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Distributism Is the Future

Distributism is the rather awkward name given to a program of political economy formulated chiefly by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, two of the most prominent English writers of the early 20th century. Both Catholics, they sought to turn the social teaching of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI into a concrete program of action. They rejected socialism, believing that private property was an essential component of human flourishing, but they also rejected the existing capitalist system as concentrating private property in far too few hands.

Distributism has garnered increased interest of late, due among other things to the social commentary of Pope Francis. Notwithstanding its Catholic origins, many non-Catholics have also embraced distributism over the years. Dorothy L. Sayers, E.F. Schumacher, and Christopher Lasch were influenced by its ideas, as has been the Spanish worker cooperative Mondragón.

Chesterton and Belloc shared a diagnosis for what they saw as the ills of the England of their day: the problem was not private property, as Marxists argued, but the fact that private property owners were scarce. As Chesterton put it in The Outline of Sanity [1]: “The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital.”

When “Chesterbelloc”—as G.B. Shaw named the pair—talked about property, their focus was on capital goods, not consumption goods. They would not be impressed by arguments showing that, while American workers may be totally dispossessed of the means of production, at least they have 40-inch LCD televisions and smart phones.

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Belloc understood what had occurred over the last several centuries of Western political development as a regression to conditions resembling those of the late Roman Empire, in which a few men owned great landed estates while the masses owned little or nothing in the way of productive property. In The Servile State [2], he wrote:

The two marks, then, defining the Capitalist State are: (1) That the citizens thereof are politically free: i.e. can use or withhold at will their possessions or their labour, but are also (2) divided into capitalist and proletarian in such proportions that the State as a whole is not characterised by the institution of ownership among free citizens, but by the restriction of ownership to a section markedly less than the whole, or even to a small minority.

Chesterton and Belloc were not the only ones thinking along these lines in the early decades of the 20th century. Karl Polanyi was a Hungarian economic historian and political philosopher who sought to highlight how an economy is always embedded in a larger social system. His 1944 book, The Great Transformation [3], detailed many of the ways in which the transition from the medieval economy to the capitalism of today occurred. While not every jot and tittle of Polanyi’s case has survived subsequent historical research, his basic thesis remains unscathed: capitalists often deliberately created a proletariat by legislative action.

A recent paper by David Meredith and Deborah Oxley in The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain [4], for example, provides evidence that “one-tenth of the English population in 1800 was slowly starving to death.” The authors describe how for the poor:

A few eggs, a cow for milk, a potato ground, all mattered. But over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries self-provisioning came under serious attack. A padlock was placed on nature’s larder. First … traditional wage supplements such as gleaning and sweeping, and the collection of firewood from the forests, became criminal offenses; items of a ‘base nature’—rabbits, hares, fish—were redefined as private property, and their capture became a felony … Second, enclosure contributed to a class of ‘landless labourers’ without farming strips for growing household provisions, and they likewise suffered from a contraction of common lands upon which a cow might be kept or firewood harvested.

Their research into the relative heights of various occupants of the British Isles shows that in Scotland and Ireland, where the move towards modern capitalism lagged, people were taller—and thus, they conclude, better nourished—than in England, especially compared to English urban centers, where the creation of a proletariat had gone the furthest. London had the least healthy population of all.

Considering these facts, we might suspect that English capitalists, in need of cheap labor, passed laws to starve the English peasantry off of their land and force them into factories as the peasants’ only means of survival. If the proletariat was deliberately created by legislation and is not a spontaneous phenomenon, as many defenders of the status quo contend, that creation might also be undone by legislative action.

But if that is so, what direction should we head? The one recommended by the distributists sought to combine the best elements of various other visions of political economy.

Distributism shares with Marxism the goal of the workers owning the means of production and of eliminating the alienation of the worker from his product. (Of course, distributists meant that the workers should really own the means of production—not, as communists usually did, that the workers should “own” them through the intermediary of the state.) And distributist class analysis resembles Marxist class analysis in obvious ways.

Along with free-market economists, however, distributists recognize the importance of private property. Further, modern distributists recognize the crucial role of something that early advocates such as Chesterton and Belloc did not have the theoretical resources to articulate: namely, the vital role of true market prices in achieving economic efficiency. As Friedrich Hayek put it, market prices are able to incorporate knowledge of the “particular circumstances of time and place” into a worldwide economic system.

Distributism also contains aspects of communitarianism: with capital owned on a local level, owners are more likely to engage with the social and civic life of their community. Chesterton liked to refer to distributism as “real democracy.”

And finally—something that Belloc stressed—distributism has a conservative aspect: it posits as a laudable end not some utopian experiment in untested social arrangements but a socio-economic system that we already know is workable, from both historical and contemporary evidence. Furthermore, because workers themselves are the owners of capital goods, they are less likely to be forced to abandon their communities and extended families in order to keep a good job. There of course may be efficiency trade-offs in choosing to stay put rather than moving to some distant but more profitable location to find some work. But under distributism, workers would evaluate these trade-offs for themselves, rather than having some global corporate entity send them, willy-nilly, thousands of miles from their family and community—or finding themselves suddenly unemployed, as the modern corporation is loath to give its workers even a moment’s notice before they are escorted out of their workplace and onto the street by corporate security.

Our current system of global capitalism has its strong points. Capital can be moved around the globe swiftly in response to changing circumstances, something that would likely be much more difficult under distributism. And global capital has strong incentives to innovate, given that capital in one place is in competition for profits with all other capital around the world. Would a locally based manufacturer, favored by other local businesses, be as likely to embrace some risky new technology? Perhaps not.

When the workers of a given company are also its owners, evidence shows that they have a harder time adjusting their workforce to changing economic conditions. In fact, workers are liable to overpay for capital goods in order to preserve their jobs.

So what if we actually implemented distributist reforms and we found that large corporations continued to dominate our economic landscape for reasons like those above? If that happened, our situation would not have changed much from the status quo, but at least on the margin we would have a few more local businesses and family-owned farms.

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Let us examine some existing instances of economic activities that are more or less distributist in character.

Mondragón is the world’s largest worker cooperative, with 74,000 employees, and the tenth largest company in Spain. Founded in 1956, its nearly six decades of continuous operation are strong evidence that distributist ideas are not utopian. Centered in the Basque region of Spain, the creative impetus behind the organization came from Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, who was inspired by Catholic social teaching.

Various cautions have been put forward about employing Mondragón as a paradigm that others might emulate. One is the unique, apparently quite charismatic personality of Father Arizmendiarrieta: not every potential worker-owned cooperative will have a similar figure to lead it in its early days. A second consideration is the special character of the Basque region, whose residents seem to have felt a greater sense of solidarity than is typical in a similarly sized locale due to their history as a linguistic and ethnic minority in a Spanish kingdom. Lastly, Mondragón grew and flourished in an era when the Spanish economy was highly protectionist. Could it have prospered in a Spain more open to world markets?

Mondragón’s history has not been untroubled. Despite worker ownership, the corporation experienced serious labor unrest in the 1970s. In 2013 one of its major subsidiaries, Fagor, declared bankruptcy and was sold by its parent. Other problems emerge upon exploring the company’s history in greater detail. In fact, they are the very ones that would be predicted to hamper distributist enterprises: a difficulty in radically changing course when necessary, an inability to adjust the workforce to properly reflect market conditions, and the tendency to invest capital to save jobs, rather than directing it to its most efficient use.

(The above material on Mondragón is largely drawn from William Foote Whyte and Kathleen King Whyte’s Making Mondragón: The Growth and Dynamics of the Worker Cooperative Complex [5].)

We next come to a very odd type of worker-owned enterprise—one that is not actually owned in the traditional sense at all, and in which the workers, at least directly, earn nothing in terms of cash compensation: open-source software projects.

These anomalous enterprises constitute a valuable part of our economic landscape. For instance, Linux, built and maintained by volunteers and freely available to all, is the world’s most used operating system, as the basis for the mobile-device platform Android, as well as for many embedded systems such as cable set-top boxes, networking components, robotics-control systems, and medical systems.

Python, also maintained by a volunteer workforce, has become an extremely important programming language and is becoming a mainstay in scientific computing. Git and GitHub, also open-source projects, are now the most popular way to maintain public software repositories. And there are numerous other examples of this phenomenon.

Rather than earning money for their products, the volunteers who develop open-source software work for reputation. Lists of who has contributed the most to various open-source endeavors are publicly available and readily translate into job offers from more traditional enterprises.

This situation does not fit comfortably into mainstream economic analysis, but to be fair it is certainly not the kind of business model that the founders of distributism envisioned either. Nevertheless, it more closely resembles a distributist model than a traditionally capitalist one, as the means of production are the programmers’ own computers.

The communications revolution has made distributism more feasible in other ways as well. What is called the “sharing economy” has been a hot subject in the news, and in city councils, as companies like Airbnb and Uber have cut into the business of traditional hotels and taxi services, respectively. Both companies can be characterized, to some extent, as distributist enterprises.

Airbnb, by allowing homeowners to treat their property as small hotels, turns ordinary homes into capital goods, something of which Chesterton and Belloc would have approved. Uber does the same with people’s automobiles.

I have personal experience as an Airbnb host, having rented out my cabin in the Poconos for a few months through the service. I essentially worked as a hotel maid for that time, but I am sure my experience was very different than that of an employee of a hotel chain: I was working at my own pace, under my own direction. Making beds or mopping floors is much less onerous when you are doing it for your own business.

Many critics of the sharing economy complain that companies like Airbnb and Uber should count the people providing rooms and rides as employees rather than independent contractors. These companies, critics contend, are exploiting their workers by not providing minimum-wage guarantees, overtime, healthcare benefits, unemployment insurance, and so on.

I have two responses. First of all, I can state for a fact that “working for” Airbnb was nothing like being an employee at a traditional company: I never met a single person from Airbnb and only once corresponded with someone from the company, to resolve a payment issue. Airbnb did not set my hours, prevent me from subcontracting, or tell me anything about how to do my job, other than demanding that I fulfill the promises I made on their website about rates and accommodations. And more importantly, things like minimum wages and employer-provided benefits are the very sort of provisions that for Belloc marked the return of servile conditions, in which the proletariat would lack all independence but would be “well cared for” by its corporate masters. (The fact that the proletariat is now considered unable even to secure its own contraceptives without a company providing them is a sign of how far down this road we have traveled.)

More traditionally structured worker-owned businesses have also succeeded in the United States. The state of Vermont actively encourages worker-owned cooperatives, and the most prominent one, Cabot, is probably familiar to many buyers of cheese and other dairy products. And PBS Newshour recently detailed how New Belgium Brewing in Colorado became employee-owned and is achieving high levels of job satisfaction as a result, with workers “pouring their hearts” into the business on account of their stake in it.

Finally, I will mention another worker-owned enterprise with which I was involved: OTA Limited Partnership, a stocks and options trading company where I worked for several years around the turn of the century. I began as a consultant but was soon asked to join the company as a regular employee, which also meant becoming a part owner since the employees owned the company. I accepted, and not long after starting full time I went to a colleague’s office and asked him what the company vacation policy was. He looked at me oddly. “There is no vacation policy: you’re one of the owners. You take vacation when you feel you can afford to.”

I left his office with the odd feeling of being treated as an adult at work.

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thisarticleappears [6]For anyone attracted to the distributist model as one that respects the dignity and freedom of the individual, the obvious question is how to proceed in achieving it. This is one arena in which Chesterton, in particular, came up short. Understandably adverse to simple confiscation of property from existing owners—for how, exactly, could the confiscators decide exactly which holdings were amassed through “crony capitalism” and which through honest innovation and work?—he recommended that the state compensate large landowners for their land and distribute it to small ones. The problem with this idea is that the funds to pay the compensation have to be taxed away from somebody: if from the large landowners, then they are just having their property confiscated by a different route. But if the people to receive the land are taxed to pay for the public-domain seizures, then it would have been more sensible just to let them buy the land themselves.

I recommend that the way forward here is to recognize that markets always exist within some institutional framework. (This is a fact that Belloc recognized in his recommendations for advancing the distributist vision.) For the last couple of centuries, that framework has favored large concentrations of capital. If we change the tilt of the playing field to favor small proprietors, family farms, and worker-owned cooperatives, then first of all we are undoing a past injustice, and, secondly, we are not forbidding larger enterprises—which will still flourish when they truly have a significant edge in an industry over smaller ones.

I suggest the issue comes down to one of vision: do we see the common person as essentially a passive being, happiest giving up control of his or her own life to corporate and government experts, who will care for us with benefit packages and guaranteed levels of consumption goods? Or is the ideal for each person to exercise judgment over his or her life’s course to the maximum extent possible, accepting the risks that go along with independence? If the latter, then shifting our legal framework to enable more people to live independent lives is a risk worth taking. 

Gene Callahan teaches economics and computer science at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and is the author of Oakeshott on Rome and America [7].

35 Comments (Open | Close)

35 Comments To "Distributism Is the Future"

#1 Comment By Johann On April 11, 2016 @ 9:40 am

One trend that is allowing farms to remain not so huge is an expansion of custom services. For example, custom combining, custom spraying, custom rolling (smoothing of the field), etc. Many of these custom service providers are individuals who own the equipment to accomplish the task. Farm equipment is getting big, and bigger. A small farm may not be able to afford a $250K combine, but they can hire a custom combiner to take their crops off. A custom combiner may own only one combine, but during harvest time he is running it full time.

#2 Comment By John Ainsworth On April 11, 2016 @ 10:03 am

This article is a fantastic introduction to distributism. I would love to see a follow-up article about ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Programs). ESOPs offer a practical way to implement distributism within existing US law. By converting worker labor to company shares, they allow a distributist system to work well within the existing capitalist structure.

#3 Comment By Doug Stephens IV On April 11, 2016 @ 10:06 am

Re: the question of innovation, you should take a look at the US rural electric cooperatives. Despite being small, at-cost institutions, they manage to be some of the most innovative players in the field, as their relative nimbleness allows them to implement processes and technologies faster and more effectively than the massive corporations.

#4 Comment By Bob Morris On April 11, 2016 @ 10:24 am

Thanks for an illuminating article. Definitely worth re-reading

#5 Comment By Hankest On April 11, 2016 @ 10:31 am

Here we go again, the blessings of the sharing economy.

It’s mostly BS, at least in NYC.

AirBnB in NYC doesn’t mean someone renting out a spare bedroom in their home for some extra cash. It largely means a people renting out several apartments and illegally converting them into hotel rooms, thereby skirting city safety regulations and taxes, screwing their maids (yes they hire maids) out of fair pay, and also tying up precious NYC apartments so that tourists can save a few bucks.

Uber is a car service company, just like many other “black car” car service companies in NYC, it sets the price of the ride and their drivers use their own car (licensed through the TLC) to pick up riders. The one difference is that there are dozens maybe hundreds of car service companies in NYC. In fact, the goal of many drivers is to save up and start their own. Uber is attempting to monopolize that industry in NYC (and elsewhere) so that there’s one mega-car service company; forcing the many small companies out of business.

Oh, don’t even get me going on the Seamless scam.

#6 Comment By Gene Callahan On April 11, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

@Hankest:

I suspect Hankest only read the title!

1) “Here we go again, the blessings of the sharing economy.”
The article never mentioned “blessings”: it *asked* if these companies are distributist, and suggests to some extent they are.

2) “AirBnB in NYC doesn’t mean someone renting out a spare bedroom in their home for some extra cash. ”

I can mean that. For me, it meant renting out a vacation home that wasn’t getting use.

“illegally converting them into hotel rooms, thereby skirting city safety regulations and taxes, screwing their maids (yes they hire maids) out of fair pay, and also tying up precious NYC apartments so that tourists can save a few bucks.”

What a confused mess! Do you want safety regulations on AirBnB rooms? Get them passed! “Maids”? I sometimes hired a cleaning service. Sole proprietorship and the owner made about $20 an hour. If she was getting “screwed” she sure seemed to appreciate the business!

“also tying up precious NYC apartments so that tourists can save a few bucks.”

Allow more apartments to be built!

Some people just hate independence, I gather.

#7 Comment By Gene Callahan On April 11, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

Thanks Doug, that is a good idea!

#8 Comment By Carter On April 11, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

‘It largely means a people renting out several apartments and illegally converting them into hotel rooms, thereby skirting city safety regulations and taxes…’

And?

#9 Comment By Greg Guest On April 11, 2016 @ 1:34 pm

The so-called “sharing economy” (ala Uber) is not distributism for two simple reasons:

1. Labor does not have any control of the enterprise. Ownership of the means of production means little without control.

2. Labor has no ownership interest whatsoever of the most valuable and revenue producing asset of the company – the app. Yes the worker might own the vehicle or the real estate used in the production of profit, but without the app (and without control of the company), there is little to prevent the owner of the app from amassing an unjust portion of the profits.

In short, distributive justice is a necessary end of distributism.

#10 Comment By Adam Kolasinski On April 11, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

“If we change the tilt of the playing field to favor small proprietors, family farms, and worker-owned cooperatives, then first of all we are undoing a past injustice, and, secondly, we are not forbidding larger enterprises—which will still flourish when they truly have a significant edge in an industry over smaller ones.”

Interesting concept. I am very curious, however, as to the specific policies you would propose to “tilt the playing field.”

#11 Comment By panda On April 11, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

“Uber is a car service company, just like many other “black car” car service companies in NYC, it sets the price of the ride and their drivers use their own car (licensed through the TLC) to pick up riders. The one difference is that there are dozens maybe hundreds of car service companies in NYC. In fact, the goal of many drivers is to save up and start their own. Uber is attempting to monopolize that industry in NYC (and elsewhere) so that there’s one mega-car service company; forcing the many small companies out of business.

And what’s more: Uber’s business model is based on receiving vast infusions of capitals from Wall Street, until such time it monopolizes the market, and can start setting prices at which it can turn healthy profits, and start repaying its investors. A model of distributism and localism it is not..

#12 Comment By Optatus Cleary On April 11, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

Hankest, that is an interesting point about AirBnB. I have stayed in a variety of AirBnBs on the west coast, especially the northwest and British Columbia. Almost all were extra bedrooms or basements that we’re being rented out when the host could find a guest. I had a universally positive experience with it. We were able to chat with our hosts and get interesting information, and share ideas and thoughts with them. It was all positive, and worked exactly how AirBnB should. I wonder how we could prevent what you describe without eliminating what I experienced.

#13 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On April 11, 2016 @ 3:42 pm

Very illuminating. The author references Christopher Lasch. If memory serves Lasch was indeed one of the proponents of a system which though never quite defined with precision, was similar, if not identical to, the “Chesterbelloc” concept.

#14 Comment By Nelson On April 11, 2016 @ 3:47 pm

Thank you for an interesting and insightful article.

#15 Comment By Roland Kayser On April 11, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

One way to move toward distributism would be for the federal government to start enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act the way it did before Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing it. Prevent companies from buying out their competitors to create monopolies, and prevent any single company from dominating a given market. It’s a start.

#16 Comment By tz On April 11, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

A quick and easy way would just be simple tax reform. The first $50k (or whatever) from a personal or family enterprise would not be subject to any tax and there would be no regulations (EPA, OSHA). So you could own a small farm, rental property, make crafts or something bigger and would encourage capital investment.

(note I would add no social security taxes on the above)

One problem is the shift to a debt economy. Instead of earning wages to save up to create a business, it is mortgage the house or use the credit card. It should be set up so that you can start with little capital and by letting it accumulate it could create a viable small business.

#17 Comment By Gene Callahan On April 12, 2016 @ 2:03 am

@Greg Guest:

I agree the these sharing enterprises are certainly not full-blown distributism!

But they do allow ordinary people to use possessions they already have as capital goods, and so they have an element of distributism in them. Yes, control of the app is important! And yes, there is a high concentration of capital in the core companies. But still, per my own experience, as owner of the AirBnB house I rented, I had far more self-determination about my work than I have at most companies I have worked for!

#18 Comment By Gene Callahan On April 12, 2016 @ 2:07 am

@panda: “And what’s more: Uber’s business model is based on receiving vast infusions of capitals from Wall Street, until such time it monopolizes the market…”

Well, that won’t happen! Taxi companies are already offering app access to cabs, Lyft has moved in and is competing, and the limo companies are using Uber to get their drivers rides when they would otherwise be idle.

Of course Uber is not a purely distributivist enterprise! I thought I made that clear. But with it AND SIMILAR SERVICES competing with Uber, I can turn my personal car into a capital good.

#19 Comment By Gene Callahan On April 12, 2016 @ 2:10 am

@Adam Kolasinski: ‘I am very curious, however, as to the specific policies you would propose to “tilt the playing field.”’

This is an ongoing research project for me. At my upcoming talk at the Henry George School, I will begin suggesting some such policies. And I hope to produce a book on this topic soon, which will examine this issue even further.

#20 Comment By Giles Nahal On April 12, 2016 @ 5:43 am

Despite mentioning the communitarian side the underlying bias of the author towards something akin to state free anacho-capitalism badly distorts the actual content of CHesterton and Belloc’s political economic thought. Just as Adam Smith saw the role of the state as vital so too did Chesterton and his contemporaries. The author does not, nor are his examples wholly satisfying. Uber “employees” are even more exploited than their counterparts because of the very fact that many of them simply aren’t considered employees. In fact the authors perversion of distribution is such that it’s only conclusion is an economy where, instead of a few exploiting the many, everyone exploits everyone else; predation becomes the norm. Instead of people being an end in themselves they are instituionalised as means to an end in Kantian terms. It is universal capitalism in opposition to monopoly capitalism. Chesterton and Belloc come from a strong catholic tradition of political thought in which it could be said that “not all things possess an exchange value”. The author would do best to espouse his anarcho capitalism through manipulating the work of others.

#21 Comment By Joel Dueck On April 12, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

Great introduction to Distributism, although I share reservations about AirBnB and Uber expressed by others. If one is dependent on a single other economic actor for access to their main market, if that access can be constrained, or one’s take-home pay altered or cut off with little or no recourse, then there is ultimately little difference from being an employee for Distributist purposes. It’s the same situation which [8] “a servant who has not the security of the slave.”

I’ve been writing [9] for some time now, including specific policy goals for today. I’ll be very interested to see what you propose. The inability of current-day prominent distributists to endorse and promote specific policies (other than “let’s all try and buy from small businesses”) is one thing that has soured me on it somewhat.

#22 Comment By Chris C. On April 13, 2016 @ 7:03 pm

The weakness as I see it to the Distributist vision is that it’s impossible to conceive of it apart from direct government coercion in one form or another. People will inevitably be forced to do that which they would not do voluntarily. It may not arise to genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge but it will certainly require the force of governmental edict at some point. One proposal I read for “getting there” is outlawing stock ownership in publicly traded corporations. That goes far beyond empowering small and family owned businesses or cooperatives. People have freely chosen to invest in the market either directly or through mutual funds including pensions, IRA’s and 401(k)’s. How is it empowering to families for them to have their portfolios rendered worthless?

And as with any utopian scheme what looks great on paper will hardly look so good once its implemented. Will greed or dishonesty suddenly disappear from the scene? Why won’t small owners or co-ops pursue whatever tactics they need to in order to survive or expand market share? Will be a distributist change one’s character? Will it somehow modify human nature for the better?

Co-ops and small businesses should be encouraged, and there’s no reason they can’t co-exist within a fair free market system. But based on economy of scale considerations, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever do away with the need for large employers and corporations. They can simply do more and on a far greater scale and more economically than thousands of small businesses working 60-90 hours per week with no guarantee of a profit can do. What might work within a small community or nation will be unlikely to work in the modern world.

#23 Comment By TR On April 13, 2016 @ 8:05 pm

I’m not sure why the church should feel obliged to dedicate itself to soothing those who seek absolute permanence. Especially not a church which prides itself on its rigorous theology. Theology cannot be rigorous without discovering new “truths.”

Whatever you think of “the theology of the body,” John Paul did not mean to teach what the church has “always” taught about sexuality. Hell, he didn’t mean to teach what was taught in the 1950s.

By the way, JPII’s official Latinist was quoted once in a secular magazine as saying that the church always changes its position by claiming, “As the church has always taught.” That may be cynical, but at least it’s not ludicrous, which is what I would call all the trads searching diligently for precedents for not obeying a pope.

#24 Comment By Diogenes On April 14, 2016 @ 4:14 pm

The government is always distributing money. Some how it’s not distribution when the hedge fund managers and CEO’s are the beneficiaries of the largesse, but it is a senior citizen gets social security or someone in the middle class gets a break. “Free stuff” it’s called and the term is used to denigrate the guy making less than you down the street but never Lloyd Blankenfein, Chelsea Clinton or the other so called winners. They must have earned their “Free stuff”.

#25 Comment By Sema M. On April 14, 2016 @ 4:15 pm

The Left and liberals do not believe in private business. They think that a Christian baker should be forced to bake a same sex wedding cake.

#26 Comment By Steve Waclo On April 14, 2016 @ 4:44 pm

“Airbnb, by allowing homeowners to treat their property as small hotels, turns ordinary homes into capital goods, something of which Chesterton and Belloc would have approved. Uber does the same with people’s automobiles.”

As others have observed, I believe Uber to be a poor example of the arguably positive concept of distributionism (can we please come up with a less awkward name?). Exploitation of car owners, who, while volunteering their cars and time, are nonetheless coming out on the short end, if many personal accounts are to be believed. I doubt most participants in this system are smiling all the way to the bank.

City streets depreciate automobiles and add maintenance cost much more dramatically than many participants want to admit. And at the end of the day, Uber’s own automated vehicles (currently in development and financed by the efforts of current Uber drivers) will eventually erase the perceived benefits to those same drivers. Capitolism wins again ?.

#27 Comment By Fabian On April 14, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

This could well be the middle lane we are looking for.

#28 Comment By S.C. On April 15, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

From Chris C.:
“The weakness as I see it to the Distributist vision is that it’s impossible to conceive of it apart from direct government coercion in one form or another. People will inevitably be forced to do that which they would not do voluntarily.”

The idea that one social system requires “coercion” and another does not is false. There is no more “coercion” involved in setting up a market society than there is in setting up any other type of society. Perhaps you should consider that Marxists make the same mistake as you but pick out capitalism as the system resting on “force”.

#29 Comment By Aibohphobia On April 17, 2016 @ 4:58 am

One legal change that would help promote distributism would be to legislate that wholesalers must sell their products to retailers with a single price. They can pick whatever price they like, but it must be the same price no matter if they sell one unit or 100,000. No volume discounts, no rebates, no kickbacks. No vertical combines.
This single policy change would tilt the playing field to the small player, and could by itself bring back small players to predominance in the market.
Mom and Pop grocery stores, for example, currently cannot compete with the pricing leverage of the major grocery chains. If the chains and the small stores are paying the same price for food at wholesale, the advantage shifts to the smaller markets. This is because the smaller stores do not have a massive corporate overhead to pay for. The small stores would employ more people nationwide, and could actually price things cheaper than the huge chains. More important, a small store is likely to excel at customer service more than a huge chain. As a customer, you would shop at a store with more personal service if the prices were the same.

#30 Comment By David Harrell On April 20, 2016 @ 9:36 pm

As an alum of the Henry George School (the [10]) , I’m very interested to hear you will be giving a talk there. With Adam Kolasinski, I will be very interested to know what specific policies you would recommend to achieve “distributism” – which, in the form laid out by Chesterbelloc, appears to be a vividly painted picture of an end , lacking any account of a means to get there.
Interestingly , the HGS’ namesake actually did lay out specific policies for “getting there” and, moreover, the economic and Christian moral rationale for those policies. Henry George became the most famous author, lecturer and economist in the world to that date, on the strength of his analysis and exposition of how to revive land justice in a modern industrialized age, and so demolish the structures of violence, built on land injustice, that institutionalize poverty even amid “progress.”
George gained further notoriety for a [11] he penned to Pope Leo XIII in response to the anti-socialism encyclical Rerum Novarum. George passionately argued for the Church to espouse the non-socialist, equitable-free-market solutions he clearly laid out.
It would be quite appropriate for you to share your thoughts about George’s own policy recommendations. They are few and, in principle at least, quite simple.
By the way, although most George fans recommend his opus Progress and Poverty, I usually tell first-time readers to check out “Social Problems” or his son’s book, “The Menace of Privilege.”

#31 Comment By Wes On April 21, 2016 @ 2:40 pm

We were having trouble generating the funds that were required to continue doing multiple missions throughout the year. Someone in the church came across cellphones4churches . org as a way to generate funds for these projects. It was a way for members of the congregation to give to the church without digging into their pockets. They received funds and the church received matching funds. It gave us what we needed and then some. We contninue to use this program today.,

#32 Comment By TruthHunter On May 1, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

I notice that American Corporations complain about high tax rates. OK, lets give the break to companies with a median employee ownership above some threshold. Apply the same principle for Retirees, etc. Nonworkers can also share as their needs of ownership can be accommodated too. Just don’t give breaks to wealth concentrators.

Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, Ebay, can be forced by regulation toward an ownership model or form just another layer of toxic Capitalism.
Another fruitful way to encourage Distributism is to remove many of the regulatory advantages banks have over credit Unions.

Monsanto came up with a Sugar Beet that tolerated Roundup, destroying some of the last hand labor in agriculture. Does Monsanto owe nothing to those whose livelihoods it destroyed?

#33 Comment By Fernando On October 25, 2016 @ 11:24 am

There is one factor that was not mentioned surprisingly for me in this interesting article. This relates to the relationship between distributism, or at least the goal of enlarging the amount of people owning capital goods with banking and financial services. It seems to me that the biggest way by far to support the growth of more owners in society is for provision of finance for projects that allow such an economy to take place, to start of and obviously to support the cash flows of viable businesses. Evidently economic criteria and risk assesment are necessary to do this correctly, however, the current situation of banks simply lending to those who already have and don´t need it is the main obstacle to the many prepared people to take charge of their lives. Moreover, the concept of creating and spreading ownership of banks themselves would mean a huge revolution from the current way of doing things.

#34 Comment By Lewis Evans On March 29, 2017 @ 10:38 am

I think this focusses a little too much on large-scale co-operative enterprises and macroeconomics. A fundamental mantra of distributism – possibly the fundamental mantra – is “small is beautiful.” The basic concept is that widespread property ownership guarantees the material and spiritual freedom and dignity of individuals and families. Distributists should, of course, consider political economy and policy in detail, but it has to be remembered that distributism is a moral system designed to create a virtuous society, at least as much as it is an economic model.

A distributist society would have to be created from the bottom-up. Government could obviously help in a variety of ways, but the first and last precondition has to be the independent will of people within a society to acquire property, lead moral lives and regulate their own social and economic activities. That transformation would provide the means and the impetus to “build distributism” (to borrow a construction from our comrades on the left). It won’t come from the state, or from large businesses like Mondragon. Likewise, theoretical economics alone will not suffice to make the case fo distributism. It’s not a coincidence that it emerged out of Catholic social teaching.

#35 Comment By Maria On August 7, 2018 @ 7:31 am

I look at this from an European perspective, where some things have remained “smaller” in no small part thanks to a regulatory environment that prevented abuses of power by dominant players under an economic approach that is so often critised as protectionist from the other side of the Atlantic. I see an example of this difference in the case of (oh so many American-owned giant) digital platforms for the sharing economy. I don’t think that the only issue is the kind of relationship that exists between digital platforms and, let’s say, the prosumer, but also their broader impact on the market and its social embedding (following Polanyi). You mention Airbnb and I domt see distributism (like so many other comments here). I see a platform that has allowed big real estate companies to rent out touristic apartments in city centers and drive market prices higher and higher at the expense of permanent residents. Venice (which admittedly has many other problems) has become the most prominent example of the negative effects of Airbnb, but the same phenomenon repeats in many other Europeans cities that have been forced to limit tourist rentals through Airbnb to stop the exodus of residents.