Doug LeBlanc sends along news of an interesting dust-up between a group of Distributists protesting at the Occupy Wall Street event, and Kenneth Spence of the Acton Institute, the think tank devoted to reconciling free market economics with Christian moral principles. Distributism, as you may or may not know, is an economic model developed by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, based on Catholic social teaching. It purports to be a third way between capitalism and socialism. To learn more about it, visit the website of the Distributist Review, which is responsible for this flyer being passed around at the OWS protest. It reads, in part:

The same old answers, election after election, from the Left or the Right, lead us right back to the same problems. Socialism and capitalism are impersonal systems where a few gain at the expense of our environment, the poor, and our community of families.

Distributism is about shifting our economy away from Wall Street and back to Main Street. We need to build a humane economy of family-owned and cooperative businesses, of community, concern for our eco-system and the food we eat. Distributism is a sustainable system validated by thousands of small family firms and employee-owned companies, micro-lending banks, and credit unions. On the large-scale, Distributist businesses like Mondragon Cooperative in Spain, and the Distributist economies of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna, where 45% of the GDP come from cooperatives, demonstrate how Distributist economies and firms have a built-in advantage that capitalist and socialist systems cannot begin to match.

Some of you are already distributists and don’t even know it. You support shopping local, eat organic, and you might even brew your own beer. If you believe freedom means empowering families and communities, letting REAL farmers grow our food, putting “mom and pop” businesses back in our neighborhoods, and support the growth of as many property-owning people as possible—instead of the select few—you are a distributist.

That handbill prompted this satirical response from Spence. From “10 Signs You May Be a Distributist”:

  1. You find yourself asking “What would Frodo do?”: Distributists often take The Shire of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings as a model society (mostly those who consider a return to the polis too fantastical). If you’re convicted that eating two breakfasts a day is more in line with Catholic Social Teaching, you may be a distributist!
  2. You really miss guilds: If you’ve mythologized the quaint, confraternal aspects of medieval guilds, and don’t mind overlooking how controlling they were; if you love the idea of long apprenticeships and don’t mind overwhelming patent control and trade secrecy, you may be a distributist!

At the end of his satire, Spence offers links to a couple of more seriously worded complaints about Distributism from his Acton blog. Spence, who comes from a good orthodox Catholic family in Dallas (who are friends of mine!), disputes the Distributist claim that Distributism is the only economic system compatible with Catholic social teaching. Spence studied at the University of Dallas. Wonder if he ever took John Medaille’s class? Anyway, here’s a collection of short essays from the Dappled Things site in which the Distributist Medaille and Catholic critics of Distributism discuss and debate.