THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

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.