The American Conservative on Distributism

The magazine The American Conservative has published a nice article on distributism called Distributism is the Future.  It’s a well written piece offering a brief introduction to distributism as an economic philosophy and then gives some modern day examples of how we see distributist ideas at work today.  The author shows why distributism is not socialism or capitalism but is a “third way” as some have called it.  Distributism was chiefly taught by GK Chesterton and Hillarie Belloc, sometimes these two are referred to as “Chesterbelloc.”  These two “rejected socialism, believing that private property was an essential component of human flourishing, but they also rejected the existing capitalist system as concentrating private property in far too few hands.”  

The author sums up one of the aspects of distributism I’m drawn to, which is the conservative nature of the teaching.  Distributism favors communities and families over the good of the multinational corporation.  I’ll let the author sum it up:

And finally—something that Belloc stressed—distributism has a conservative aspect: it posits as a laudable end not some utopian experiment in untested social arrangements but a socio-economic system that we already know is workable, from both historical and contemporary evidence. Furthermore, because workers themselves are the owners of capital goods, they are less likely to be forced to abandon their communities and extended families in order to keep a good job. There of course may be efficiency trade-offs in choosing to stay put rather than moving to some distant but more profitable location to find some work. But under distributism, workers would evaluate these trade-offs for themselves, rather than having some global corporate entity send them, willy-nilly, thousands of miles from their family and community—or finding themselves suddenly unemployed, as the modern corporation is loath to give its workers even a moment’s notice before they are escorted out of their workplace and onto the street by corporate security.

The author goes on to provide a few examles from around the globe that show Distributist ideas can and do work the real world and may be becoming more prevalent.  

I’m glad to see a conservative magazine picking up on the ideas of distributism.  I hope this is a trend that continues. 

Distributism: Is it possible?

One criticism of distributism I’ve read and even thought of on my own is that it is too idealistic of a system to be implemented.  To have a distributist society our nation would need a complete reset of its economy, its capital, a reorienting of family life, and a return to a more agrarian lifestyle.  Most of our nation would need to return to the Lord, and our Chrsitian background since distributism is based on the biblical command to love thy neighbor which is hardly the goal of the capitalist or socialist society.

If you aren’t familiar with distributism here is a short definition:

I take Distributism to be the view that private property should be widely distributed in society, rather than concentrated in a few hands, in order to enable more or even most people to be able to take responsibility for their own families by means of productive and dignified work.

The more I read about distributism the more I desire a simpler life, to work for myself, to grow more of my own food, and support local business and small farmers in or around my community while patronizing big box stores less and less.  This article from the Distributist Review explains further ideas of how distributism can be implemented in our everyday lives.  The article identifies three ways to apply distributism to our daily lives.  

The first way to implement distributism is to communicate.  Most people are unaware of an economic option other than capitalism and socialism.  Share articles with people, talk to others about the ideas, and read more about it so you can communicate clearly.  

The second step is to practice distributism.  This is not as easy as simple communication as it involves more action and hard work.  One way to practice distributism are planting a garden to grow more of your own vegetables and fruits.  Also, consider purchasing food from a local food coop or local small farmer.  Distributism focuses on the community and goes beyond basic economics.  The author of the article writes, “Focus on more than economics. Distributism is about more than the process of exchange. Commitment to the community, particularly to those in need, is an integral part of Distributism.”

Third, become active in working for laws which will make distributism more probable.  This means working on a local level.  The author states:

Don’t neglect regional and national policies, but focus on local issues. Why are we forced to commute by zoning laws that require the separation of all businesses from residences? If you want to be a baker, why can’t you live in a house behind your shop? I can understand the isolation of certain industries that are particularly noisy or smelly, but that does not necessarily apply to the shoe shop or local grocer. If higher levels of government are blocking local change, tell them you believe they are harming the local community. (No politician likes to hear that.)

Finally, a fourth way to promote distributism, not found in the article, is taking responsibility for the education of your children.  While I was only taught the two schools of thought of capitalism and socialism, I have the opportunity to teach the ideas of distributism to my children and will do so.

Free Trade, Protectionism, and Distributism

I’ve always enjoyed economics ever since my 9th grade Econ class.  It’s always made sense to me and been easy to understand.  I’m no expert by any means, but I enjoy reading things here and there on the subject.  I was taught Keynesianism in school, became an Austrian economics fan thanks to the good doctor, Ron Paul, was then turned toward protectionist ideas by reading Pat Buchanan, and now have been reading much about Distributism.  Because of my history here I found this article from The Distributist Review to be interesting.  It does address some of my questions regarding free trade, capitalism and human nature, and protectionism.  I found this paragraph to be helpful in thinking of protectionism as protecting the capitalism of my own country. The author states:

Distributists are sometimes accused of being protectionists—when we’re not accused of being socialists. Protectionists recognize the need to protect jobs within their own country. They advocate using things like tariffs and subsidies to protect national businesses from foreign trade with countries that use forced labor, subsidize their companies, or where the people are so desperate they will work in awful conditions for nearly slave wages. However, the protectionists are merely trying to protect Capitalism within their own country. They accept the same outsourcing, job relocation, and consolidation of the control of productive capital as those who advocate Free Trade, but only within their own country. The real reason the American job machine is broken is the thing Free Trade and protectionism have in common: Monopolistic Capitalism.

Next, the author also sums up the ideals of Distributism which resonate with me:

Imagine instead being economically independent. What if you owned your job, either independently or cooperatively, instead of a huge company? What if the goods and services you need for your daily life were produced locally by people who also owned their own jobs. Imagine if the government was required to provide a stable currency. Imagine if there were still dozens of car manufacturers across the country who worked together on innovating new technologies, instead of the “Big Three” who bought out their competition. The overall national economy would be more stable because each local economy would be stable. The failure of one company would not have the ability to devastate an entire region. The common man would be economically free because he would own the means of producing his livelihood. This is what Distributism aims to achieve.

Here’s the link to the whole article if you’d like to read it: