Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cows and Computers

G. K. Chesterton once said (apprently) that Distributism could be summarized as everyone having "three acres and a cow".   And so a commenter named Justin is rightly confused, when he asks in the combox of Joseph Pearce's recent post on Distributism ...


 I don't actually know what it [Distributism] is other than everyone gets one cow apiece, and that Chesterton advocated it.

Now the thought of each of us having a cow a piece really is quite funny (my wife, daughter and I would keep our three in the basement), but it shows how easily a simple idea can be simply misconstrued.

The fact is that Distributism advocates the greatest Distribution of the means of production among the greatest number of people.  Such means of production are simply forms of real wealth.  Such wealth can be tangible things like land and cows, or it can be less than tangible things such as talent or the internet.  Distributism is not the state controlling everything; it is not the rich owning 99% and the rest of us struggling to feed ourselves on the remaining 1%, enslaved to the masters who own even us; it is not politicians keeping a degenerate and dishonest proletariat class addicted to laziness and welfare in return for votes; it is restoring power to the basic unit of society, the family, and allowing the family - by means of mom-and-pop businesses and such - to regain control of their lives and to return to a more sane way of life.

***

Last night, at the ad hoc meeting of the St. Louis chapter of the Chester-Belloc Drinking and Debating Club, we had our usual mix of drinkers and debaters - which is to say, Catholics from across the political spectrum.

And to my surprise, we were able to transcend our political differences by agreeing on two things ...


  1. Instead of criticizing Capitalism as Capitalism, we agreed that its current form in the U.S., which my friend Tom Richard calls Corporatism, is dreadfully broken.
  2. Corporatism's political arm, the One Party System disguised as the Two Party System, is likewise a disaster.
People can see that clearly.  This country is run by corporate interests, by bankers taking usury on the production of fiat money and taking usury on debt for non-productive loans; by CEOs looting companies and profiting by speculating on anything other than real wealth (goods and services); by the super-rich colluding with the government to force losses on these speculations to be paid by you and me, while profits accrue to them and only them.  

Corporatism is what both Capitalism and Socialism eventually morph into.  And Corporatism is killing us.

***

So what is Distributism?  Distributism is the way to fix that.  Distributism is saying, "We will not allow such power to be held by such a small group of self-serving individuals.  We will not allow ourselves to become slaves of such an economy, wage slaves with our families neglected as both parents work 60 or more hours each outside the home.  We will not allow our government to remain in the hands of the greedy, who are ruining this country for their own benefit.  We will not allow the moneyed interests to crush the human spirit."

How does Distributism do this?  Not by giving everybody a cow.  Distributism, as it now exists, is not exactly "three acres and a cow".

It is more like three acres and a computer.

For computers, if anything, are widely "Distributed".  Everybody has a computer - either a laptop, a tablet, a cell phone.  And everybody can access anything anywhere and publish anything anywhere.  Yes, there's a down side to this.  For example ... 


... but the fact remains that Distributism exists today and right now in the field of Information Technology. 

Within my lifetime, we have gone from a society where information was monopolized by a few large corporations owning almost all media outlets, to a society where you can find out anything at any time on your own; you can also publish anything at any time on your own, at almost no cost or capital investment.

Of course this ease of access means there's a lot of garbage to wade through - as well as an explosion of cat pictures, bad arguments and porn - but people know about Distributism today only because of the Distributist revolution in Information Technology.  Colleges won't tell you about it; big publishers won't approach Chesterton or Belloc or any of the Distributists; TV and Radio certainly won't go there.  

We are learning about Distributism because of Distributism.  And that alone shows how much we need it.

Distributism is working in the fields of publishing and video and music and communication and in many fields that will give us the opportunity to recover Distributism in the economy as a whole.  It is not hard to understand, if you simply look at how it's working around us right now on the internet.

It is not a pipe dream; it is not owning a cow or having your cow jump over the moon.

It is simply the principle of bringing power back to the family and sanity back to the economy.


35 comments:

Bill G. said...

So, no cows? I demand that the government give me a cow.

AND a computer.

Bill G.
Colton, NY

Anonymous said...

Change its name.
Steve

Editor: Jay Boyd, Ph.D. said...

I think I am pretty dense on this stuff. I still don't have a clue as to what distributism is.

R.C. said...

The biggest problem with comparing Capitalism, Socialism, Corporatism, and Distributism is that it's not like comparing four oranges.

It's not even like comparing an apple, an orange, a mango, and a strawberry.

It's more like comparing the apple filling in an apple pie a-la-mode sitting well-presented on a plate, an orange, an allergic reaction to strawberries, and a contented feeling of fullness.

Here's what I mean:

Socialism says: (a.) Folk ought to all have roughly the same stuff with very little variation; (b.) Government has unlimited just authority to forcibly take stuff from those who have it and give it to others for whatever reason; (c.) Government has a moral obligation to do (b.) in pursuit of (a.); and (d.) Human thriving will be increased if it does so. Socialism in its most completely-expressed forms (e.g. Communism) even has a sort of eschatology which describes a bright future at the end of all its moral crusading.

So, Socialism makes very particular assertions in particular categories of thought. It makes an moral assertion, a claim about the just authority of government, and an outcome prediction.

Now Capitalism is quite different, not merely in making contradictory assertions, but in making assertions in entirely different realms of thought and entirely neglecting to discuss some of what Socialism discusses. Capitalism says that (a.) if socialism is implemented, it produces poverty and oppression exactly in proportion with how completely it is implemented, but permits a limited form of freedom and wealth exactly in so far as it permits an inmixture of capitalism and classical liberalism; (b.) voluntary trade unaltered by the threat of compulsion (except as needed to make transmission of price-signals efficient and enforce contracts) will, in the aggregate, maximize the degree to which what people get mirrors what they act to obtain; (c.) the morality (or immorality) of the income will match the morality (or immorality) of what they pursue, so a moral people will produce a moral outcome but an immoral people will produce an immoral outcome; (d.) Capitalism does not even address how we know what is moral or immoral, a good outcome or a bad, or the just limits of government except as necessary to assert (a.), (b.), and (c.). Capitalism thereby acknowledges its incompleteness; it claims only to be one part of a structure which ought to include morality, society, culture, laws, and so forth.

So Socialism and Capitalism fall in different categories.

Now, Corporatism is what happens when Capitalism is mixed with indirect "regulatory" Socialism in such a fashion that market participants can buy favorable regulatory environments to prevent up-and-coming competitors from challenging their market dominance. A mutual "incumbent protection" system is created in which Congressmen are guaranteed re-election because no challenger will be able to whip up the campaign funds required to match those the Congressman receives from corporate interests, and no smaller competitor will be able to overtake a large corporation's market position so long as that corporation's bought Congressmen write the regulatory environment in a way that benefits large corporations at the expense of smaller challengers. In this fashion both politicians and businesses that succeed "pull the ladder up behind them."

...continued...

R.C. said...

...continuing...

Now, when you mix Socialism and Capitalism in the fashion we have in the U.S., you produce a system of incentives which tends to encourage Corporatism as the outcome. So, Corporatism is the observable outcome of this mix.

And what is Distributism?

Distributism is a desired outcome. It makes no assertions about how economics tends to work over time; it makes no assertions about the limits of the just authority of government to transfer wealth. Instead, it just says:

(a.) IF a desirable outcome CAN be produced and sustained; and (b.) If the means of producing and sustaining that desired outcome are morally permissible; then, (c.) THIS is what that desirable outcome would look like; and, (d.) since it is desirable, we ought to figure out whether it can be produced and sustained, and if so, how, and whether the means of doing it are actually morally permissible.

Now the big problem with Distributists is that they keep recommending this desirable outcome. But they don't say much about the parts that are left out.

In reply, Socialists say, "Yes! That's what we are trying to achieve also, and our system answers HOW to do it, WHAT will happen over time if we act in this way, and assures us that the MEANS are just and licit!"

And, Capitalists say, "Uh, tell us what your means of achieving your outcome will be, and we'll tell you whether it'll produce the intended outcome. But if you're planning on doing it the way the Socialists say, then we can go ahead and skip that part and point out that it'll do the opposite of what you intend."

And those Capitalists who also happen to be Natural Law proponents (e.g. classical liberals) say, "We agree with the Capitalists about the outcome of Socialism not matching the desired outcome of Distributism. But we'd also like to point out that the means of Socialism are unjust and immoral: Government has no such just authority. So even if it would have worked, it would be morally illict: You may not do evil that good come of it."

And in the end, because of their vagueness about which particular policies they plan to employ to produce the Distributist outcome, most folk expect Distributists to proffer some kind of mix of Capitalism and Socialism.

BUT, it must be pointed out that mixed-economies produce certain incentives, and we have already observed the long-term outcome of those incentives; namely, Corporatism.

So the Distributists' contribution to the conversation is the most incomplete. They don't like Corporatism, and they want to produce the Distributist outcome instead: Fine. But how?

If it's by mixing Capitalism and Socialism, well, we've tried that and you know what they say about the definition of insanity.

And what about the Natural Law/Classical Liberal complaint, that Socialism's means are unjust, immoral, outside the just authority of government? Distributists have yet both to announce their policy and to defend it as moral. For even if their desired outcome is correct and moral, it does not follow that all means of attaining are moral.

Kevin O'Brien said...

RC, you don't know what you're talking about. Distributism is very precise about how to achieve the desired outcome. Read Chesterton and Belloc in particular. The program is all there. Belloc is especially specific about the how.

I am tired of the old adage that Distributism is vague. There is nothing vague about it. Read up.

Manny said...

Why is it that the only people who talk about distributism as a viable economic system are non-economists? Karl Marx, who was a historian not an economist, decided to configure an economic system from scratch, and it was garbage. Every name of I hear involved in either configuring distributism or advocating it are non-economists. Economists don't configure social systems. They understand that economics is the outcome of exchange between billions of people. It is not configured, it evolves. There may be schools of economic thought that emphasize certain principles that they believe will provide the best results, but even there no one is configuring anything, and no one is actually certain if those rules will provide the correct outcome. Look at the Marxian rules and how divergent from reality it turned out to be. I have yet to see distributism mentioned in any economics text book.

That said, distributism as I understand it is not really different than actual capitalism, not the two dimensional, cartoonish capitalism that it's opponents (including the Distrubitsts) characterize it to be.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Manny, if a Catholic were to say that divorce was bad for the family, and that children should be the primary concern of the parents, would you object because someone other than a Professional Social Worker made that suggestion?

As to my characterization of capitalism as being "two dimensional", please point out where I'm flat. If saying that Greedy Corporate Interests and the State have colluded to defraud and rob the American people is cartoonish, please show me where the error lies in the sketch.

As to economic systems "evolving", yes the mess we have evolved. It evolved to a point where most normal people have been robbed of any significant control of their lives politically and economically, where we are becoming more and more slaves of super-rich masters who will not tolerate any political or economic change to a system they have broken and that they benefit from.

So, Manny, be a Manny and Manny up, and engage the points I have made in this post. Show how your "evolved" economic system is just fine, thank you. Give one reason why a wider distribution of mom-and-pop businesses is a bad thing. Get off the ad hominems and deal with the actual points I'm making.

By the way, it's becoming obvious how the opposition argues -

1. Golly gee, I just can't understand what you're saying (Jay Boyd PhD above). Distributism is just too hard to comprehend!

2. It's so hard to understand that it's simple and easy to understand (R.C. above), and therefore fatally flawed.

3. Distributists aren't expert economists, like the experts who continue to make excuses for this mess (Manny).

None of these rebuttals gets to the core of what we put forth -

1. The economy was made for man, not man for the economy; systems that do not serve the happiness of man - and the fundamental unit of society, the family - are broken and need to be fixed.

2. Capitalism and Socialism both end up concentrating more and more wealth and power in the hands of a very few people, who take control of the State and who become the de facto slaveholders of those they have, over the generations, dispossessed.

3. A wider distribution of the means of production tends to make for a more free society and a saner economy.

4. The best example of Distributism in action is the internet.

So, please, readers, engage these points from here on.

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

I enjoyed your post, especially that your group rightly concluded that America operates on a Corporatist model, not a pure form of capitalism.

However, I think your replies to R.C. and Manny are too defensive and too light on how distributism works in practice.

I recommend reading this article by Tom Woods, "What's Wrong with 'Distributism'" (http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods136.html). He has also written a short book title, 'Beyond Distributism,' which gives a response to Distributist claims, relying on both Catholic social teaching and economic theory. Finally, Mr. Woods wrote a most excellent, longer treatment of Catholic economic thought titled, "The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy." I think you would find each of these worthwhile as a Catholic interested in economic thought.

Tom Woods is a Catholic and a proponent of the Austrian school of economics, which argues that economic freedom leads to economic justice.

As Woods argues, in the end, instituting distributism requires state force and confiscation of private property. If we instituted distributism from scratch today, we might as well call it what it would be: "re-distributism."

And that is the problem. Distributism is willing to trade freedom for utopia. The twentieth century alone should prove that such a trade, in reality, leads to distopia.

Woods et al also dismiss (quite successfully I believe) the old canard you present about capitalism leading to inequality. Manny, I recommend you read Woods' material, and you will have more than enough to respond to Kevin.

I also disagree with your assertion that the Internet is an example of distributism. The Internet is actually an example of freedom at work (including economic freedom). Distributism did not give us the Internet, the market did. The market is the aggregate of simple people, you and me, engaging in trade for mutual benefit. That is how the Internet arrived and continues to flourish--not spreading out the means of production.

--
WWH

Kevin Aldrich said...

I like the idea of "mom-and-pop businesses and such." Both my wife and I work at home, on computers, performing our work on and delivering it via the Internet.

But I don't see mom-and-pop businesses feeding the world or providing transportation. Henry Ford's workshop can't produce a sufficient volume of cheap cars so people can go where they want. How could Norman Borlaug have produced the green revolution which has saved maybe a billion lives if it was just him and Mrs. Borlaug breeding plants in their backyard?

Tom Leith said...

> Distributism did not give us the
> Internet, the market did.

Actually, the government gave us "the internet" and kept the intellectual property freely available. This is a decent example of Distributism broadly considered.

It could be pitched as an example also of Corporatism. Mr. Richard used the word Corporatism to describe the way America operates. What he doesn't know is the word was already used for something quite different, and that it represents one Distributist mechanism.

Tom Woods was devastatingly answered by 1) the last seven popes, 2) the economic history of the past two and a half centuries, and 3) by Christopher Ferrara. I recommend you read Ferrara's material, and you will have more than enough to convince you that economic liberalism can never be "baptized" no matter how much Mr. Woods and Fr. Sirico wish it could be.

Kevin Aldrich said...

I just read the Tom Woods piece referenced above. I think it is tremendous and don't see how the last seven popes would disagree with him. I think a big problem today is not capitalism but crony capitalism in which big government and big corporations work to mutually support/enrich each other. I like a comment I recently read from a small farmer. He didn't begrudge the industrial farms because the world needs to be fed. He just didn't want the big firms writing the rules which unfairly crush the little guy.

Tom Leith said...

If you don't see how the last seven popes would disagree with Mr. Woods, maybe you should read them, or at least The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. You might also read Mr. Ferrara's The Church and the Libertarian. At the very, very least, read Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate and realize that it depends on everything that preceded it.

I know I'm referring you to the very non-Distributist Amazon.com, but you COULD buy from any number of very Distributist independent bookstores by searching and ordering through abebooks.com.

Kevin Aldrich said...

I've read them, Tom. I'm reading Ferrara's "Defense of Distributivism" now. Ferrara thinks highly of modern papal teaching?

Kevin O'Brien said...

WWH,the Austrians are simply libertarians.

The market did indeed give us the internet, which is Distributist. The market goes wrong when it is pushed away from Distributism, as Big Business and Big Government in collusion will do.

We agree with Woods and the Austrians that the free market is a good thing; but under a Capitalist or Socialist system, the market does not remain free. That's the problem.

Manny, read Woods as WWH suggests. And read Chesterton and Belloc and the other Distributist writers and make up your own mind.

As to how the Austrian school stands in relation to our broken system, see http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/05/the-wedding-of-hudge-and-gudge/

Kevin Aldrich said...

I read "In Defense of Distributism -
Why Socialism and Distributism are Wholly Antithetical" and am not impressed. A "thirst for riches and temporal goods” uncontrolled by sound moral and religious values is certainly bad when practiced by corporate executives and governmental officials, but this can just as easily be the case a corner grocer - who charges more and has less fresh food. To what degree is Distributivism a form of Romanticism?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Hi, Kevin!

Your first comment shows that you buy into the myth that Distributism is opposed to the formation of any large corporation. We are not. Some things cannot be made and made profitably unless on a large scale.

Employee ownership and cooperatives help, as do limits on the power of large corporations to establish unfair trade. Distributism would support trust busting (which our government once did, but does no more) and the limit to the formation of monopolies, so that the market can indeed remain free.

Unlike Woods and the Austrians, we recognize that the government ought to exercise its legitimate function, to protect our liberty by setting limits on corporate abuses of the free market.

Kevin Aldrich said...

Hey, if you can't buy into a myth, what good are they?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Kevin, I agree that there are Romantic tendencies in Distributism that tend to cloud the thinking of some of our members. But the greedy corner grocer has less chance to do harm than the greedy corporate grocery chain. If you don't like the corner grocer, you can easily compete with him; it's impossible for independents to compete with the big chains. You can at least shop at the next corner grocery - unless the chains have bought him up or run him out of business, in which case you do not have the liberty to vote with your feet.

And we are in agreement that "crony Capitalism" is the enemy. The problem is that the Distributists would say that all (unregulated) Capitalism eventually leads to "crony Capitalism".

But, again, Distributism is about the spirit of Capitalism - entrepreneurship and freedom. Chesterton said that the problem is not that there are too many capitalists, but too few.

Which is to say, greater ownership of capital leads to a healthier society. Read my latest post and Sean Dailey's editorial that I link to, in which the sickness of our social construct (including "gay marriage") is shown to connect to the corruption of our economy.

http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2013/01/keeping-up-with-keeping-down-of-joneses.html

Anonymous said...

Tom Leith,

You are correct in a sense that the Internet was birthed from DARPA/Arpanet, carried on later with National Science Foundation funding and the work of academics in the American university system. A lot of early work was done by private, informal working groups as well.

Unfortunately, the US Government in the 1990s granted a monopoly to Network Solutions, Inc. in assigning domain names on the .com gTLD--a prime example of corporatism/crony capitalism invading the Internet from the beginning. Eventually we were stuck with ICANN--the global monopoly over gTLDs.

But, how did the Internet (the network of networks) go from a science project among professors to a household commodity? How did we go from dial up modems on desktops to 4G network access on your mobile device? The answer to those questions is the market.

I recommend a great read on the development of the Internet and the battle for its control by Milton Mueller,"Ruling the Root:Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace." You seem knowledgeable in this area--you may be familiar with the history already.

Your comments re: the last seven Popes, economic history, and Chris Ferrara strike me as hyperbole. We could both cite a wealth of great material on either side and neither one of us would change our mind. So, we disagree.

I've reviewed the exchange between Ferrara and Woods. Ferrara just does not have the academic prowess that Woods possesses in this field of study, so I would rather see someone well versed in econ theory take on Woods. I would hardly call the answer "devastating."

Economic liberalism is premised on individual liberty and private property. Sure, its easy to comb the writings of some economic liberals and pull out bad quotes. Woods and other Catholic libertarians in no sense endorse every word ever written by this school of thought. The point is that individual liberty and private property are in harmony with Catholic social teaching.

It seems inconsistent to believe that the state--which has given us endless war, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and a number of other intrinsic evils throughout the history of the world--should be given the power to centrally plan the economy.

This is the objection of the economic liberal. We believe government's purpose is to enforce the natural law (delivered by God and discoverable by reason)--not centrally plan commercial transactions.

--
WWH

Kevin O'Brien said...

Yes, if you can't buy into a myth, what good is it? Good one. Thanks, Kevin!

Kevin O'Brien said...

WWH, you are perhaps implying that Distributism is all about the government centrally planning the economy. It is not. Central government planning of the economy is Socialism, not Distributism.

Distributism, however, does not shun governmental intervention, as the libertarians do. Distrbutism is merely a form of "trust busting", of using law to prevent crony capitalism from turning a "free market" into a "non-free market", or a slave-market, if you will.

We seem to be in agreement on the value of the free market. Distributists simply say that if the market is left totally free in an unregulated capitalist economy, it will not long remain free.

Kevin O'Brien said...

By the way, this is an interesting discussion, and even the folks I'm disagreeing with are saying very worthwhile things and saying them civilly and articulately. I must be dreaming.

Anonymous said...

Kevin O'Brien,

I agree that this is a great discussion.

I did not mean to imply that distributism is all about central planning. That would not be representing distributism fairly.

As you rightly point out, we agree on a lot - perhaps more than we disagree.

I think both of our preferred systems rely on a governance structure that may be unattainable:

The economic liberal denies that the 'trust busting' power of a distributist government would be applied impartially in practice. Sadly, there are too many examples of the DOJ using antitrust law as a political tool. A second problem is the initial distributing, i.e. the busting up of existing monopolies. Again, it seems ripe for abuse and requires confiscating private property.

For economic liberalism (indeed liberty in general) to work, it requires a government that is committed to enforcing the natural law. Sadly, history shows that governments have not done so, and societies can't get a good look at a truly free market as a result.

Great discussion! Everyone has raised interesting and valid points.

--
WWH

Tom Leith said...

The economic liberal denies that the 'trust busting' power of a distributist government is legitimate at all.

Distributist Governments could lead to Crony Capitalism too -- the technical term is Regulatory Capture, and it was certainly happening in the late Middle Ages, giving Protestant (and Republican) Princes that stole the monastic lands ample excuse to suppress the Guilds too.

"The Market" did not give us the internet. It was invented with government money, it was proven by military and academic (i.e. mostly government funded) research programs, its whole naming system grew under government monopoly, and its long-haul interconnections were built on infrastructure operated by other government monopolies, and the 4G connections we all love on our smartphones (whose underlying tech was ALL pioneered with government money) run also under government monopolies, overseen to some extent by government regulators.

"The Market" barely gives us Cheerios and if not for interstate highways (also a government invention) we couldn't buy them at any Wally World on the continent for $3.69 a box. Economic Institutions and infrastructure matter, and it ain't "The Market" that gives them to us. The question for Catholics is "what sorts of economic institutions ought we have given human nature and the purpose of an economy?"

Today I think is a great day to talk about this: The Feast of the Holy Family (at least on the liturgical calendar I use). How shall families have their support? What institutions ought we create? How shall they be evaluated and regulated? In Woods' "field of study" the dignity of the family does not matter because the "field of study" has been narrowed to exclude this consideration. The popes tell Woods he's wrong about that.

Manny said...

Part 1
KO - Manny, if a Catholic were to say that divorce was bad for the family, and that children should be the primary concern of the parents, would you object because someone other than a Professional Social Worker made that suggestion?

-Everybody’s got an opinion. It doesn’t mean an opinion is educated. Parenting is something most people do, so education tends to come on the job. I’m a mechanical engineer. Do you think you can design a complex (or even simple) piece of machinery because you slept at a Holiday Inn last night? Economics is a complex discipline. The analogy doesn’t hold.

KO - As to my characterization of capitalism as being "two dimensional", please point out where I'm flat. If saying that Greedy Corporate Interests and the State have colluded to defraud and rob the American people is cartoonish, please show me where the error lies in the sketch.

-LOL, “defraud,” “rob,” “collusion,” “slaves,” “super-rich masters,” Pulease. That’s rather childish and self evident that it’s two dimensional.

KO - So, Manny, be a Manny and Manny up, and engage the points I have made in this post. Show how your "evolved" economic system is just fine, thank you. Give one reason why a wider distribution of mom-and-pop businesses is a bad thing. Get off the ad hominems and deal with the actual points I'm making.
-What ad hominems? Pointing out that distributists aren’t economists? Pointing out your argument is two dimensional? Wider distribution of mom and pop businesses is not a bad thing. Destroying corporations by I take it through forced distribution is a bad idea, (a) because it requires state power to forcibly take other’s wealth, and (b) destroy the economic stability that corporations through their millions of employed would provide. And by the way, I didn’t think I was so confrontational. If I was, it was unintentional, and I apologize.


KO - 1. Golly gee, I just can't understand what you're saying (Jay Boyd PhD above). Distributism is just too hard to comprehend!

-It’s so hard to understand that it’s never put in any college economics textbook.


KO - 1. The economy was made for man, not man for the economy; systems that do not serve the happiness of man - and the fundamental unit of society, the family - are broken and need to be fixed.

-The economy is not made for man; it’s an outgrowth of men in relationship with each other. If you find it flawed, then fix mankind. Otherwise if I may venture into theology, man is flawed, therefore the economy is flawed.

Manny said...

Part 2
KO - 2. Capitalism and Socialism both end up concentrating more and more wealth and power in the hands of a very few people, who take control of the State and who become the de facto slaveholders of those they have, over the generations, dispossessed.

-May I ask where (time and place) such an ideal society has ever existed? Surely not the middle ages when the Catholic Church had complete power to “configure” an economy. Plus, another failing in the distributist argument assumes a static model for the economy. Once you redistribute and allow freedom, then it will evolve into natural inbalance of distribution. Or do you intend to do away with freedom?


KO - 3. A wider distribution of the means of production tends to make for a more free society and a saner economy.

-Possibly, but that doesn’t mean people would be better off. Concentrated wealth, such as General Motors in the 1950s can produce affordable cars on a mass production level. Mom-and-pop shops could never do that. Corporations can afford to hire half or more of the country. Mom-and-pop shops could not, nor can they afford to pay and provide the same benefits. Corporations can afford to make bad decisions and still keep a high number of people employed. Mom-and-pop shops cannot. I’m not arguing to do away with mom-and-pop shops; a lot of innovation comes from them, and they eventually grow to be corporations. A healthy economy has a good balance.

KO - 4. The best example of Distributism in action is the internet.

-No clue what you’re talking about. Let me just mention Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Google, Yahoo, Apple, software corporations, and the thousands of people who have made fortunes with the internet.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Thus quoth Manny, "The economy is not made for man ... If you find it flawed, then fix mankind." Thank you, Manny, for being so honest here. It shows the gulf between us.

As to the need for large endeavors to produce things like cars, I quote Joseph Pearce, 'Schumacher argues that "smallness within bigness" is possible in the largest companies. There are two ways that this can be achieved. First, through transforming the companies into producers' cooperatives, thereby giving the workforce a real subsidiarist stake in the large company for which they work. This model has proved hugely successful in many parts of the world and Schumacher and I both offer several case studies to illustrate the efficiency of this option.'

A Distributist economy is not "centrally planned". It is simply an economy that prevents monopolies from forming and puts limits on the size of businesses so that they cannot crush or enslave the little guy.

Thank you, Manny, for taking me on a point at a time. I appreciate that.

Kevin O'Brien said...

By the way, I'm not talking about either the government's administration of certain internet protocols, or about the roles of giant corporations in Information Technology. I'm talking about what people DO with this technology - about what people build along the highway the government helps maintain.

For, in the same way that the government builds and maintains roads and big corporations build cars, so the government has established protocols for the internet highway and big corporations make computers. But if you hop in your car and drive a highway and find the road filled not with McDonald's and Wal-Marts, but with thousands of little independently owned shops and restaurants, you'd be seeing what you're seeing on the internet today.

Another analogy - the internet is not what TV was before cable - three large national outlets and very little local content. The road called "internet" goes through everywhere, and the diversity of folk who make use of it is quite literally Distributist in character and in fact.

That's what I'm saying.

Tom Leith said...

> It’s so hard to understand that
> it’s never put in any college
> economics textbook.

Never? What about scholarly journals? Do they count? Check out Douglass C. North, Kenneth Arrow, Ronald Coase, Amaryta Sen (Nobel Laureates all), John Kenneth Galbraith, and a raft of others. The problem is that undergraduate and even graduate level textbooks are often decades behind the state of the art. Maybe there's a good pedagogical reason for this focus in the textbooks on the tools and not the applications -- I don't know. But I think Thomas Kuhn's insight applies here as much as anywhere else.

> The economy is not made for man;
> it’s an outgrowth of men in
> relationship with each other. If
> you find it flawed, then fix
> mankind.

Wow.

It is rather the neoclassical "orthodox" economists who have broken the study of political economy by breaking man, making him an atomistic wealth-maximizing individual, ignoring his social institutions and cultural matrix (not to mention his Last End), and who have seen history as some kind of Star Wars Force of its own quite apart from the people who created it.

They have an excuse -- they're building models -- and the best of them at least understand that their models howsoever useful they may be should not become normative, much less policy prescriptions.

You have torn a page from Trotsky's play book: we must remake man to have him fit our theories (and the simplistic mathematical models we learned a little bit about as undergrads).

Tom Leith said...

And one more thing: mankind is better than the broken economic institutions of the United States, and mankind can fix them.

Manny said...

Ooh, I had trouble finding my way back to this thread.

You're welcome on appreciating my repsonse.

You said,
"A Distributist economy is not "centrally planned". It is simply an economy that prevents monopolies from forming and puts limits on the size of businesses so that they cannot crush or enslave the little guy."

For the record, I'm not opposed to the goals of distributism. In essence they are what capitalism is all about in an ideal world. However, I don't think (1) you can go back to a pre-corporate world, and (2) it would actually lower the standard of living across the board, and (3) it would evolve back over time. There are many advantages to corporations. I pointed out a few. Whether the disadvantages outweigh the advantages I guess is a personal opinion. My opinion is thus: yes, corporations have an imbalance in wealth distribution, but it also provides for more wealth for everyone else.

As a side manner, the complaints against the current economy (besides the immediate recession) really come down to the squeezing out of manufacturing jobs to outside the country. Western countries are left with either high skilled (management, engineering, scientists etc.) and lower skilled hamburger-flipper jobs. That’s a function of a global economy where countries that were once third world (China, India, etc) now can compete and win medium skilled jobs because of their lower cost of living. That is a problem, and I don’t know what the best way to address it. Over time we’ll all have a similar cost of living and this will issue disappear. But that’s generations away and until then we will experience a greater push toward lower skilled jobs which don’t pay as much.

Kevin Aldrich said...

Every week my wife gives Walmart about $300 for which we get groceries and other necessaries for our family of nine cheaper than anywhere else. What is so bad about that? If their prices go too high or the quality is too low, we and millions of others will vote with our feet and go elsewhere. Why should the government give an unfair advantage to businesses which are not as efficient as Walmart? Walmart puts others out of business because people voluntarily choose not to patronize those other businesses.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Manny, we're not against corporations; we're against giant corporations forming monopolies and engaging in unfair competition.

And the solution is not "better jobs", but skilled workers becoming their own bosses and freeing themselves from dependence upon employers.

Kevin, I will address your comment in a new post today!

Kevin Aldrich said...

Okay but in the late 19th centuries, the great oil and steel companies made their products incredibly more abundant and affordable.