Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Distributism Yet Again, IV: The Paradox of Property

Yesterday we discovered that classic distributism managed to get into an irreconcilable paradox. That is, given that you presumably cannot finance new capital formation unless you cut consumption and accumulate money savings, only people who can afford to save are able to purchase new capital. In other words, the rich get richer.

On the other hand, if you are seeking to restore private property for some, you cannot logically destroy it for all, regardless of your justification. That is, you cannot say to the rich man that you propose to make him insecure in his property by taking it away so that you may make the poor man secure in what he would then possess. This would make the poor man relatively rich (at least, compared to what he was before), and thus subject to confiscation and redistribution to benefit the formerly rich man who was stripped of his wealth to benefit the formerly poor man.

The only ones who benefit from this approach to social betterment are the ones doing the redistributing, the re-redistributing, and so on: government bureaucrats, who by this means seize power in the State and extend and maintain control over every aspect of the lives of the citizens. Thus, the classic distributist could only sit back and wait for some cataclysm to destroy civilization, which could then be rebuilt to form the Distributist State.

What would actually happen, of course, is that civilization would collapse and, just as happened after the fall of Rome, history would follow the same course that got us into the mess in the first place. Until and unless people give up the fixed idea that the only way to finance new capital formation is to cut consumption and save, capital formation will continue to be a monopoly of the rich, regardless of the level of technology, or how beautiful small might happen to be.



Jim Albert said...

Why do you have to assume that the gov't. does the re-distribution directly. It does not have to be in that business directly. Why can't govt. simply help to make the conditions more favorable for the private sector to encourage a wide distribution of ownership of land and the means of production? It doesn't have to be a socailistic beaurocratic process. This can slowly come through education and the changing of the hearts of those who own most of the land and means of production.

Their hearts would have to change, but why shouldn't we be praying and sacrificing for that to happen. The problem is, if the govt. isn't even willing to help to make the conditions favorable for a distributist circumstance---the education and change of heart isn't going to find it's complement in the laws.

Michael D. Greaney said...

What you suggest, Jim, is what CESJ's Capital Homesteading proposal is about. Capital Homesteading, however, cannot work in a system that relies on past savings — by definition a monopoly of the rich — to finance new capital formation, and thus capital acquisition by non-owners.

You suggest that we can change human nature, and then things will fall into place. This is what the socialists say will happen once we abolish private property in capital.

Human nature, however, cannot change. It is based on God's Nature, and is therefore unchangeable in its substance. Distributing your goods to the poor is a "counsel of perfection," not the usual way of running things. If distributism can only work if every human being is perfect, we are going to be waiting a very, very, very long time for the Distributist State.

Forcing people to do the right thing (as the ones doing the forcing see it, anyway) is not a way of helping people acquire and develop virtue. It's just tyranny. Nevertheless, it's the only way, given human nature and reliance on past savings, that you're going to get widespread capital ownership.

The alternative — which, for some reason, seems to make many distributists shake with rage — is to act consistently with human nature, and restructure the legal, monetary and tax systems to encourage widespread ownership by giving people a realistic opportunity to own future wealth that they pay for with future earnings of the very capital they purchase, not sit around waiting for the rich to change their hearts and start giving away their wealth.