Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Brief Discourse on Social Credit, II: What the Experts Say

Yesterday we declared we were more than a little baffled when attempting to define “social credit” briefly and accurately.  Today we are going to see if anybody else has done any better — confining ourselves to experts who seem to have a bit more credibility than we do.  Not that we necessarily agree with these experts, but others might.  We’re only trying to dig down and uncover the truth in a way ordinary people can understand.
Unfortunately, the first thing we note is that even the experts appear to prefer talking about social credit instead of defining it.  We’re still left in the dark about what the Wikipedia entry on Major Douglas gave as the two essential mechanisms of social credit 1) the national dividend, and 2) the just price.
Major C.H. Douglas
This might be due to the fact that social crediters (spelled that way, evidently, to distinguish crediters who get the cash from creditors who pay it) put a great deal of weight on the claim that social credit is advertised as “practical Christianity.”  This, of course, rings alarm bells loud and clear.  It implies that social credit is based on faith instead of reason (and if you’ve been reading this blog regularly you know where we stand on that), and makes it automatically second rate by giving it a crutch, by which one infers that social credit cannot stand on its own merits.
Now, another problem with describing social credit as “practical Christianity” is that we can’t find any evidence that Major Douglas ever made that claim.  That’s not to say he didn’t, but you cannot logically prove a negative, i.e., you cannot prove the existence of non-existence.  We don’t know that Major Douglas did or did not say it.
That being the case, and the presumption in both civil and canon law is “innocent until proven guilty” (i.e., you are required to assume that someone did not do something until and unless you are presented with actual proof that he or she did do it, for good or ill), we assume Major Douglas did not make that claim, and will continue to do so until someone shows us that he did.  The statement does not appear in any form in either Economic Democracy (1920) or Social Credit (1924), Douglas’s first two books, nor do any of the articles and books we’ve reviewed cite a specific source.
This creates another problem.  Some people who support Douglas’s theory have linked the program to Catholic social teaching (See, e.g., Anthony Cooney, Distributism, London: Third Way Publications (ND).). Books, pamphlets and articles abound that present social credit as a “Catholic” economic system.
"The Church has no models to present."
But what does the Catholic Church say about this?  After all, the Catholic Church is more of an expert on what the Catholic Church teaches than social crediters seeking endorsements.  Fortunately, Pope Saint John Paul II was pretty clear in § 43 of Centesimus Annus:
The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another.  For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which, as already mentioned, recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good. This teaching also recognizes the legitimacy of workers’ efforts to obtain full respect for their dignity and to gain broader areas of participation in the life of industrial enterprises so that, while cooperating with others and under the direction of others, they can in a certain sense “work for themselves” through the exercise of their intelligence and freedom.
The most that could be said, then, is that social credit is consistent with Catholic social teaching, not that it is a Catholic or Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or pagan) system . . . if it is, in fact, consistent. . . .
C.S. Lewis: Social credit a fad that fell suddenly.
A few people seem to think otherwise, such as Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis and Catholic controversialist Hilaire Belloc.  We found only a rather equivocal and confusing reference to Chesterton’s views on social credit, in a letter the poet Ezra Pound wrote to the economist Irving Fisher in 1935: “[Chesterton] finds nothing to contradict in as much social credit as I advocate,” which is about as clear as some of Pound’s poetry.  (Quoted in Dennis R. Klinck, “Chesterton and Social Credit,” The Chesterton Review.  Volume 3, Issue 1, Fall-Winter 1976-77, 31.)  Although the evidence is more than a little shaky, Dr. Klinck builds this hearsay into a Chestertonian endorsement of social credit.
C. S. Lewis used the “Douglas scheme” as an example of a fad that fell “even more suddenly” than most.  (C. S. Lewis, “The Decline of Religion,” The Grand Miracle.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1983, 135.)  Hilaire Belloc, whose distributism has suffered almost as much as social credit at the hands of misguided enthusiasts, thought that Douglas missed the point of restructuring the social order by focusing on income rather than ownership.  (Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property.  New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936, 9.)
So we still don’t know what social credit is, exactly, except that — as far as Pound, Lewis, and Belloc are concerned, 1) Chesterton could not find anything in social credit as Pound advocated it to contradict Pound’s understanding of social credit, 2) social credit is a fad, and 3) it focuses on income rather than on the ownership that is the focus of distributism.  That’s really not much to go on, so we’ll take a break on this subject until Monday (or maybe Tuesday), and have something a little more interesting tomorrow.

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