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Distributism and Economic Justice — 11 Comments

  1. GA,
    Thank you for an interesting article on the concept of distributism. It represents a third option in economic order or structure in contrast to central command models and decentralized models. In reality each model has merits in solving specific problems. Environmental issues related to chemical and nuclear pollution are on an international and global scale. These kinds of problems are best handled through a highly centralized international organization. A decentralized model takes into account that there are significant geographic differences with particular advantages. Thus regional farming coupled with adaptive technologies can be highly productive and environmentally sustainable. As it seems the third distributive option is especially important to maximize participation in productive activity and avoid the problem of over concentrations of wealth.
    Some types of regulation are needed that balance the benefits of economies of scale, geographic advantages and preserve the idea of maximized participation that takes advantage of universal education and widespread productive skills. Clearly, this is the direction the global community is headed.

    • Robert, With respect to issues like pollution that can be in a river that makes its way through several states, or air that can blow from one country to the next, or international air traffic, there has to be higher level coordination. In political science it is called studying the appropriate “level of analysis.”

      It is very often that out of laziness or dependency, a lower level wants a higher level to its its job. For example, asking the federal government to mow your lawn or pay for your doctor appointment. Or, in reverse, slavery, where a higher authority forces a lower entity to do its bidding on things is really has no business being involved in, e.g. unfunded federal mandates.

      It is also very often that out of selfishness, we want to pollute and not take responsibility for how our behavior might impact the health of others. Then we oppose higher level restrictions that are really intended for everyone to live in a clean environment. However, good environmental rules will help “distribute” clean air and water to everyone. Bad rules, from a distributist perspective, include when the government claims ownership of the air and the water. For governments are not known for their ability to care for things very well.

      Good social analysis needs to consider the proper level of analysis.

      • If we look at the three kinds of social organizational levels – centralized, decentralized and distributed – certain principles must be established and maintatined by all parties in the groups. Public norms, values and standard practices are codified. Laws are agreed upon.

        Furthermore, individuals who violate the rule of law are subject to reprimand, punishment or expulsion. Unfortunately, the shared understanding, application and enforcement of basic principles, collective norms and virtues has broken down. Consequently, this leads to social disintegration. This kind of disruption has occurred in communist, socialist and market capitalist forms of governance. Social analysis would reveal the essential problem is the disintegration of the collective conscience or social contract. Satirist Mark Twain lamented, ” America has no criminal class except for the Congress.” The road to economic recovery and economic justice must necessarily travel the road paved with universally shared values, moral transparency and legal integrity.

      • Yes, regardless of the external institutional arrangement that exists, it must be supported by the social conscience. This is what gives a government moral legitimacy.

        Modern science and post-modern deconstructionism has has brought into question elements of traditional consciousness in all religious worldviews. But, modern science has failed to properly modify inherited systems, choosing to reject them out of hand with no adequate social consciousness of its own to replace it. This is because science has failed to support many historical lessons learned by collective human society. In this value vacuum, people choose to “do their own thing” because there is no collective consciousness to reprimand them and society breaks down. Thus, there is no moral check on Congress and it becomes a criminal class, to requote Mark Twain.

  2. I believe Distributism is more than just a “3rd way”, but rather a more principled and complete economic theory that will naturally triumph over the other systems due to their “design flaws”. I believe this for three reasons: 1) economics is a humane science, rooted in human institutions and not comparable to the physical sciences. Therefore it must embody some notion of justice within the theory itself, which capitalism does not; 2) equilibrium is not reached in our current economic system because labor is not fairly compensated, creating instability and unsustainability; 3) the family is the true economic unit, not the individual. In the current arrangement, where distributive justice is not factored in the economic equation, government elites take the need for distribution upon themselves in the form of coercive and inefficient “re-distribution” of income. Thus politics becomes the fight for narrow self-interests and money instead of creating an environment for freedom, harmony and the well-being of all.

    • AJ,

      Perhaps you could explain why a central command model or decentralized economic model are ” less principled ?” I’ve taken the position that all three economic organizations have merit depending upon the type of problem – ecological, productive and participatory issues. Of course narrow self centered forces could infect any of the three organizations. What do you mean that (market) capitalism does not have some notion of justice ? The uniform commercial code is supported by the judicial system. Isn’t this a notion of justice found in capitalism as practiced in America ? Finally, what is your notion of fair compensation of labor ? There’re different kinds of labor ( physical vs creative ) and many kinds of compensation – for example, tangible and intangible. Perhaps there should be income ceilings to prevent oligarchies or monopolies. But, I would add that popular celebrities, professional athletes, college professors and corporate executives are over compensated.

      • Robert, I have to confess that I am basing my comments on John Medaille’s book, “Toward a Truly Free Market”, in which he critiqued the other systems and made the case for Distributism. An essential point I had not considered before is how do we reach an equilibrium, or sustainable economy and culture? Keynesianism became a necessary step in the evolution of capitalism in order to keep stability and full employment. But as we are seeing that course is itself unsustainable and is based on public debt financing and consumer debt. Free markets come the closest to solving this problem, but only distributed ownership and capital will maintain truly free markets, as opposed to increasing centralization. Your question on fair compensation of labor is one that I’m still working to understand technically, but the principle is that labor should be rewarded with a wage that sustains a household. Why? so that a home has enough stability to allow for the nurturing of children of good character who will, in turn, become productive laborers themselves and not dysfunctional and dependent upon the welfare of others. We need contributors. If both parents work 2 or 3 jobs, how can good parenting and child rearing take place? It doesn’t. The real cost of labor must factor in the cost of a stable home. Labor value must be based on more than the utilitarian view of supply and demand, etc. I believe that is where Justice needs to be factored into the economic theories that undergird political policies and the ways we do business (the economic system). On a final note, the problem of “economic rent”, which Gordon also talks about, must be addressed and by limiting it may create an opportunity to level the field as we are suggesting.

      • Keynesianism could create some micro-adjustments within an overall healthy economy, causing some redistribution or alternative distribution. However, it cannot create economic growth. Governments can prevent growth but they cannot create it. Currently our leaders are pushing “Keynesian” policies to create jobs in a down economy (by trying to stimulate consumption with borrowing). This will not work, and will make the system worse. We have the example already of government trying to stimulate the economy by guaranteeing home loans. That is what made the economy go into recession. Obama will likely argue that we need to borrow more money to stimulate consumption. I will only succeed in creating $100 of debt for every job it creates, thus selling our children into slavery or poverty.

        It is important to know the difference between “distribution” and “redistribution.” In distributism government bureaucrats do not touch money, only policies that shape the flow of money in an economy. In redistributionism government officials tax or borrow money and hand it out according to their own plans. This makes to overall economic production in the private economy shrink, and people lose jobs.

  3. The American philosophy behind the tax collection in 1913 looks so positive and progressive, if the purpose was that the the redistribution is achievable and society will benefit, but it is not all about that, theoretically,yes,the thesis which was developed in 1913 was good but practically it is not being implemented in the capitalists world.
    The people’s needs are determined by the people themselves not by the governments so, in my view, Keynesian theory fits in the contemporary world.

    • Governments maintain their existence by providing security and infrastructure – developing conditions that allow for sustainable commerce and social stability. As it seems, security plans are organized centrally, infrastructure can be decentralized, and distributist or subsidiary plans maximize participation and promote economic stability. It is an interpretation of how government can provide for defense, promote the common or aggregate good, and secure the blessings of liberty. In this way the three types of organization are implemented to solve specific problems. Specific problems would require different kinds of economic organization. But, governments have improperly used a wrong type of organizational plan ( central command , decentralized, distributist )for some problems. For example the recent financial crisis was due to a failure of central controls on financial speculation by credit lenders. And a crisis exists in public educational reform due to excessive tax and command structures. It is apparent that government leaders have mistakenly matched the wrong organization structure to solve particular issues.

  4. I hope this theory and alternative becomes much more widely taught and publicized.

    It seems to me that this structure also supports the nuclear family, the building block of a healthy society and also creates quite naturally a stronger or additional layer of “checks and Balances” to prevent the over-centralization and control by federalism run amok.

    By the self sustainability of more localized groups and geographical areas.

    Keep up the good work.

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