Catholic revolution will include an economic revolution.

Let’s all send a copy of Belloc’s The Restoration of Property to each of our congressmen.

I’ll end now it’s time to feed my chickens.



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