Distributism

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Distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the populace, rather than being centralized


URL = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism


See also: P2P and Distributism, by John Medaille.


Definition

"An economic system proposed by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc that called for widely distributed small holdings of land and other productive assets. This system aimed at securing and protecting individual rights by enabling ordinary citizens to acquire a moderate ownership stake of income-generating property. Distributism was mainly concerned with breaking up current accumulations of wealth. It paid little attention to the ability of the modern corporation and the money- and credit-creating powers of central banks to accelerate growth and spread out ownership of newly added and transferred capital on credit repayable with future savings." (http://www.cesj.org/definitions/glossary.html)


Description

From the Wikipedia:

"Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Roman Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of Catholic Social Teaching articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum and more expansively explained by Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (indirect socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists."

Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist ideologies). Distributism holds that, while socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers' control), and capitalism allows only a few to own it, distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Hilaire Belloc stated, the distributive state (that is, the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production." This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, etc.

Distributism has often been described as a third way of economic order opposing both socialism and capitalism. However, some have seen it more as an aspiration, which has been successfully realised in the short term by commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity (these being built into financially independent local co-operatives and family owned, small businesses)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism)


Distributive Movements

The Anglo-saxon Catholic tradition

"Distributism, also known as distributionism and distributivism, is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc to apply the principles of social justice theoretically articulated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum. According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the populace, rather than being centralized under the control of a few state bureaucrats (some forms of socialism) or a minority of resource-commanding individuals (capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists" ("The Uses of Diversity", 1921)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism)


The French socialist distributist tradition of Jacques Duboin

Distributism is a set of reform ideas, to achieve a more egalitarian 'distributive economy', set forth by French socialist Jacques Duboin and the still existing journal La Grande Releve.

The following extracts only cover monetary reform and basic income propopals.

Social Money and the Distributive Economy

http://perso.wanadoo.fr/grande.releve/an_tc_justice.htm

Comments from P2P News 99: Thinking about monetary reform is not new. Already in the 1930's, spurred by the Great Depression and the social crisis of the time, many people were looking to monetary reform, a tradition which got `lost' in the successful golden era of Keynesianism. A few months ago I mentioned the proposals of Gesell. Another thinker of the same period was Jacques Duboin, who wrote Rareté et abundance in 1945. This idea fit in very well in the themes of our issues 97 and 98, dedicated to thinking about scarcity (of nature AND of purchasing power in much of the South) and abundance (of productive capacity). Jacques Duboin came up with a set of proposals for a `distributive economy' and his work is continued by the journal La Grande Releve. The second item is a recent investigation by the journal of how the ideas of the distributive economy are related to complentary currencies.

1. The distributive economy and the basic income

"The task is thus to abolish this pattern of accumulation, inherent in the conception of capitalist money. If man can do nothing to change the laws of nature, he must, on the contrary, be able to change the rules of his own game.This is the aim of our proposition of a distributive economy, or economy of the needs, in which money cannot accumulate. Distributive money is strictly consumerist in nature : it is only a purchasing power, it is used just once to hand out goods and services from the producers to the consumers, it does not circulate, it cannot be invested to bear interest and is no longer anonymous.

This is the only way in which any investment can be decided taking into account other requirements than financial return on capital. The management of goods and services will be established for the benefit of the whole community, while having regard to ecological imperatives, only if instead of being submitted only to the blind forces of the market, it is established at the end of debates, in which all human, social, ecological, moral, ethical aspects, can be taken into consideration.Actually, the aim of our propositions is to invent democracy in economy. We have been thinking a lot over this problem, particularly because it opens prospects that are bright. We think that any person, who is born in today's world, is entitled to the right of living in the best way that is possible, with the only limit that it does not prevent the other people and their descendants from having the same rights. It's why in distributive economy, every one, from his birth to his death, is attributed an income.

However, we think also that any right must go together with a duty, here,the economic duty to keep things working.Thus, a Social Income is associated with a Social Service to share the goods, as well as the tasks, between all.This implies the creation, at various levels (local, regional, national, european, etc.), of say, Social and Economical Councils (SEC), democratically constituted and acting according to the principle of subsidiarity. Economic democracy is at last attained by granting to these Councils the power of creating money. This power is taken away from the credit banks that now use it in an arbitrary way. The money created, in the modern computerised fashion, is also used to finance the needed investments for organisations and companies, who are of course accountable for them. In a word, in the distributive economy, all that is humanly and physically possible will be made financially possible. Thus, the SECs will have charge of the management of both aspects of the distributive economy. To manage the social income, they have to estimate the amounts of purchasing power to be distributed periodically (each month, for example). In a broad sense, this problem consists in evaluating the production of output in a given time. The factors to take into account are consumer demand, limiting conditions, public service requirements and planned investments. The sum total of all social income, for a given period of time, is the difference between the value of estimated production output and that of the approved investments. The second charge of the SEC is evidently linked to this. Sharing the tasks involves that the social service is effected by each and everyone throughout his active life, taking into account his aptitudes, and subject to community needs."

Special Issue of La Grande Releve, the journal of the movement, dedicated to the life and ideas of the founder. See at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/grande.releve/r_contenus/760.htm


2. The Distributive Economy and Complementary Currencies

URL = http://perso.wanadoo.fr/grande.releve/an_tc_money.htm

"It's time to realize that mankind is now in possession of the mastery of production of goods and services. If the big problems of the past were those of production to avoid scarcity, they are now those of distribution of a potentially abundant production. The revolutionary transformation of our means of production have to be used to change our economic and social relations. Profit can no longer be the nerve of economy ! This implies that the capitalistic money (created by banks in relation to anticipated profits) has to be replaced by a new kind of money, the role of which will be simply to adjust the total income of consumers to the amount of goods and services that have been ecologically produced for them. It is a consumption money, canceled when it has been used by a consumer. It cannot be hoarded or lent at interest. It is from local experiments, under democratic control, that this kind of money, let us call it «  social money », has to prove oneself and then be extended on larger areas. In this paper some attempts of implementation of social money in various places of Europe and Latin America are analyzed.

Since Michael Linton initiated in British Columbia the concept of "complementary community currencies" in 1984, thousands of such currencies have been implemented around the world and are the subject of a number of theoretical works or experiments. Japan seems to become a world leader in promoting complementary community currencies to solve the socioeconomic problems it faces since the early 1990's (such as aging, unemployment and economic slump) based on an unsustainable system. In a series of projects, called Eco Money Projects, more than 40 different types of complementary currencies are currently experimented in Japan in order to determine :

- which is the best technologie (from high-tech smart cards to low-tech paper notes) ;

- which is the right scale (from mountain villages of 800 people to area of 10 million people) ;

- how many functions can be compatible on a single smart card (1 to 27, from elderly and/or child care, local unemployment, small business loyalty schemes, ...)

According to the results, a very large scale project could be initiated.It is beyond to the scope of this paper to review all the experiments involving complementary or social currencies in progress in the world. A comprehensive review can be found on the web. In the galaxy of complementary currencies one must discriminate between on the one hand, "moneys with social aim" the goal of which is to solve a series of social problems and, more generally, to give a good living standard to people, and on the other hand, "complementary currencies" aimed at keeping running local economy. Complementary currencies have not for aim to replace but only to complement the legal national currency.

In the following we will give some examples of these two kinds of currencies. The only role of the new currency is to allow the transfer of the production to the consumers. This so-called "distributive money" is strictly consumerist in nature : it is only used for payment, it does not circulate since it is cancelled as soon as it has been used by the consumer, it cannot be invested to bear interest and is no longer anonymous. However, term payments are still possible.The amounts to be distributed periodically (each month, for example) are figured in the same computerised fashion as the transactions now made routinely by stock exchange and financial markets. In a broad sense, the problem consists in evaluating the production to output in a given time. The factors to take into account are consumer demand, ecological and environmental protection, public service requirements and planned investments. The sum total of all "social income" distributed is the difference between the value of estimated production output and that of the approved investments, for a given period of time. Considering that all citizens of a region are equal heirs to the fruits of labour and research having led to our present means of production, Jacques Duboin proposed the same social income for all, in other words economic equality. But feedback from a majority of people shows that they are not prepared for such a radical move. The goal of economic equality must then be envisioned only in the long term.

A transition is thus necessary: To accelerate the advance toward distributive economics, we propose to share the buying power in the form of a citizenship income, calculated on the basis of what we call a "civic contract".They are aimed at stimulating individual initiative, innovation and creativity while taking into account the increasing complexity of the economic structure Their objective is to develop autonomy and responsibility in the citizen, to give him the opportunity of directing his own life, to let him make a choice of his activities while reckoning their value even if not measurable in traditional economic fashion."


Discussion

Towards a Political Economy Based on Distributed Property

This speech was given in Romania, for the Advanced School of Economics, under the title, “Why Isn’t Romania Rich.” In this part below, we reproduce the parts of general important, not restricted to Romania. It is well written and worth considering.

Excerpted from John Médaille:

“This leads us to note a curious parallel between the universalism of Marx and the globalism of the capitalists. For both, place and culture meant nothing; global capitalism, like international communism, knows no limits and recognizes no borders. Is it not fair to ask if Brussels is home to a Fourth Internationale, with lyrics provided by Goldman-Sachs, to a tune played on a cash register, and accompaniment by the unholy trinity of the World Bank, the WTO, and the European Central Bank? As the Marxist critic Slavoj Žižek, noted, “Socialism failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of capitalism…Marx’s notion of Communist society is itself the inherent capitalist fantasy.”

The parallels with this Fourth International and its crude predecessors can be startling. For example, the communists gathered production into vast collectives, conglomerates that shut down any competing source of production and political power, and concentrated effective ownership in the hands of the bureaucrats. But in the capitalist world, production is gathered into vast conglomerates, which are collectives which shut down any competing source of production and political power, and concentrate effective ownership in the hands of the bureaucrats. If you go into the “super-markets” of America, you will find a vast array of “competing” products. But when you peel back the labels, you find that in each sector there are only two or three conglomerates that have cartelized the market, giving the illusion of competition without the reality. Indeed, Stalin would be astounded by the degree of collectivization achieved in the West, as something beyond his wildest dreams.

The capitalists have shown that they are far more efficient in the means of social control. For example, the communists pit the secret police against the workers. But the capitalists have gone them one better: they pit the workers against the workers. For example, Dacia Motors, which is a French company, recently opened a factory in Morocco, which will take production away from Moveni. Jerome Olive, CEO of Automobile Dacia, said that the company plans “to stimulate” competition between the two plants, so that “the plant producing the cheapest [cars] will get the most orders.” Let me suggest that this is a more efficient way of quashing the workers, and far cheaper than hiring policemen.

I could draw out the parallels endlessly, but I think there is one basic error that unites both systems. The great mistake of 20th century economics was the separation of political economy into two disciplines, economics and politics. This was done in the name of a pure “science”; “economics” would deal with the facts while politics would deal with—well, who gave a damn what it dealt with? It was just philosophy no matter how you looked at it. Only the “facts” actually exist; the values are consigned to the world of wishes. Concentration on the “facts” would make the discipline “scientific,” they believed, and “scientific” was the highest accolade that the 19th century could bestow on any field of study. The connection with politics, and hence the connection with normative terms like “justice,” and particular terms like “place,” “nation,” “language” and the like, could only get in the way of a clear, cold look at the facts, and only from the facts should theories arise.

The problem, however, is that there are no such things as “naked facts”; there are only details. “Facts” are the details we select because we believe they will be useful for some purpose, such as constructing a theory. We might compare the construction of a theory to the making of a map. Any map of necessity leaves out more detail than it includes, but the details selected as “facts” depend entirely upon the purpose of the map. That is, a road map will have one set of details, while a political map another set and a topological map a third, and only the selected details will count as “facts” for the purpose of the map; everything else will be irrelevant detail, to be excluded. In the same way, the creation of theories involves a selection of details that one believes will be useful in constructing the theory. Further, this process of selection must be, by definition, pre-theoretical; that is, the researcher starts with his own beliefs, his values, in selecting the details that will count as facts.

For example, a statement like, “Unemployment stands at 9.4%,” certainly sounds “scientific” in the “value-neutral” sense, but it turns out that it involves value judgments at every step of the process: what is to count as “employment,” how they are to be counted, who will be included in the count, what will be considered the final terms, etc., are all value-laden and political decisions. In other words, we must have some purpose in mind before we decide which details will count as facts; the facts do not create the theory, the theory creates the facts. As in the case of the map, it is the theory that discriminates between “facts” and “irrelevant details.”

The results of the misguided attempt to make economics a pure science were predictable enough. When socialism became “scientific,” it ceased to be social; indeed, it ceased to be human. When capital became divorced from culture and place, it became the enemy of culture and place. The divorce of the political from the economic did not create two sciences, but rather two crippled and partial disciplines, each incapable of describing events within its own domain, because in reality there is only one domain with two aspects. It is impossible to describe an economic system apart from the network of laws, property rights, and social expectations in which it is embedded. And it is impossible to understand a political system apart from the economic relationships upon which it is based.

The attempt to eliminate ethics from economics created a world that was devoid of both social justice and economic order. Having abandoned any objective standards of truth and justice, there was simply no way to resolve the disputes between the contending views, which now became, not science, but pure ideologies. Lacking any recognition of some common good, the only way to resolve disputes between the contending schools of thought was by violence, and as ideologies became nationalized, ideology meant war. It is no accident that the 20th century, the most ideological century in history, was also the bloodiest century in history.

But now we are in a great crisis in Capitalism, one that will likely see its end, or at least the end of its current form, that is, finance capitalism. Automobile Dacia might oppress the workers in the name of profit, but at least its profits are based on making a real product, a car; even in oppression it has to provide some thing. But finance capital losses all connection with things. It even loses connection with money, since the “capital” does not represent any real savings, but only the power of banks to create credits ex nihilo by punching a few buttons on a computer. Loosed from all connection to the real world, the credits represent not productivity, but power. This power circles the globe like a flock of vultures, to light on any place that shows weakness, today on Pite?ti, tomorrow on Morocco. They demand a payment even though they have produced not so much as a grain of wheat; their “product” is access to the computers that control the credits.

It is evident to many, that the system of global capitalism will not last, and even should it limp along, it will not bring prosperity to Romania, will not bring her wandering children home. No nation, I think, tried more earnestly to follow the advice of the globalists than did the nations of Eastern Europe, Romania among them. At the same time, they ignored the strengths they truly had, and let them wither, because they did not fit with the global model. Even those who pinned their hopes to the Euro certainly by now have more doubt than hope. Surely, this is the moment to re-think these strategies.

What is needed is new thinking, by which I mean old thinking—that is, ancient truths—applied to new situations. I think it is time to end the 20th century’s disastrous experiment with economics as a pure science and return to the older idea of political economy as a humane science. There are three things that differentiate political economy from economics, and they are justice, purpose, and property. Justice (taken here as an economic notion) is necessary for the proper balance of supply and demand; a stated purpose is necessary to be able to reach a judgment about economic systems; and property is the most basic of all economic relationships.

By justice, we mean simply that what a person gets from production is proportional to what he contributes to production. Here I am thinking of justice as a mere practical necessity, for without it, markets cannot clear, demand cannot rise to meet supply. Now, it is clear that in a capitalist society, the mass of goods are distributed to the mass of men through the mechanism of wages. When wages do not reflect the real productivity of labor, when a small group appropriates most of the rewards to itself, then there will be a failure of demand. In such cases, the economy can only be stabilized by government spending, or by consumer lending, or by a combination of both. In the first case, the government becomes the consumer of last resort, and in the second, the class with excess funds lends it to others, at usurious interest rates, and so the markets clear. At least, for a time. In truth, both are stopgaps. The former leads to bloated governments and the later to financial crises. Those who rail against the growth of government ought to look at the cause of that growth, and the cause is a lack of justice. If markets can’t clear, governments are forced to intervene.

Justice has been understood as an economic necessity since the time of Aristotle, and it was a staple of economic discussions throughout the 19th century. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations uses the term 100 times, and J. S. Mill, writing 100 years later, would use the term about as frequently. But the new utilitarian and Austrian economists were embarrassed by the term, and wished to expunge term. A. E. Marshall, in his 1891 Principles of Economics would use the term only four times, while W. S. Jevons, another founder of the new “science,” would use it only once, and that to deny that it should be used at all. The reason they wished to expunge justice was that it requires, as Aristotle noted, an act of judgment, one that could not be totally reduced to a calculation. But only calculation was “scientific”; GDP can be calculated, justice could only be judged and therefore justice had to go.

The problem of judgment brings us to the next question, namely, what is the purpose of an economy? Without knowing what a thing is supposed to do, one cannot judge whether it is functioning. Yet the new economists had difficulty agreeing on what the purpose of their science was. A. E. Marshall, in the second sentence of his founding textbook, identifies it with individuals gathering wealth, and the most widely accepted definition seems to be that of Lionel Robbins: “Economics is a science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” But economists have no training in the behavioral sciences, and the allocation of resources is an engineering and political question, and economists can add little to the conversation. Thus, economics became a science without a subject matter, declaiming on issues about which the economist had no training whatsoever.

Political economy, on the other hand, has a clear purpose: it deals with the material provisioning of society. On the basis of its purpose, we can make judgments about how well it is working. While there will always be disputes around the edges of the question, It is certainly easy to enough to look around and see whether families are able from their wages to live at a level of dignity appropriate to their national society, and whether they can do so without undue reliance on government support or consumer borrowing, or without working undue hours. That is to say, judgment is not an impediment to science, but the basis of any humane science.

This brings us to the third and most important issue, property. Property is the most basic and fundamental of all economic relationships and the degree of distribution of productive property determines the economic, social, and political character of a nation. If the ownership of productive property is concentrated in the hands of the government, that nation will be a tyranny; if ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few, that society will be an oligarchy, and if productive property is widely dispersed throughout society, that society will tend to be democratic. Note here that property is more intrinsic to the political character of a nation than is the formal system of elections. For example, America is formally a democracy, but huge sums of money are required to be a viable candidate. Hence, it has the character of an oligarchy, since ownership—and hence political funding—is concentrated within a small elite, the famous 1%. The range of political debate among the political class can never exceed, in a meaningful way, the range of debate within the owning class. Barrack Obama will raise over one billion dollars for his re-election campaign. The sources for that kind of money are limited, and hence the debate will be limited, as the politicians must be responsive to the sources of their power.

But here we are concerned mainly with the economic consequences of property, and here we note a curious absence in economic theory. Despite all the rhetoric devoted to “private property,” it really has no place in the theory. Indeed, it is just another “factor of production,” assumed to be interchangeable with labor or capital and having no special significance. The distribution of property and the limits—or lack of limits—on its ownership, have no place in the theory. Indeed, almost no thought is actually given to the origins and justifications of property. Rather, it is taken as a given, and no thought is given to where it comes from.

But property has the power to completely change wage relationships. Men who have property—that is, the means of production—are free to negotiate a wage contract, or not, as they wish. But a man with no other means of support must accept the terms offered. In this latter case, the wage contract becomes leonine, that is, based on the inequality of the parties, and leonine contracts are always about power. And the powers that be will always be able to play the workers off, either against each other or against the power of the state.

We should be careful to note here that the issue is not about private property per se, but about the form and extent of that property. Property is natural to man; we might even say it is proper to him. It is as natural for a man to say, “This is my house” or “This is my land,” as it is for him to breathe. Indeed, when a man cannot say, “This is mine,” then he really is less of a man; he might even find it difficult to breathe, or at least draw a free breath; his rights and freedoms have been truly compromised. The socialists correctly analyzed the problem in terms of property, but they analyzed it in the wrong direction. Having ascertained that there were too few owners, they tried to ensure that there would henceforth be none. But what is really needed is to take the problem in the other direction; to make the mass of men more properly human by giving them what is proper to a man, namely property.

The distribution of property is therefore the primary determining factor of any political-economic system. Distributism is that form of political economy which emphasizes distributive justice, particularly in the matter of property. It should be noted here that the wide distribution of productive property is not something contrary to the free market. Indeed, all free market theory is based on the assumption that production of any commodity is spread over a vast number of firms, such that no firm has any pricing power; they are all price-takers rather than price-makers. But in order for production to be spread over a vast number of firms, productive property has to be spread over a vast portion of the population. By dispersing capital, distributism enables the free market, while capitalism, in concentrating capital, destroys it. The free market theorists were correct in asserting that a truly free market could guarantee fair wages, eliminate economic rents, and disperse political power. But they were wrong to ignore the question of the distribution of property. The result was not a free market, but its opposite: an economy of collectives in which power was concentrated. These collectives have largely captured the state, so that in truth, there is little difference between state capitalism and state socialism.

But it must be admitted that the very name—distributism—makes people worry. It conjures up an image of an all-powerful government taking property from some and giving it to others. But the truth is otherwise: aside from exceptional cases, the wider distribution of property is not so much about what the government should do as about what it should stop doing. Government itself is the biggest agent of accumulation through subsidies, privileges, tax breaks, monopolies, externalized costs, and the like. What a free market really requires is free men, and what men require to be free is access to their own means of subsistence, which is precisely what capitalism denies them. The proper ground of freedom is one’s own proper ground. What is denied to the mass of men must fall to a minority of men, men who will then be the masters of society and the effective rulers of the state, co-opting it to their own ends. This is what has happened. The higher the piles of capital gathered in a few hands, the thicker the walls of government necessary to protect it, and capital and government combine to limit freedom, to restrict property. Capitalism is therefore not to be confused with the free market, but to be identified as its mortal enemy, and to confuse the one with the other is to totally misunderstand the reality of modern economic, social, and political life.” (Bucarest, August 2012)

Is Distributism Catholic?

David W. Cooney on May 22, 2011:

"From time to time, readers of The Distributist Review comment on how many articles we have specifically relating to Catholic teaching. There seems to be a view that the case for Distributism should be made on the basis of the economic argument alone, without specific reference to any specific religious view, lest we drive away non-Catholics. This raises a legitimate question for everyone considering Distributism. Is Distributism Catholic? The answer to the question is both yes and no. In the interest of full disclosure, I am Catholic, as are the majority of the writers for The Distributist Review. This will come as no surprise to those who have read more than a few of our articles, but some of our articles have been written by non-Catholics. However, I am digressing from the point which is to address why the answer to the question, “Is Distributism Catholic?” is both yes and no.


  • The Reason Distributism is not Specifically Catholic

Distributism is based on philosophical ideas. Contrary to the understanding of many, philosophy is not the same as theology or religion. It is a separate field even if the topics overlap. Many of the principles put forth by Distributism can be also found in the teachings of other religions and cultures from around the world. Many of the philosophical teachings that are the basis of Distributism pre-date Christianity. Aristotle advocated many of the same positions as Distributists. Therefore, these philosophical views cannot be said to be specifically Catholic. Additionally, just as there isn’t one strict form of government compatible with Catholicism, there is not just one economic system that is compatible with Catholicism. It is possible to have a capitalist system that is compatible with Catholicism, but many elements currently accepted as part of Capitalism throughout the world—like usury—would have to be removed from it to do so.


  • The Reason Distributism is Catholic

Distributism as a distinct economic view came into being as a result of papal teaching. Popes addressing issues of economic and social justice wrote encyclicals which inspired groups of Catholics to form a movement that attempted to present those issues, and solutions to them, to the wider public. This movement took the name of Distributism or Distributivism (although its founders voiced their desire for a better name). Although this movement included non-Catholics from the beginning, the positions advocated by Distributists are consistent with Catholic teachings on economic and social justice. In other words, Distributism consists of philosophical positions on economic and social structures that are compatible with the Catholic Faith. One can no more separate Distributism from Catholic teaching than one can separate the original United States Constitution from the writings of John Locke.


  • What Does This Mean for Non-Catholics Considering Distributism?

The real question for non-Catholics considering Distributism is whether they can accept the philosophical positions that are the basis of Distributism. One need not be a Catholic to be a Distributist any more than one needs to be Catholic to believe those who can should help those in need. The point is that acceptance of Distributism by non-Catholics is not based on the fact it is consistent with Catholicism; it is based on the fact that Distributism is a philosophically sound and practical economic and social view. Catholics who accept Distributism do so on both grounds.

You might be asking why, if this is the case, there are so many specifically Catholic articles on The Distributist Review. Our society promotes the error that faith should be confined within the walls of the home and place of worship, that it has no bearing on economics and politics and should essentially be hidden from public life. Catholicism teaches, as do other faiths, that faith applies to all aspects of life. Capitalism as practiced in the world today readily accepts many practices that are not compatible with the Catholic Faith. Therefore, we remind our fellow Catholics of this point. We present the clear and consistent teaching of the Church and ask our fellow Catholics to reconcile their own views to that teaching. Even if they continue to reject certain aspects of Distributism as an economic system, they cannot continue to accept or ignore the aspects of Capitalism that are incompatible with the Faith. We encourage non-Catholics to do the same in regard to their faiths and have welcomed such comments posted by our readers.

We believe it would be wrong, it would be dishonest, to hide the fact that Distributism has ties to Catholic teaching. What would be the purpose of doing so, to hide the fact from non-Catholics? No. We will be open about these ties, and we expect any non-Catholics that accept Distributist ideas as compatible with their faiths to be open about the fact. It is not something that needs to be hidden." (http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/05/is-distributism-catholic/)

More Information

The Wikipedia entry on Distributism is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism

"The Distributist Review is a journal analyzing current events through the theoretical and practical socio-economic theory of Distributism; combining provocative and sharp commentary along with golden age Distributist essays." http://distributistreview.com/mag/

We received the following bibliographic advice from Dave Taylor:


"The English Distributist version of this was developed primarily by "The Chesterbelloc", i.e. the historian Hilaire Belloc (notably in The Servile State and The Restoration of Property) and the extraordinarily humorous and insightful G K Chesterton (most obviously in An Outline of Sanity, but in passing comments in the hundred books and many thousands of articles he wrote over thirtyfive years). All these, if not online, are still in print. (In England, via Family Publications, Oxford). To get what they are saying in context, you need to be aware of its period (1906-36): that of the renaming of Ire-Land as Eire (peace) and the development there of a well-distributed, intelligent and friendly (if after centuries of subjugation, still crude and impoverished) agricultural society. The Chesterton Institute in Oxford has been running a Sane Economy project (at http://www.secondspring.co.uk/)...There has also been a lot of activity in the (largely American) Yahoo Distributism group (http://groups.yahoogroups.com/groups/distributism).

The Australian Race Mathews' Jobs of our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society: Altenatives to the Market and the State (1999, Comerford and Miller, London) outlines the pre-history of Distributism and successful applications in Canada (the Antigonish movement) and Spain (the still thriving Mondragon co-operative)." "