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Applied Distributism

August 27, 2012

I was going to call this blog Applied Distributism because Distributism (or Solidarism in Europe) was the Catholic response to the self-evident iniquities of nineteenth century capitalism and its noxious reaction, communism (or socialism or any other name given to an overtly directed economy – from the “left” or the “right”). Distributism was first formulated by Hilaire Belloc and the Chesterton brothers following Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891). G.K. Chesterton summarised the thrust of Rerum Novarum when he said, “Capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists”. Or, every man should have the right to five acres and a mule so that he may feed himself and his family and not rely on another to provide him with employment.

While there is much to admire in Belloc’s conception of Distributism, specifically the avoidance of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the most rapacious, his solution to prevent this was to enlarge the state. While expedient, “more government” is always the remedy of those who would seek to sit atop it and rule the rest of us (or the painfully naïve who don’t see the danger). More government is never, ever the answer. The same type of person who ends up running an oligopoly under capitalism is the same type of person who ends up running the communist party, i.e. a psychopath (I use the term psychopath to refer to anyone on a spectrum that runs from a guy who would take your lunch money off you just because he can, to history’s more notable examples, see below).

This point has been made by Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, several times, but explicitly in The Road to Serfdom. Hayek said that the more activities were planned, the more the will of the planner would conflict with the desires of the planees. Ultimately, the planner who ends up setting the quantities produced and sale prices for every good in an economy (perhaps a million or more?) would of necessity be the ne plus ultra of narcissistic psychopaths – for example Trotsky, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Hoxha, Ceauşescu, Mobutu, Kim and Amin. Benevolent dictatorships are like Giffen goods – more often encountered in theory than in practice.

It is the increase in state power, albeit with benevolent intentions, that is the major weakness of Belloc’s Distributism. Even those of us who like the Distributist concept can’t reconcile ourselves to the fallacy of benign dictatorship. Thus, one of the problems for Catholic economists is how to ensure a fair distribution of wealth that is endogenously stable. “Fair” is explicitly not synonymous with an “equal” distribution of wealth, which is demonstrably Marxist bilge, designed to justify state expropriation of private property as a means of dealing with political enemies and friends. To quote from Rerum Novarum,

“The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property…” paragraph 15.

Therefore, what is needed is a cheap, long-term viable alternative to a state-directed Distributism. And that alternative is a properly formed Catholic conscience Distributism.


From → Chapter 1

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