Home / Politics / Distributism and Elections

 

Most analysts and more or less everyone’s gut feeling is that the Republicans will win big in the coming election, and even the leaders of the last Congressional term may be gone. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, may lose his re-election bid, and while dismayed at a loss, Pelosi might retire. Yet why would voters in fact put a party back in power that they voted to throw out just a few years ago?

At first glance it would not seem as though the American public has the patience to evaluate the long term policy of those in office, and call into question everything once a given initiative goes bad, much as Americans historically have with wars lasting for over a month. Yet in reality the apparent impatience is a reaction to the fact that neither party offer long term goals and long term thinking, their initiatives become the media talking point of the month, dangling benefits to voters which, when not received, enables voters to run to the polls to elect the other party.

There is also another reason, as Pat Buchanan notes in his column Obstructionism reaps its reward:

Looking back on those Republican triumphs, and forward to Tuesday’s, what do these Republican off-year victories have in common?

In all four – 1938, 1946, 1966 and 1994 – the GOP won not because of what the party had accomplished or the hopes it had raised, but because Republicans were the only alternative on the ballot to a Democratic Party and president voters wished to punish.

So essentially the lack of choices has caused the electorate to put back into power those they recently punished, hoping for a better deal. Why do we have a lack of choices?

In the first case, we can attribute it to the Industrial Media Complex, which if it isn’t in fact run by large corporations rooted in the democratic and republican parties, it prefers to run with the image that we have only a two-party system. What was most memorable for me in the media attempt to enforce the two-party system was in 2000, when they refused to give Alan Keyes airtime and instead shut him out of the primary to focus on George W Bush and John McCain. Frankly, if Keyes had been given an equal playing field on which to run his campaign it is possible that he might have come close to winning, but no one knew who he was.

Which brings us to the second reason why Americans feel they have no choice but the Democrat and Republican parties, whose rhetoric is quite different but results often the same. Nobody knows who any non-democratic and/or republican candidates are. In the town where I grew up in there was one gentleman who always put his name on the presidential ballot, even though he had to pay to get it on there, just so he could see his name there alongside the national candidates. In different states we will sometimes see a different list of candidates from the big two, from various third parties we only hear about at election time, with candidates we only see during the elections and fade away, who have no achievements to parade but only claims about what they will do, much as the major parties. More importantly there is no media in which they are normally seen besides Youtube.

The lack of knowledge means that when it comes time to pull the lever, who resonates with what I think is a good course for the country? This guy I think is liberal or that guy I think is conservative, and what shows it to me is the D and R next to the name, respectively. Given this, how can a third party ever win? One ends up tossing from different sides of the same boat.

The answer is that we stop paying attention to national elections. If a candidate shows up when it’s time to elect the president, and he is unknown and has no means to make himself known in our current climate, he is simply not going to win by the failure to gain notoriety. Even Ross Perot winning the 20% of the vote was considered an astounding success in 1992, yet when realistically considered, that is only 20% of the vote.

This brings up another pitfall which mention of Ross Perot evokes. The 1992 election went to Bill Clinton rather than George H.W. Bush, and it is more than likely that the difference for Bush could have made up many of the votes that had gone to Ross Perot, so he gets the blame for the Republican’s loss. The same is true for Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000 that were blamed for Gore’s defeat (once the country was exhausted of hearing about hanging chads). This is because the third party is really still a hot potatoe [sic] in the two-party system.

Reform out of the current oligarchy of national interests, be they corporations, banks, unions, environmental activists which control their given parties, will not come from the top-down but from the bottom up. This is where Distributism comes in. In the system of economics we advocate focus is on our local communities through our spending, our employment, self-owned and small co-operative businesses, and outside companies would be welcome to fulfill a need that is currently not able to be met locally (such as growing oranges in Idaho). Yet for such a system of local economy, focusing on small ownership and production necessitates not merely a stronger local government, but a local government where the population is strongly participating in the electoral system. This local participation has two positive effects: 1) you know your local politicians and 2) they know you know them. When unpopular federal measures such as eminent domain come to town, 10,000 people picketing the mayor’s office would dissuade any elected official in a small local office  from implementing the seizure of someone’s home for the sake of a mega corporation. This follows likewise for state office, legislature, etc. In a Distributist state, one might even celebrate the lack of any achievements as the reason for voting someone in and instead champion the maintaining of locally-based infrastructure and protection of local jobs.

Now if one wants to run nationally in our current system, unless he has both the inside track with those holding the cards, the major corporations and the key politicians, not to mention a fortune rivaling some third-world countries, he is not going to win. Likewise a third party is not going to win without a massive fortune, because it cannot make inroads into the industrial media complex. Even if he did win, he would be the president of an obscure party and would have few allies in Congress to help him. Now some like to tout the “success” of the TEA Party, but in reality it is only successful at electing the Republicans, who have accomplished the same goals as Bill Clinton, in many respects.  The TEA Party is a loose confederation of disaffected voters who want less government. They don’t have any principles apart from that, even scoffing at the idea of making abortion an issue. The same thing happened to William Jennings Bryan’s movement at the beginning of the 20th century. Their only principles were currency alternatives to gold and land reform. They had no concept about how to advance a political plan for running the country, so they eventually were co-opted by the major parties. The TEA Party is simply becoming another outgrowth of the Republicans, and therefore subject to them, while their conservative democrats are looking for other options.

What if a third party were developed, with clear principles and clear ideas about where it wants to go, and then did the shockingly simple thing of running locally. Local mayors, state legislatures, even governors and some congressional seats. The strategy would be to work at a local and grass roots level, drumming up support, clearly laying out its philosophy and ideas, based simply on local donations, not big business or questionable social special interests. Gradually over a 10 year period they could pick up more support and more support, and then de facto, with or without the media, the party would be well known. Then a presidential candidate could run who could seriously challenge the major parties. Then more importantly than that, he might have members of his Party in congress who can help shape his policy. Without that local support, a serious challenge to the Republican and Democratic oligarchy is not likely to materialize.

The key question we must ask is this: Is there anyone with the long-term focus who is willing to work for 10 years to make it happen?  The conduct of third party alternatives such as the Constitution, Libertarian, Green, or even the TEA parties seem to indicate that this is not the case and that instantaneous results are favored over long-term benefits which put one in a stronger position. Until such an attitude changes, the constant whole sale shifts in government will only get worse as time goes on, which in the end will lead to a consistent policy no one wants implemented.

 

About the author: Ryan Grant

 

Ryan Grant is a native of eastern Connecticut. He received his Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and also studied at Holy Apostles Seminary. He currently teaches Latin in Post Falls, ID where he resides with his wife and three children.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Having just spent a couple of hours over the weekend slogging through election material and filling out my ballot, your post speaks home–the only real choices are local. I couldn’t even choose between the Dem/Rep candidates for governor, and wrote in Nicholas Nickleby.

    Locally, however, there was a much broader variety. Folks in our area are more interested than most in building a local, stable economy, so there were some good candidates. And I’m keeping an eye on a party I’d never heard of before, the Working Families Party.

    Our County commissioners race was particularly interesting, with two candidates, both business owners, both running on a platform of wanting to support local businesses and increase jobs. The one candidate owns a local vineyard while the other owns a dozen Burger King franchises. You may imagine which one I chose.

  2. I think the primary reason we lack choices is because of the plurality voting system we have in the US (aka First Past the Post).
    .
    There was some political theorist who suggested that a plurality system will tend to two parties unlike the proportional representation system often used nowadays in Europe.
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    Using the Ross Perot example, a 20% popular result would mean 20% representation for his party in Congress with a proportional representation system regardless of the outcomes in individual districts. In our system, only the candidate who gets the highest percentage gets to go to Congress. So in a two candidate race, >50% of the vote is needed to win and the <50% voters lose all representation.
    .
    If a race is close, then a third party damages the chances of the party ideologically close to them e.g. "Nader traitors" in Florida or the recent attempts by Democrats to help Tea Party candidates. So if a district is 60% conservative and 40% liberal but the conservatives are split (30% Republican 30% Tea Party), then the Democratic candidate wins.
    .
    Eventually the conservatives, if they want a chance at being represented, will have to fall in line under one party and the same with their opponents. Hence two parties.
    .
    If this were repeated at the national scale for every district, a 60% conservative country would have zero Tea Party or Republican representatives in Congress. If we had a proportional system, then 30% Tea, 30% Republican and 40% Democrat with the Tea Party and Republican Party running a coalition would be the likely outcome.
    .
    "Now some like to taught the “success” of the TEA Party"
    .
    Did you mean "tout" instead of "taught"? Also, what does the acronym TEA represent?

  3. Hi Mr. Viray,

    I have corrected “tout”. Also, TEA isn’t an acronym. It is simply an editorial preference.

  4. Actually, TEA does stand for “Taxed Enough Already.”

  5. Debra, The Mystery of Things looks very intriguing. I’m definitely adding it to my wish list!

  6. That’s overly simplified with respect to our electoral system. Granted, at the presidential and senatorial level it holds some weight, but for instance when we consider the house or Representatives and that one is elected by districts, it is entirely possible to have a third party emerge that can run a coalition in congress. While proportional representation certainly has some benefits, and at least it couldn’t do any worse, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone gets represented either. It ends up pooling a kind of universal representation which as I said, probably couldn’t do any worse than the current oligarchy.

    Yet Distributism has a broad appeal and potentially could pick up a lot of democrats. More importantly, who says there has to be only a third party? There can be a fourth and fifth and tenth for all I care. In fact the increase in political parties will not only make for fiercer competition but it will also cut down the power of special interests, because now instead of dealing with 1 party, they have to deal with 4. The fiercer competition at home will often mean the politician needs to represent even those who didn’t vote for him, whereas now he can write them off.

  7. Hi, I’m new to learning about distributism and will gladly admit ignorance of the subject. It certainly was never mentioned in business school or law school, even though its implications seem relevant to both business and law. I’m curious about one thing, and the answer to this question may determine whether I want to learn more about distributism.

    The question is this: Briefly, how does distributism propose to keep ownership “small” and “local” without inhibiting the freedom of the owners?

    In our capitalist system, it seems like most businesses grow organically, i.e., their initial size and maximum size is not dictated by the government. I understand that we have anti-trust laws against monopolies and such, but it seems like distributism is advocating for much smaller ownership than “just-shy-of-monopoly.”

    At some point, we can assume under the current system that a business will reach a “large” size, if its resources are implemented toward doing so. Given the assumption that we can all reach agreement as to what constitutes “large” vs. “small,” how does distributism propose to keep “small” from getting “large?” Intervention? By whom or what authority?

    I apologize if I’ve overlooked something obvious from this site, but I would like a brief answer, if possible, before being asked to read voluminous tomes on distributism. Thanks in advance.

  8. I’m also pretty new to distributism (my favorite text so far is “Outline of Sanity” by G.K. Chesterton–which I highly recommend, it’s public domain so you can just Google it and download it from the Guttenberg Project) but I’ll take a stab at answering your question.

    I think the answer is sort of implicitly suggested in Grant’s article. We can’t hope to defeat entrenched political interests through politics as usual, similarly we can’t hope to overcome entrenched economic powers without a sort of “grassroots” behavior change on both the consumer side and the corporate side.

    What does that look like? For the consumer it may mean paying more for local produce, or maybe paying more for the same goods at the small, locally owned shop, than at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, this isn’t a movement that can be legislated from the top-down, but must arise organically from the bottom-up. The only way to do this is through a combination of grassroots education, and a volunatary, intentional shift in consumer behavior.

    Many “capitalists” argue that “bigger is better,” but the reality is that there is a point where efficiency gains break-down and the only result is a shift in wealth from the the bottom to the top. There is another great article on this sight about the mortgage melt-down that demonstrates this. The fact is that the stock market and corporate governance laws incentivize short-term growth over long-term sustainability.

    If there is one thing that I am beginning to realize it is that we cannot depend on Washington to legislate our way out of the current economic crisis, and we certainly can’t depend on the CEOs of the BPs, Halliburtons, and Wal-Marts of the world to voluntarily sacrifice their bloated and ever-increasing salaries for the good of the nation.

    Fortunately, we are already starting to see some of this, not only at the local level, but in many of the of the newer companies that are starting up. For instance, I think Google was a good example of a company that has had a positive social impact. However, now Google has also grown up so fast that even it has become a threat to freedom and innovation. (I’m referring specifically to their stance on net neutrality.)

    Google said “Do no evil.” It’s time to shift the mindset of even for-profit entities to “Do good.” We have to find a sustainable equilbrium, for both the planet and the global economy, before it’s too late.

  9. I’ve had that discussion with Mr. Medaille and his position is that large firms will be an impossibility since he feels such large enterprises can only exist because of government.
    .
    It wasn’t all that convincing to me so I too would like to hear other Distributists address that question.

  10. “That’s overly simplified with respect to our electoral system.”
    .
    My response was meant to show a more likely reason for the lack of choice in the American political system.
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    “Granted, at the presidential and senatorial level it holds some weight, but for instance when we consider the house or Representatives and that one is elected by districts, it is entirely possible to have a third party emerge that can run a coalition in congress.”
    .
    The idea also holds weight at the House of Representatives level as well. The effect is less pronounced because of the smaller numbers needed for an effective third party though. Just to be clear, though, I’m not implying Duverger’s Law as set in stone. But it does give good reason as to why the US has historically been a two party system.
    .
    “While proportional representation certainly has some benefits, and at least it couldn’t do any worse, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone gets represented either.”
    .
    Certainly and in some countries like Germany, I believe the cutoff point for their second ballot for party representation is 5% of the national vote. Distributists in that case would likely not be represented. To be fair though, they imposed that limit after finding out that allowing just about every party into the Bundestag/rat was unwieldy.
    .
    “Yet Distributism has a broad appeal and potentially could pick up a lot of democrats.”
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    I don’t know about that. Even the Blue Dogs are a bigger group than pro-life Democrats. One would think otherwise given the Democratic but Catholic Hispanic vote but perhaps the Distributists could pick up that demographic. In any case, however, the party where the Distributists siphon off the most votes will be hurt more.
    .
    “More importantly, who says there has to be only a third party? There can be a fourth and fifth and tenth for all I care.”
    .
    No one. There are many different parties out there. It’s just that they aren’t represented primarily because of our voting system.
    .
    “In fact the increase in political parties will not only make for fiercer competition but it will also cut down the power of special interests, because now instead of dealing with 1 party, they have to deal with 4. The fiercer competition at home will often mean the politician needs to represent even those who didn’t vote for him, whereas now he can write them off.”
    .
    A politician only needs to represent those who are part of the governing coalition.

  11. Thanks for the response. I’m going to depend on what you’re saying to try to get a little more clarification. If I understand you right, you’re saying we can’t depend on Washington to legislate smaller companies, and we can’t depend on the CEOs to voluntarily sacrifice the bloat, so we must depend on the consumer to decide that a particular business has gotten too big. What you seem to suggest is that consumers maybe seek out a smaller business to purchase goods from. Is that correct?

    If so, is this your opinion or is it the distributist model’s opinion?

    Is it realistic to believe that even a significant segment of our society will not make purchasing decision based upon price that comes about as a result of economies of scale? Especially in the days of buying cars on the Internet? I guess I’m having a hard time imagining that this is all not some sort of nostalgia or “the way it could have been” (if not for the industrial revolution and the Web).

    Again, before I get flamed, I admit my lack of scholarship regarding distributism. I studied at a business school named after Sam M. Walton (of Wal-Mart).

  12. There are different possibilities to accomplish the goal of keeping businesses small. The first step, as has already been noted, is that the view of the public at large has to be altered. This is one of the purposes of this site – to present our views for consideration. You are correct, however, that any such plan will impose some limitations on the “freedom” of the owners. As a society, we already accept certain limitations on the activities of business, therefore the real question is not whether any should exist, but the correct level of such limitations. Our anti-trust laws do nothing to prevent monopolies, they only exist to be able to curb its abuses. The trick is to prevent the anti-competitive behavior that is implicitly allowed by Capitalism. Things like hostile take-overs of companies and consolidation of businesses to form monopolies would need to be stopped. I believe it would likely be accomplished through a combination of the establishment of local guild-like associations combined with local government. These local associations could themselves cover the local region. The Mondragon Cooperative is a good example of how the cooperative association of smaller enterprises can effectively compete with large-scale businesses. Nearly 100 years ago, Hilaire Belloc outlined a proposed plan in “An Essay on the Restoration of Property.” If local associations and government were given real authority to protect the local economy – to protect the small business owner from the large, and the local business from the outside – it would be a big step. However, none of this authority will accomplish what we desire unless the populace gets behind it as well. Unless the local citizens are willing to support the local businesses over the large corporations, unless they are willing to fight the political battles necessary to return to the local community that authority which has been usurped by higher levels of government, no effort at change will succeed.

  13. I believe that what you will find is that, while distributists generally hold to a common ideal, the question of exactly what it would look like in the end and how to get there from where we are now is wide open for debate. We welcome that debate, so feel free to jump in without fear of being flamed. I personally believe that the roads will vary depending on the society (for Distributism is not just for the US or the Western World) and the starting point. The end result will also have some variations depending on local and national custom. There is a certain nostalgic tone here, but Distributism is not opposed to advances in technology and improvement in industry; we are opposed to these advancements and improvements being hoarded and used in a way that only truly serves to further enrich the rich at the expense of everyone else.

  14. Another thing which can be done is to use taxes to penalize large businesses, while having little or no tax on small businesses. That alone would provide large incentive to maintain a small business economy, apart from other measures. Another thing to do is heavily tax the purchase of smaller businesses by larger ones, while leaving little or not tax for small businesses to acquire certain amounts of a larger business.

    Without going through major tomes, there is one book which is not very long nor expensive that goes a long way to explaining much of the solution: An Essay on the Restoration of Property, by Hilaire Belloc.

  15. Hi all,
    Just writing to say that the Perot example is ambiguous, to say the least. I’ll always wonder if he hadn’t quit the race for a while, and said that the Republicans were trying to sabotage his daughter’s wedding, if he wouldn’t have done much better, possibly even winning the Presidency. He sabotaged his party’s chances a second time by not allowing Richard Lamm, governor of Colorado, a fair hearing. Btw, it was Bill Clinton who was running a distant third in the polls before Perot’s meltdown. So i think we may be selling third parties short in these assessments.

    Viking

  16. I want to reply with my concept to your question

    —-“how does distributism propose to keep ownership “small” and “local” without inhibiting the freedom of the owners?”—–

    I have to take issue with the implied assumption that
    —“most businesses grow organically”—

    While that is true in many cases, in the case of many big businesses much of their business comes from winning bids in government programs because the government is the largest buyer out there and often government buys based on a companies political ties, connections and policies.

    Next, most big companies get bigger by borrowing; all borrowing on a large scale comes ultimatly from our governments fiat money system. The government can print money all it wants, but the money isn’t really accepted as real until it gets loaned out, or laundered if you will.

    In other words these companies didn’t always get that large organically, they used the availabilty of easy money to crush competition that is trying to grow “organically” based on a firm foundation. This is why most US companies, and many investors were highly leveraged in 2008 because if you can get a return on borrowed money that is greater than the “cost of money” then you can pocket the spread.

    For instance you buy a rental unit for $100,000 with an apr of 5% and the rental unit has a cap rate of 6% then you pocket 1%, and if the FED prints as much money as they plan to, they expect the buying power of the dollar to shrink so the rental unit might bring you a capital gain as well.

    That is called “playing the system” you have no right in natural law to continur to be able to do that.

    Next you have to realise that if you say “one mans right to swing his fist end where another mans nose begins” that worked pretty well when fokls could still “go west young man” but the West is settled.

    While there is more opertunity Out West than Back East, in many businesses there is a market advantage for those able to throw around their weight, and they do. They are centralizing albeit with Capitalist tactics rather than with a single socialist revolution.

    If you are willing to let a few companies consolidate power over the markets then you will see the magority of voters who don’t own a controlling share of the large company vote in socialist tactics so as to “get their peice of the pie”

    The big companies are already controlled by the government, and the big companies control their employees, it is called State Capitalism.

    You (if you are like me) came to this site because you sensed there is something wrong in the fact that no matter who gets elected nothing changes.

    It took talking to libertarian distributists for me to realise that all the property rights and free association rights that big tycoons might claim are not aplicable under our current system because all big businesses at this time owe a part of their rise and continued success to government interventions, subsidies and so forth.

    You should see all the things they list as subsidies; it takes the moral argument and stands it on it’s head.

    Finally distributism doesn’t just propose to keep “small” from getting “large?” After the feild is leveled in terms of government interference, and the monopolies are broken up, We would propose co-operative lending give private lending a run for it’s money in the manufacturing fields and so forth.

    We would build our system rather than the socialist “bring it all down man” we will build ours. I only hope we do it in time to avoid some of the senerios Glen Beck has been laying out.

    Glen always makes the case for distributism but he thinks it can be done by “going back to the founders” but that is a dead end because as I said the west is settled and short of a new tech-boom there is no gold rush on the herizon and if credit drys up, and confidence drys up then what?

    This is about survival as much as anything, but I would read what other have to say as well.

  17. About getting involved in local political races the first thought that I have is that to quote Mother Teresa “God doesn’t require us to be successful, only faithful”

    In other words so long as we understand that it might never go anywhere the effort itself would be worthy.

    Next running in local races would actually give us a forum to educate the public because a local news is more likely to cover distributist views so long as it is a novel local story.

    Thirdly, this strategy is in keeping with distributism itself and what better way to build a huge sustainable movement but to start locally?

    Such a party should have very few national and international positions because few things should be decided at the national level and even fewer things through international treaty.

    Forth, so much can be done at the state level with iniatives and so forth that can be proposed directly to the people without relying one of the parties to do what we want. Most of what we want can be put to the voters as a question of whether people should have the freedom to do X, Y, or Z? Americans are prone to aprove such iniatives.

  18. In response to the ideal that we should resign ourselves to “paying more for local produce, or maybe paying more for the same goods at the small, locally owned shop, than at Wal-Mart.” I have to butt in.

    Depending on what goods you are buying locally you might find that it isn’t always cheaper to buy from Malwart.

    1 If you are buying only a few goods it might be cheaper to buy them from a small store that is closer; (milage costs about $.50/mile)

    2 When buying staples it is often cheaper to buy everything from “rice and beans” to beer kits in bulk and if you store such items properly (and rotate old stock)they will save you trips to the store, and food prices are headed up right now.

    3 If you grow or manufacture more of what you need you can co-operate with friends and family to keep food and so forth down

    4 It is even cheaper to not buy many of the unnessisary crap that ends up in your storage or trash within a week to a year. Americans have become the richest poor people because of false bills.

    5 Turn off the TV, take the kids out of one or two of their sports or activities and you will find all the time you need to do more of that sort of thing.