Skip to comments.What is Distributism? Understanding a Controversial Alternative to Socialism and Plutocracy
Posted on 06/12/2014 7:04:14 AM PDT by don-o
Unlike the socialists, the distributists were not advocating the redistribution of wealth per se, though they believed that this would be one of the results of distributism. Instead, and the difference is crucial, they were advocating the redistribution of the means of production to as many people as possible. Belloc and the distributists drew the vital connection between the freedom of labour and its relationship with the other factors of productioni.e., land, capital, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The more that labour is divorced from the other factors of production the more it is enslaved to the will of powers beyond its control. In an ideal world every man would own the land on which, and the tools with which, he worked. In an ideal world he would control his own destiny by having control over the means to his livelihood. For Belloc, this was the most important economic freedom, the freedom beside which all other economic freedoms are relatively trivial. If a man has this freedom he will not so easily succumb to encroachments upon his other freedoms.
Belloc was, however, a realist. Indeed, if he erred at all it was on the side of pessimism. He would have agreed with T.S. Eliots axiomatic maxim in The Hollow Men that between the potency and the existence falls the shadow. We do not live in an ideal world and the ideal, in the absolute sense, is unattainable. Yet, as a Christian, Belloc believed that we are called to strive for perfection. We are called to imitate Christ, even if we cannot be perfect as Christ is perfect.
(Excerpt) Read more at theimaginativeconservative.org ...
Hocus pocus dominocus - there are a million ways to name it and define it and everyone tries to justify it; call me old-fashioned, but if I’m taking your stuff without your consent, I call it theft.
That's actually far from ideal.
That's a world in which no one hires any employees or acquires any assets.
Like socialism, it would destroy price discovery - albeit more slowly, and without all the murder that accompanies socialism.
I missed the part about anyone taking anything from anybody. Maybe you can point it out.
Distributism is not really an economic system. It is a desired outcome; and is little more that the wishful thinking of neo-agrarians.
When you scratch the surface of what it really is, it’s a kind of socialism-lite, and actually encapsulates a lot of what drives modern statism.
“In an ideal world every man would own the land on which, and the tools with which, he worked.”
you mean like the agrarian societies that existed in the 140-15th centuries?
the problem with this ‘distribution’ scheme is who decides what needs to be redistributed? when? how much of it? and from whom to whom? sounds like high tech feudalism to me.
What is that?
Thanks for posting.
There's also a million practical difficulties besides this - in the land of distributism, everyone is some kind of small artisan or farmer. Societies like that operate at bare subsistence level and are typically unstable.
There were only two main proponents of the system, and both were writers.
First sentence - the word ‘redistribution’ doesn’t suggest anything to you?
It’s been a code word for Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Lenin, Mao and countless others for more than a hundred years.
Check the literature.
Price discovery is the activity in which sellers and buyers finally arrive at a market clearing price.
In distributism it is effectively illegal to buy or sell land and it is effectively illegal to buy or sell unskilled labor.
This would create shortages, since the market could not flexibly respond to demand.
This is the philosophy at the heart of the Tea Party movement, and echoes Thomas Jefferson’s belief that “government is best which governs least.” If you read the full article, you will see that this NOT redistributionist; it respects the individual and elevates him far above the socialist collective. In fact, it is anathema to top-down collectivization.
Such a vision is similar to some ideas advocated by libertarians.
With regard to "ideal": Yes, if all you care about is generating the most amount of product at the lowest cost, then cramming lots of people onto assembly lines performing mind-numbing and soul-crushing tasks is the most "ideal" solution.
If we exist to keep the economy going smoothly then bigger is better. If the economy exists to serve human beings, then maybe a little inefficiency is a more ideal solution.
I might have missed it: could you cite from this article where somebody is advocating taking your stuff without your consent? Maybe it’s there and I didn’t see it, but I do not understand Chesterton and Belloc as advocating State action in confiscating property.
The idea of specialization is that everyone has particular skills and gifts. By specializing in the marketplace, people are able to be more efficient.
Distributism devalues and discards those special skills, and tries to shoehorn everyone into some sort of idealized craft of the 18th century.
When distributism was first formulated in the early 1900s, the majority of the population were renters who did not own land and worked for employers who owned the property and equipment that employees used to earn a living.
Yet the distributists called for a society in which everyone owned enough land to live and run a small business on, and in which everyone owned the tools and equipoment of their trade.
In other words, they were calling for the creation of a system that abolished wage employment and rents and put the land in the hands of former renters and businesses and equipment in the hands of former employees.
How was this going to be accomplished?
See post 17.
Well, I’d say that’s because they didn’t really think it through.
There is only one way to achieve the land/property distribution that distributism demands, and that is to confiscate it. Who but the State could do such a thing?
Read post 11.
Economists can always imagine dichotomies, that people are either “this or this”, and in doing so they will be correct, somewhat. If you think of the bell shaped curve, they try to generalize the big bump in the middle, while ignoring the 17% on either side.
That is, the best they can get is 66% right and 34% wrong.
To make things much worse, the bell shaped curve is just a “snapshot”. The truth is that it is a dynamic system. So many of those in the 66% and those in the 34% change sides. Which blurs the blurry generalization even further.
Wideawake, I'm not prepared to discuss this very adequately, so I must just ask questions: has any distributist advocated making it illegal to buy or sell land or unskilled labor?
Chesterton often said he did not object to capitalists because of their capitalism, but because of their socialism. The trouble with (today's) capitalism is not that there are too many capitalists, but too few. And the few often manage to prosper via regulatory capture and ubiquitous State action, rather than by truly free market mechanisms.
So this seems to boil down to the Main Street vs Wall Street perspective, or the entrepreneur vs crony/bankster perspective.
I don't see where this is necessarily the case, especially if distributism is not a set-in-stone ideology, but rather a set of principles around which different practical solutions could be designed.
It may be as simple as not allowing any corporation to become too big to fail, i.e. no one person or corporation can own so much land, so much capital, etc. that its failure would require government intervention to prevent economic collapse.
Free market supporters will just say let companies grow as big as they can, but if they fail then just let them fail without any government intervention. But we have seen that however much sense this makes in theory, it is never allowed to occur in practice.
How many justifications did we receive from supposed stalwarts of the free market that the government had to come in and save these businesses that were "too big to fail" in order to protect the little guy?
Free Market idealists think we should scrap all anti-monopoly laws and just let the chips fall where they may.
Putting in some checks at the beginning so that businesses can't get into positions where they are not only "too big to fail" but "too big to resist" with regard to lobbying governments for special favors as the bubbles expand seems like a reasonable first step toward a more evenly distributed economy.
You throw out the baby with the bath water much? Let's at least consider ideals and ideas on the merits. If you read the whole article, the author deals with the troublesome concept of redistribution, so-called and the assumptions that go with it.
A contractor is an at-will employee.
Your proposed system is simply free enterprise.
Distributism is a system in which no one can hire anyone, people just exchange ready-made goods with one another.
You are also setting up a false dichotomy - the opposite of distributism (where no one can buy new land or hire employees) is not a system where everyone must be an employee or a renter. It is a system - free enterprise - where everyone can choose whether or not their goal is to be an employer or an employee or neither, and whether their goal is to rent to others, rent from others, or neither.
But there are only two options here: either man can pursue his ends without regard for the needs and wishes of his fellow man, or he can act with regard to those needs. There is no third option. By seeking to "maximize profits"--a motivation that is routinely treated as a terrible scourge on civilization--man ensures that his talents and resources are directed toward areas in which his fellow man has indicated the most urgent need.
Read post 11.
To suggest that Chesterton and Belloc were communists or Marxists or socialists because they used the word "distributist" is to belie your complete ignorance of the work of two of the greatest Christian and conservative polemicists of the 20th Century.
Blah blah blah
Read post 11.
As I WROTE it, not as you’d like it to be.
This is just repeating the pollyanna version of capitalism espoused by George Gilder. It's Adam Smiths' Wealth of Nations without his Theory of Moral Sentiments, i.e. capitalism as a form of soul refinery.
So the government decides how much property you can own, and can decide at some point that maybe you own too much property and that it needs to take it away from you?
But we have seen that however much sense this makes in theory, it is never allowed to occur in practice.
It routinely occurred in practice until very recently. And the economy grew more quickly than it does now.
None that I've heard of.
Certainly not from me.
Free Market idealists think we should scrap all anti-monopoly laws and just let the chips fall where they may.
Absolutely. Monopolies cannot survive unless a government legislates their existence.
utting in some checks at the beginning so that businesses can't get into positions where they are not only "too big to fail" but "too big to resist"
Even if this terrible idea was put in place, on what possible basis could such checks be legislated?
On the basis of the legislator having an almost unerring ability to predict the future and to forecast the world economy.
When you become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a member of the White House staff then tell me that you're OK with letting GM or Bank of America go bankrupt.
Precisely. Every time I see people attacking free market economics, the problems cited are problems arising from government intervention.
Rent seeking behavior cannot occur without significant regulatory power.
Not necessarily, if the ‘tool’ you posses is certain talent or ability, you would market that talent or ability to others.
Not all talents or abilities require you to have land or capital yourself.
Distributism, like all isms, is utopian. However, it has many merits and is not necessarily in opposition to capitalism or free markets.
For that matter, neither is communism. The issue is scale. If a small group of people VOLUNTARILY wish to live/work/own property communally and sell their production into an overall capitalistic framework that can work very well too.
I would not support, nor would I think any one calling himself a distributist would support, a system whereby the government decided on a case-by-case basis when a particular person or corporation had too much land, capital, etc.
It would seem, however, that one possibility might be to institute a relatively simple rule such that businesses would have to purchase a sufficient amount of insurance in order to provide for a soft landing if/when they fail. And I wouldn't count going through a formal bankruptcy procedure where everyone is fired and investors get cents on the dollars when the land and capital is sold off to the highest bidder as a soft landing.
The purchase of this insurance would of course mean lower profits, but it may be a reasonable price to pay in order to give governments and large businesses no reason to intervene when other large businesses fail.
Thanks for the post Don-o. I’ve come to be a proponent of Distributism of a sort. The results of Distributism would necessarily close the gap between rich and poor. One should read Belloc’s “The Servile State” before passing criticism about the good qualities of Distributism.
Right now, we live in an economic culture of Corporatism not Capitalism. Therefore the gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially.
In what universe will governments cede a significant portion of the regulatory power they have already achieved? Certainly not this one.
"advocating the redistribution of the means of production to as many people as possible"
Seems pretty clear to me. I have my own means of production and there isn't one bit of it that I want someone else "redistributing".
I did and it is as vapid the second time as it was the first.
On the one hand, there's the example of the Bhoodan and Gramdan movements in India, founded by Vinoba Bhave, which inspired to voluntary donation of land and tools. Over 5,000,000 acres of land were donated, and other dan (gift) movements developed which included money, animals, implements, and wells.
The eventual goal of the bhoodan movement was 50,000,000 acres, but there was not enough support to make it happen. It seemed to rely on a certain charismatic/religious leadership, converging with a historic moment when people felt "the time was right" --- as occurred when the charismatic personality of Bhave coincided with the zeitgeist of the Gandhian movement.
I have not yet found out whether the 5,000,000 acres which were actually (voluntarily) distributed, actually played off in lasting success to the recipients.
The other side of the story (maybe, as I puzzle it together) is that the Sustainable Development/Fair Trade movement, which is arguably connected with this, has actually worked out to the detriment of the intended beneficiaries.
FairTrade aims at promoting/stabilizing small-ownership by guaranteeing prices and encouraging practices to preserve soil fertility. Its critics claim it locks small producers into conditions where they are shielded from both the risks and the opportunities of true market competition. They can neither "get big" nor "get out." And the landless workers still get little or no benefit, even though the higher "Fairtrade" prices are paid by consumers who are under the impression that the higher price helps the very poor.
So I don't know. It would take a whole lot of fact-digging --- which I hope somebody else will do!
Of course, in a free market, firms that insured themselves against losses would succeed and firms that did not would fail - and the risk would be distributed across the marketplace voluntarily to those who are willing to buy risk.
Isn’t that the way it used to be in preindustrial pre-medieval times . Every family had its land and farmed it and lived a subsistence life.
It was only with the advent of the industrial revolution and specialization and division of labor that the standard of living started moving up.
What this guy pines for is romantic claptrap mixed with a good dose of amnesia.