Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Distributism Yet Again, III: Distributism's "Catch-22"

As we saw in yesterday's posting, today's neo-distributist tends to shift the basis of the natural law from reason to will. This gives whoever can bully others immense power, and seems to account in large measure for the ability of such will-based Catholics to drive their opponents (i.e., anyone who agrees with the Church that the natural law is based on reason) out of the Church in disgust over their tendency to show their love for the poor and downtrodden by spreading hatred of anyone they deem non-poor or insufficiently downtrodden. As Blessed John Paul II observed, however,

"Love for the poor must be preferential, but not exclusive. The Synod Fathers observed that it was in part because of an approach to the pastoral care of the poor marked by a certain exclusiveness that the pastoral care for the leading sectors of society has been neglected and many people have thus been estranged from the Church. The damage done by the spread of secularism in these sectors — political or economic, union-related, military, social or cultural — shows how urgent it is that they be evangelized, with the encouragement and guidance of the Church's Pastors, who are called by God to care for everyone." (John Paul II, Ecclesiam in America ("On the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America"), 1999, § 67.)

The confusion many people see in Catholic social teaching is probably due to the failure to distinguish between expedients to be taken now to meet conditions imposed by poorly structured institutions (e.g., living wage, State benefits, redistribution), and the "goal necessarily to be sought," that is, widespread capital ownership so that (consistent with the much-abused and even more misunderstood Say's Law of Markets) people can produce with both labor and capital that they own instead of using what belongs to others.

Most simply put, and contrary to Keynes's "restatement," Say's Law is that you can't consume unless you produce. If you want what someone else has produced, you must exchange something that you have produced, either with your labor, or your capital (including land under capital, instead of capital under land as Leo XIII did).

If you cannot produce by means of your labor, Louis Kelso pointed out that you must become an owner of capital to supplement and in some instances replace what you can produce with labor alone.

This brings in the flaw in classic distributism. According to conventional wisdom, you cannot finance new capital formation unless you first cut consumption and save. This restricts capital ownership in most cases to those who can afford to save — the rich. Consistent with the natural law, however, you cannot simply take what belongs to another. That is contrary to the universal prohibition against theft. Nor can you redefine theft to make it okay.

Consequently, Chesterton and Belloc concluded that the "Distributist State" could only be established after the collapse of the existing system — and it had to collapse without help on your part. Classic distributism was caught in a hopeless situation by its own assumptions, for society can neither retreat nor advance in the required directions, and staying where it is cannot be tolerated.



TheKnowerseeker said...

"Consistent with the natural law, however, you cannot simply take what belongs to another. That is contrary to the universal prohibition against theft. Nor can you redefine theft to make it okay." -- Yes, but ever since people spread out enough over the land to no longer have any ownerless land left to claim -- that is, wealth became finite -- the wealthy began stealing their wealth from others. It began with dictators, and now it is done by the capitalists. Thus, forceful redistribution of wealth -- say, to create a distributist economy -- is not also theft but rather justice and reparations to the victims of the original theft.

Michael D. Greaney said...

This is precisely the sort of weak sophistry endemic to what is increasingly called "neo-distributism."

First, observe the assertion: "the wealthy began stealing their wealth from others." Proof, please? This is an "assertion." Without proof or argument based (as Chesterton quoted St. Thomas Aquinas) "not on documents of faith, but on reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves," all you have is a burning conviction based on faith that the wealthy stole what they have.

Sorry. Without logical consistency of the argument or empirical evidence, all you have is the ugliest of the seven deadly sins: envy.

In any event, the claim that the rich "stole" the wealth they have is based on two demonstrably false assumptions: 1) that human labor is the only real input to production; that capital is only "congealed labor" and produces nothing in and of itself, and 2) that the only way to finance new capital formation is to cut consumption and accumulate money savings.

Thus (so the reasoning goes) since nobody's labor is worth THAT much, and since nobody could honestly save enough out of income from labor — the only "real" source of production — the wealthy MUST have stolen what they have from others.

Proof? Who needs proof when you can stir up a little (or a lot of) hate?

Of course, the fact that capital is an independent factor of production and can produce goods and services without any direct human input — labor — at all is conveniently ignored, as is the fact that during periods of rapid capital expansion and economic growth, new capital formation is NOT financed by past reductions in consumptions, but by (and note this well) MONETIZING FUTURE INCREASES IN PRODUCTION.

Read that again. Try to understand it, or you will never be able to grasp the simple fact that, if the wealthy stole their vast wealth from others . . . WHERE DID THE OTHERS GET IT? It did not exist prior to its creation. The fact that current wealth could not possibly have been withheld from past consumption for the simple reason that current wealth dwarfs past production by a mega-factor.

The necessary conclusion is that there must be some OTHER source of financing besides past reductions in consumption, and there is: future increases in production.

Second, note the redefinition (re-editing of the dictionary) of "theft." Redistribution — which Chesterton insisted repeatedly was wrong — "is not also theft but rather justice and reparations to the victims of the original theft."

Really? You haven't proved that theft occurred. You ASSUMED it, based on other, demonstrably false assumptions. That is dishonest.

This is the sort of nonsense that pervades distributism today: first make the unproved assertion that the ONLY way the rich COULD have become wealthy is by theft . . . and then they change the definition of theft so that redistributing the wealth of some is no longer a vice, but a virtue!

Just shift the basis of the natural law from what is provable by "the natural force of human reason" (Humani Generis, § 2) to your personal opinion as to what should be, and, voila! You can have anything you want . . . assuming you have the gun to shove in other people's faces to enforce your redefinition of "justice."