Tuesday, September 20, 2016

And Another Distributist Question!(!): Distributism

To continue our little discussion from yesterday. . . .

The congruence between distributist thought and the Just Third Way is much easier to explain, assuming you go back to the original vision of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.  As a body — although you will find some outstanding exceptions — today’s distributists and Chestertonians appear to have drifted away from the rather straightforward concept of the Chesterbelloc, and (probably inadvertently) incorporated elements that contradict both the basic premise of distributism, and Catholic social teaching.  Many do not understand basic principles of justice, nor the natural law rights of liberty and private property.  Badly misconstruing Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment,” some have even gone so far as to marginalize or denigrate the right to life, claiming that stopping abortion is fine, but we need higher wages and government benefits to help the living, first.
For example, although Chesterton developed distributism as an alternative to Fabian socialism in all its forms (e.g., the various branches of guild socialism and its offshoot, Major Douglas’s social credit), many of today’s distributists and Chestertonians appear to believe that guild socialism, social credit, and even the agrarian socialism of Henry George on which Fabian socialism is based, are compatible with distributism, and thus with Catholic social teaching . . . which explicitly condemns all forms of socialism!  Perhaps even more remarkably, although Belloc wrote The Servile State in 1912 to criticize the Fabian demand that everyone be forced to work at a wage system job as the only legitimate source of income apart from government welfare (and which contradicted another Fabian demand that land be redistributed and held rent-free so people could grow their own food, and that large businesses be abolished so that people could set up artisan workshops . . . except butcher shops, many in the Fabian core group were vegetarian . . . and we won’t mention liquor stores, either), many of today’s distributists and Chestertonians accept Marx’s labor theory of value (derived from David Ricardo’s distortions of Adam Smith’s theories) without question, and despite explicit rejection of the concept in the encyclicals.
It is probably easier to say where the Just Third Way and “classic” distributism differ, than list the large areas of agreement.  We see three:

1. Reliance on past savings as the sole source of financing for new capital formation.  Face it: Chesterton and Belloc didn’t understand money, credit, banking, or finance.  They didn’t realize that banks of issue and of discount (commercial banks) were invented to turn contracts — promises — into money to purchase capital today to repay out of future profits tomorrow: “future savings.”  Past savings (which equals investment) is more often used for collateral to secure such “pure credit” loans and not for direct purchase of capital.  Relying on past savings for financing means that, as a rule, only the rich can own, because they by definition own the past savings.  The only way the non-rich can get around this in the past savings paradigm is for the rich to divest themselves of their wealth voluntarily (which falls under the “ain’t gonna happen” heading), or to re-define private property to permit redistribution . . . thereby restoring property by destroying it.  Since neither Chesterton nor Belloc was a fool, they felt frozen into an inability to act, and believed the only thing they could do was wait for the present system to collapse, then rebuild . . . which is not a socially just response.

2. A preference for small, family owned farms and artisan businessesWhen something must be large, it should be owned by the workers through corporate shares.  We believe the free market determines the optimal size of any enterprise, big or small; Justice-Based Management is designed to prevent the sort of alienation Chesterton and Belloc believed inevitable in a large enterprise.  Plus, it’s too easy for people to read “family owned” and assume collective ownership, rather than each family member directly owns a piece of the action.  Incidentally, there’s a possibility that Chesterton got his idea of worker ownership of corporations from Judge Peter Stenger Grosscup, one of Theodore Roosevelt’s “trust busters.”  Grosscup worked with Archbishop John Ireland, both being advocates of expanded ownership, while Abp. Ireland was an expert on Rerum Novarum, and something may have filtered through as a result of Chesterton’s correspondence with Roosevelt.  Of course, it didn’t help matters when the Rough Rider had a fight with Grosscup, and Ireland had a few misunderstandings with Leo XIII on the Americanist controversy.  For some reason, when people aren’t talking to each other, they also aren’t listening.

3.  Reliance on the State to impose a desired result.  This was more Belloc than Chesterton, and we believe it was out of weariness, possibly exasperation, although possibly almost inadvertent.  In the later works of both men we see a growing sense of frustration that people, even their own friends and followers, just weren’t getting it.  Then, something seems to have gone out of Belloc when Chesterton died; Evelyn Waugh noted he wrote almost nothing the last fifteen years of his life.  In any event, in An Essay on the Restoration of Property (1936), Belloc advocated loading the rich with disabilities to bring them down to the level of the non-rich — a most socially unjust proceeding.  What the Just Third Way proposes is through acts of social justice to remove the barriers that inhibit or prevent the non-rich from acquiring and owning capital on the same terms as the rich: the Capital Homesteading proposal.

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