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Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has there been such anger and frustration regarding both the American economic and political systems. People feel that our politicians have betrayed us, which is certainly true. And they also are beginning to think that the economic system which until recently was considered to be a model for the world has likewise let us down. Capitalism seems a failure. But if not capitalism, what is there? Is socialism the right alternative? Or is there some other way of organizing our economy in a way that serves social justice and the common good, the welfare of all citizens, not just of those with money or power?

Before we consider that question, we should probably define our terms. When I speak of capitalism I mean the kind of economic system which is dominated by large employers, usually corporations, which employ others to work for them. Capitalism is characterized by this employer/employee divide. To an employer, especially a corporation, employees are just so many items of expense. Sure they are necessary, but the fewer of them the better, and the less they are paid the better. That way profits are greater with higher salaries for executives and bigger dividends for stockholders. Capitalism tends toward a kind of class warfare, a warfare of those with economic power against everyone else. As a result, corporations love to ship jobs overseas where wages are cheaper, or to destroy unions in order to lower wages domestically.

Because of this, many people have turned to some form of socialism in hopes of creating an economy that is more humane. Now socialism means different things to different people, and some forms of socialism closely approach the distributist economy I will sketch below. But there is no need to champion socialism, if for no other reason simply because the name itself terrifies people. Historically to label something “socialist” in America has been to demonize it.

But we don’t have to choose between the discredited capitalism that we have and a socialism that conjures up in many people’s minds the Soviet Union and its totalitarian dictatorship. There are many other paths we can take in constructing an economy. And Distributism is one that needs to be seriously considered.

What is Distributism? Distributism is an economic system in which private property exists, yes, but private property at the service of people, of the common good, not of those able to amass the most wealth and power and exploit others. Distributism aims at well-distributed private property, small and local businesses, family farms, and cooperatives. Private property is a good thing if it serves the needs of people. If it is perverted into a method of domination by the rich, then it becomes an evil.

Well, if well-distributed private property is a good thing, how can we achieve it and how could we keep it? After all, wouldn’t the rich and unscrupulous simply accumulate economic power again? Wouldn’t we end up exactly where we began?

Distributists realize that we cannot rely simply on good will to establish or maintain a just social order. Many people might be content with sufficient income and never aspire to dominate others economically. But history shows that there are some who will not be content with a reasonable portion of the goods of this world. Distributists have come up with various ideas for both distributing property and for keeping it distributed. Let’s look at some of them.

One proposal that has often been made is to use the tax code to encourage small property. That is, to apply a highly progressive or differential tax to large concentrations of property, so that large corporations, with numerous outlets or branches, would be taxed at a much higher rate than small and locally-owned businesses. This would tend to break up such concentrations of property and likewise prevent future centralization. There is nothing wrong in using the tax power of the government to achieve this end, since the purpose of the government is the common good, not the welfare of the rich or of corporations. Private property rights are not absolute, but can and must be made to serve social justice.  This is neither Marxism nor any form of socialism, but is firmly sanctioned in our historical tradition, for example, in the teachings of the Catholic Church and in early nineteenth century state regulation of corporations, before the U.S. Supreme Court invented the fiction that corporations deserve the rights of personhood. Other means to help divide property which can be implemented immediately include individual decisions to buy locally whenever possible and to boycott chain stores and corporate agriculture.

Distributism rests on the idea that private property has a purpose. That purpose is not to dominate others or to increase one’s income without measure, but rather to support the owner and the owner’s family in reasonable comfort. A person has a right to a living, but not to two or three or fifty livings. We have better things to spend our time on. Human life should be about celebration, about creativity, about community, about spirituality. We must all live together on this planet, and increasingly it is becoming clear that the destructive ways we have lived in the past will no longer work. Property can be used to aid the human race in its growth and happiness or to oppress the majority for the sake of the minority who hold wealth and power. Distributism is a way of empowering the majority, of making us owners, or part owners, of our work places. It is a threat only to those who think of the economy as an arena in which to crush their opponents and grab as much power as they can.

We can do better than capitalism, and we do not need to turn to socialism. Distributism has the potential to bring together many diverse groups of supporters and to create a just economy oriented toward providing for the real needs of all of humanity

 

About the author: Thomas Storck

 

Thomas Storck is the author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order, The Catholic Milieu, and Christendom and the West. His work has appeared in various publications including Homiletic and Pastoral Review and the book, Beyond Capitalism and Socialism. Mr. Storck is a former contributing editor of New Oxford Review and Caelum et Terra and serves on the editorial board of The Chesterton Review.An archive of Mr. Storck's writings can be found at www.thomasstorck.org.

 

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82 Comments

  1. “Now socialism means different things to different people, and some forms of socialism closely approach the distributist economy I will sketch below. But there is no need to champion socialism, if for no other reason simply because the name itself terrifies people.”

    And with that statement, Mr. Storck, you left Distributism at the last station and derailed your own credibility. Distributism is not a form of Socialism, it is as inherently as anti-Socialist as it is anti-Capitalist. I am becoming more and more diappointed with this site’s presentation of Distributism each day, despite is relatively professional look and the credentials of some of its posters.

  2. Distributists Priest

    I couldn’t disagree with Andromedus more. Mr. Storck’s comment is accurate. Their are forms of “socialism” that have much in common with Distributism. This fact is simple evidence that some self proclaimed socialist are discontent with traditional socialism and are drifting toward something more like Distributism.

  3. Dear Andromedus,

    Perhaps you didn’t notice those to whom my article is addressed – protestors on Wall St. and elsewhere. Probably apt to sympathize with socialism and not too aware of distributism, although I did meet two people at the Occupy Columbus protest who had heard of distributism and knew of its connection with Chesterton. But there are some forms of socialism that have some resemblance to distributism – if we look only at their economic proposals. (You might want to revisit Pius XI’s statement in Quadragesimo Anno where he says that some of the economic ideas of moderate socialists strikingly approach the just demands of Christian social reformers.) Some socialists do advocate well-distributed property, cooperatives, etc., rather than state control of the economy. Socialism is wrong, as Pius XI so carefully noted, because of its traditional anti-religious and materialistic philosophy. This vitiates all forms of true socialism, but not necessarily their economic ideas, which vary quite a bit, and can be lifted out of their materialistic philosophical setting.

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  5. Socialism approaches distributism? In what universe? Distributism, at least according to Chesterton and Belloc, is a policy of widely distributed private property in capital, while socialism is the abolition of private property in capital — at least according to Karl Marx, who ought to know. According to Aquinas, a thing cannot both “be” and “not be.” A system that spreads out private ownership of capital is not the same as a system that abolishes private ownership of capital — unless you’re fooling around with redefining basic terms … which is the same as abolishing a thing’s substantial nature. All you’re doing is playing word games, trying to have your cake and eat it, too.

  6. “When I speak of capitalism I mean the kind of economic system which is dominated by large employers, usually corporations, which employ others to work for them. Capitalism is characterized by this employer/employee divide.”

    The truth is that capitalism is characterized by the sin of usury, in which money is lent out at interest as the foundational prin ciple of the system.

    Unsurprisingly, since the system itself is based upon a lie and a mortal sin (it is a form of theft, requiring the return of that which does not exist), it has metastasized to its point of implosion.

  7. I don’t quite see the controversy. Tom isn’t suggesting Distributism is socialism, rather that Distributism contains those elements which ARE proper in capitalism or socialism. This is why we have readers attracted to Distributism from the Left and the Right; capitalists and socialists. And as some of the protestors are attracted to socialism, Tom is merely appealing to those aspects of socialism that are positive to persuade them that Distributism is the superior model.

    As Pius XII said to the workers of Spain, “all that is good and just in other systems is already in Catholic social doctrine.”

  8. In my response to Andromedus I alluded to the passages in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno where he discusses the convergence of some socialist economic proposals with Catholic social teachings. Since evidently my critics will not bother to look up and read those passages, I’ll put them here. Mr. Simnel should realize that between the time when Marx wrote and now (or even 1931 when Quadragesimo Anno was issued) socialism evolved quite a bit. In any case, I’m content to let Pope Pius explain these matters.

    “113. The other section, which has kept the name Socialism, is surely more moderate. It not only professes the rejection of violence but modifies and tempers to some degree, if it does not reject entirely, the class struggle and the abolition of private ownership. One might say that, terrified by its own principles and by the conclusions drawn therefrom by Communism, Socialism inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred; for it cannot be denied that its demands at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon.

    114. For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.

    115. Such just demands and desire have nothing in them now which is inconsistent with Christian truth, and much less are they special to Socialism. Those who work solely toward such ends have, therefore, no reason to become socialists.”

  9. Your intended audience is the WS protestor? From what I have heard of their comments they are in need of a very elementary lessons in basic economics for your post to make any sense to them.

    For example.

    When I speak of capitalism I mean the kind of economic system which is dominated by large employers, usually corporations, which employ others to work for them. Capitalism is characterized by this employer/employee divide.

    There are at least as many understandings of capitalism as socialism. At best you seem to be describing possible secondary and tertiary effects, but not the substance of one of the most influctial econimc theories around. . I think my Socialist friends would offer similar comments about your description of socialism.

    I would suggest to reach you intended audiance you need to start with the sort of Econ 101 that is underlies all economic theories befroe you can explain Distributism.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  10. Andromedus; You’re all over the place. One moment you’re criticising distributists for daring to add anything to our ideology beyond attachment to the abstract distributive state of widely distributed, real, productive property. The next moment you’re suggesting that distributive state can be nothing like any form of capitalism or socialism. Capitalism and socialism are used as loose labels, there most certainly are ideologies and movements that are considered socialist or capitalist, like guild socialism, mutualism and even the fairy tales used by the likes of Friedman and Hayek to do their theorising on(which they then unthinkingly apply to the very different system of actually existing capitalism.), which come close to the distributive state. There is nothing wrong with pointing this out. There is nothing wrong with pointing this out.

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  12. If you don’t like the practices of this or that company then do not reward them with your money. Very simple. the end-user should be the one who decides who wins and who loses. Not Big Brother. What’s the point of putting ones money at risk and creating a company and jobs if the government puts a bunch of obstacles in your way where the overhead is so large that the odds of making any profit is so small. Again, if a company pollutes and you don’t like that then you shouldn’t reward them. If a company pays it’s employees too little. Don’t reward them. Free market capitalism put the end-user in control. Period.

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  14. Mick,

    You seem to have the Robinson Crusoe notion of human society. If a company pollutes and I refuse to buy from them, the pollution can still harm my family and hurt the nation, leading in turn to other problems, such as higher health care costs, etc.

    If a company pays its workers too little, thereby forcing both husband and wife to work, and the children, because of lack of supervision become criminals, this also hurts society as a whole. Free market capitalism pretends that there is no community, everything is just a nexus of individual contacts with other individuals. No, God made us as social animals (cf. both Aristotle and St Thomas), and because of that communities exist; everything is not just a matter of single individuals interacting with other individuals. It is possible to harm society as a whole, and because of that society must be able to protect itself, sometimes via government, sometimes via other social institutions such as guilds.

  15. Wonderful article and all my support to DR and all who sail in her.

    But just a comment about the “download PDF” link: it seems to lead to a site advertising PDF software very aggressively, and not, as one would expect, a PDF of this article. Is this your intention?

  16. Ben,

    That feature worked ok for me, I got the pdf of the article. But the site administrator will have to address your problem, as I’m pretty technologically ignorant.

  17. The article here, as I read it, says that the goal of private property should be to support your person and your family, and that private property should not be used as a means of oppression.

    It goes on to link the existence of super-rich with the existence of oppression, and seems to advocate a more-progressive tax system than the one the USA currently has.

    Am I to conclude that the goal of the tax code is to leave everyone with enough money to support their family by dictating the value of labor? Is it that you think that people don’t need beyond “x” amount of money to support themselves and their dependents and to establish “income caps” (either directly or indirectly through a progressive income tax)?

    This is a horrible idea, and will do nothing except possibly make the problem worse…

    A person’s wage, despite what is written in Das Kapital, is determined by the value of the thing a person does and this value is more than the “doing” of the thing. Robert Heinlein gives the example of a mud-pie; no matter how much labor you put into a mud-pie, it will never be as valuable as a diamond.

    Keep this in mind as you think about how profit works: Price-(cost of material+cost of labor)=profit. By limiting the cost of labor, you have not affected the cost of material, nor have you really dictated the price (which isn’t feasible as I shall explain momentarily). As you can see from the math, the amount of profit will only increase. I am assuming that this “profit” will be resdistributed back to the “neediest” in your system.

    In the process of the redistribution, all of the money must pass through an intermediary. This intermediary, the government(?) (which mind you isn’t the people, but only a representive of them) will have at its disposal more wealth than the super-rich do under our system! You haven’t merely traded one master for another, you’ve traded many barons for a single emperor! All of the same judgments that the “barons” had to make in regards to how to distribute their wealth, will now be faced by the emperor! Instead of hoping for the mercy of hundreds of people, you now put yourself completely at the mercy of one! It might be easier for everyone to go and beg from the same entity, but to get that entity to listen to you will be much harder.

    The reason why the dictation of prices is not feasible is because of how companies actually make profit. I will only outline the case of companies that make things, since only they add to the wealth of a nation (wealth refers to the value of material goods and not their signifiers, money). For any given widget that a company makes, they only make a small amount of profit per widget made. Large profits are only made by making many widgets.

    Since profit margins are so small, you can’t lower the price: Whatever profit is built into the price of a particular widget doesn’t cover the cost of the material and labor. If the widget “breaks” during production or isn’t sold, companies face a huge loss for that widget. A “huge loss” here isn’t just loss of money, it is actually loss in wealth. Obviously the only companies that can survive “huge losses” are large corporations, and that is why your attempt to create a more equitable distribution of wealth by dictating prices fails.

    If you answer, “what if we try to make large corporations illegal?”
    A) prices will go up, (ever tried to have a replacement part for a rare car made by a small machine shop?), and widgets will become more scarce (fewer people can assume the risks of the manufacture of a thing).

    The only way that I can see a distributist economy working is by dictating quotas to people that they must fill. Perhaps working is the wrong word…

    I am very interested if someone can explain to me what I am missing here.

  18. Thomas, that was quick. Thanks.
    I tried again, this time enabling javascript for your page(which I turn off by default and enable on a need-be basis, as increasing numbers of people are doing using the Firefox plugin NoScript for security reasons)and this time it worked; however, not elegantly: the PDF seemed to be generated on the fly, through a new mini browser pop-up window with the legend “The PDF is being created. Please wait a moment” and then after much longer than a “moment” I had to click on another download link before I finally got it.
    My suggestion to your site administrator is to serve a ready-made PDF directly from the link on the page and not by the current tortuous, advert-ridden, inelegant and error-prone route (the price paid for cheap PDF production, which we are virtually obliged to resort to in this non-distributist economy, I guess!)
    Having made my criticism, I must add that I very much like the exceptionally clean simplicity of the site design.

  19. Steven, you have no idea what you’re talking when you’re confusing differential tax on property with differential income tax. The idea of the former tax is to distribute productive property into the hands of the many, and right now, the State HAS TO DO SO, because of the injustices being committed daily; in fact, Pope Pius XI explicitly stated that the State has to intervene in economic matters when it is necessary, and only for the common good. I also must stress that I am NOT talking about personal property, only property that makes wealth.

  20. Steven Wiburg wrote, “A person’s wage, despite what is written in Das Kapital, is determined by the value of the thing a person does and this value is more than the “doing” of the thing.”

    Even if we keep to the economistic definition of “value,” i.e., what it subjectively means to someone, this is not true. It is often one factor that goes into determining wages or salaries, but hardly the only one. It is hard to believe that CEOs, for example, who were presiding over their corporations while they descended into bankuptcy were worth the hugh salaries and bonuses they received. I’m sure that many others would have been happy to take those jobs at a tenth of the salary and some of them would probably have done a better job. No, you’re forgetting, as most schools of economics do, that power, the ability to manipulate legal rules, as well as cultural norms, etc., all play a part in determining wages and salaries and all other economic outcomes.

    And of course this is not even to mention that the notion of “value” which you hold in such high esteem produces high incomes for abortionists, pornographers, etc. Unless we understand that an economy is rooted in human persons and human community and must serve those persons and that community, we misunderstand it. And unless we have a correct understanding of man and community, our knowledge of economics is pretty worthless.

  21. It might also be worth pointing out to Stephen that distributism doesn’t have to start out by using any sort of progressive income tax. It can use the land value tax, not to mention the stripping away of corporate personhood, privileges and welfare, amongst a myriad of methods.

  22. Javier H. von Sydow

    Dear Mick,

    I’m quoting you: “If you don’t like the practices of this or that company then do not reward them with your money”. I was one of the ones that believed Alan Greenspan when, prompted by a fellow Fed member to regulate the irresponsible market of mortgages and CDO’s, said to let the “invisible hand” of the markets deal with the problem. I was ready to see the markets punish investment bankers in 2008 (and maybe even get into capital markets myself by buying stock of Goldman Sachs at 10-cents-on-the-dollar) when the very free-marketeers and masters of the universe themselves managed to use my money and that of the entire People of the US (including the poor and even the illegal immigrants that all of a sudden we want to deport now!) to rescue… themselves! They did this by activating the ultimate sleeper cell placed in the US Treasury (the former CEO of Goldman Sachs just 4 years prior, and responsible for the very same purchases of CDO’s that had put the US and the World in the brink of disaster) just 2 months prior to the end of President Bush’s term. Thus all throughout the crisis (and up until now), Goldman Sach’s stock (and that of the other banks) remained at $120-odd per share like if nothing had happened and they hadn’t made a bad investment! However, as a consequence of all this many people who had contributed the money to the US Treasury which was used to rescue these free-marketeers lost their jobs and their houses. Who did the markets punish here? For us it’s “swim or sink”, Ch 11, 7 and 15, foreclosures, etc., and for them it’s “wait, it’s the end of the World unless you cough out the money needed to plug my balance sheets, hold on to the huge profits made with these very questionable financial instruments through the 5 years prior to this (and which could perfectly off-set this loss) and spare my shareholders”. People see through this, Mick; they don’t like the “free fox in the free hen house”… They are beginning to see the abuse of the concepts…

  23. Paul:
    If a person asks you a question about something he doesn’t understand and tells you why he doesn’t understand it, do you answer his question by making an abstruse distinction and shoo him away?

    At any rate, please explain how your distinction disrupts my argument. It would seem that a tax on property (“widget-making” machines) would be subsumed under the “cost of material” part of my analysis.

    Do you mean to suggest that things are so bad right now so as to justify the seizure of other people’s “widget-making” machines? I had thought that it only became permissible to do this when lives were in danger…

    Thomas Storck:
    The “working” definition of value I put forward was…
    value= the base worth of a thing + the work done to it.

    If you would like to include in the “working” definition of value also the worth dictated by taste. By all means let’s do so, but then explain how the addition of this “value additive” changes my analysis in important ways.

    I also think that the addition of taste to the “working” definition of value operates to defeat your next objection. If a company chooses to pay a CEO a certain amount and they do so because of their taste, then who are you to say that the CEO wasn’t “worth” that amount. It is only by assuming a “working” definition of value closer to the one I originally
    put forward that gives you an economic to stand upon to make that judgment.

    So you take issue with how much people get paid. Okay what should we do about it? Should we dictate salaries and wages? If so how and what arguments would you put forward to defend the monetary value a person’s labor receives? Would you include the taste of the employer in your definition (this is a dry joke)? I am not trying to be sassy here, I really want to know the objective measures and equations you would use.

    Furthermore, it is not my theory of value that produces high incomes for abortionists and pornographers, it is the simple reality of what other people will pay for their services and the cost of the equipment necessary to perform the tasks they do. If you have a problem with these actions, you can change the hearts of these sinners by preaching not by legislation or an army…

    Thomas and Paul: There is more to life than material goods, we both agree on that; and being rational creatures we should take those things into consideration when weighing our decisions. Everything that I have ever read by a distributist makes much of this fact that everyone agrees upon, and standard economic thought allows for people to do this.

    But when distributists start talking about real solutions about how to make this happen, seizing property, setting salaries and wages, etc, I can only think of restricting freedoms by force (directly or indirectly through law); I can only imagine dictatorships, and not the Kingdom of God… perhaps I am dull.

    Lastly, Every distributist article I’ve ever read seems to have in it a vein of thought that springs from some naive longing towards the market relations that existed prior to the advent of mass production. For instance in your own article “the starting point for economics” you write approvingly of the Italian cloth traders that worked 5-6 hours a day and were satisfied with very little. I read stuff like this and I think about all the magnificent palaces and plazas that exist in places like Florence and Venice, and about the disparity of wealth that must have existed then! I mean imagine how expensive building those wonders were without modern equipment!!! And you honestly expect me to believe that greater economic equality existed back then?!?

    Again, I am not trying to be block-headed here; I don’t write so much because I “want to win” a debate. I honestly want to understand you.

  24. I would also like to point out that wessexman’s point about stripping the law of corporate personhood is a fabulous idea.
    I believe that most of the fairness problems in our society are the result of special legal and tax privileges being given to imaginary people and also from Mussolini-style government and big-business collusion.

  25. Javier H. von Sydow

    My dear fellows: If by “personhood” we understand the fact that corporate entities be regarded as individual persons by the law, we need not do away with this very practical (and old) creation of Roman Law. The practical advantages are clear and the Romans were excellent at it, which is a reason why it was adopted and maintained in all legal systems throughout the world. It was them that saw -also in the legal field- that a person begins his/her existence as such (entitled to rights and subject to obligations) at conception. Any inconveniences or wrongdoing stemming from corporate life can be easily regulated (like it’s done with individual behavior) without eliminating this neuter concept of the Law that makes it so much easier to deal with them. As the dialogue between “Occupy” and the old world develops, we should make sure that we change what needs to be changed and keep what works. One humble suggestion is this (I read it in The Economist a couple of years ago): put the appropriate financiers under a strong moral oath that carries some liability (like attorneys and physicians). Like the devise called “Club” placed in cars’ steering wheels, it may not totally avoid theft, but it will place one more burden on immoral people (not so much because of the oath, but because of the liability that should attach to it).

  26. “At any rate, please explain how your distinction disrupts my argument. It would seem that a tax on property (“widget-making” machines) would be subsumed under the “cost of material” part of my analysis.

    Do you mean to suggest that things are so bad right now so as to justify the seizure of other people’s “widget-making” machines? I had thought that it only became permissible to do this when lives were in danger…”

    Steven, apparently you don’t think the National debt is a curse, nor the many thousands of jobs lost overseas is a big blot on the current system. The Popes have decried the capitalism, and things weren’t bad as they are now.

    BTW, I forgot to mention that the people owning that kind of productive property forced to sell their productive property would be compensated for.

    “But when distributists start talking about real solutions about how to make this happen, seizing property, setting salaries and wages, etc, I can only think of restricting freedoms by force (directly or indirectly through law); I can only imagine dictatorships, and not the Kingdom of God… perhaps I am dull.

    Lastly, Every distributist article I’ve ever read seems to have in it a vein of thought that springs from some naive longing towards the market relations that existed prior to the advent of mass production. For instance in your own article “the starting point for economics” you write approvingly of the Italian cloth traders that worked 5-6 hours a day and were satisfied with very little. I read stuff like this and I think about all the magnificent palaces and plazas that exist in places like Florence and Venice, and about the disparity of wealth that must have existed then! I mean imagine how expensive building those wonders were without modern equipment!!! And you honestly expect me to believe that greater economic equality existed back then?!?”

    You, sir, really don’t understand medieval workings of society, and think that Distributism want strict economic equality (Socialist do, BUT not Distributists). THERE WAS NO STRICT ECONOMIC EQUALITY! But the people in medieval society were content because they knew what their place was in society, and they were content, because the lower classes didn’t need as much as the higher, and yet were economically secure (much more so than nowadays). They also lived the Catholic religion thoroughly; it permeated all aspects of their lives, not separating it from the secular as most Catholics unfortunately do nowadays.

    BTW, it is NOT THE DISTRIBUTISTS who say seizing productive property is fine when the situation is intolerable; they just repeat the Catholic Church’s teaching, especially that the State would be obliged to, for the common good. It is NOT Socialism, whatever one may think of the prudence of it. I would urge you to read Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, before you make anymore irrelevant arguments against Distributism.

  27. You must understand, Stephen, this: the Distributist arguments, at least those of Catholics, are based on the Social Doctrine of the Church, embodied in such encyclicals as Quadragesimo Anno and Pacem in Terris. You must understand, too, that the common good is this: the good of allowing people to live in peace and grow in virtue. Today’s society fails definitively in this. BTW, sorry about my tone in the previous posts, but this is a subject I am passionate about.

  28. Javier H. von Sydow

    Paul, don’t forget “Rerum Novarum”!

  29. Of course! How could I have forgotten the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII that earned him the name “Pope of the Workmen”!

  30. Steven Wiberg; I do not favour the use of progressive income taxes unless absolutely necessary, but how are they the mark of dictatorship and confiscation? Come on this is very much over the top rhetoric. Most Western nations have progressive income taxes.

    One point your general analysis misses is that distributism isn’t really about equality or giving workers the full value of their labour according to some labour theory of value. Distributism is based on the traditional Christian view of man and society and creating the right society and economy for the full development of man according to this view. The current inequality mostly matters because of its role in denying easier access to real, productive property for families, decent, dignfying and creative jobs for individuals and other similar reasons, not simply because it makes people unequal.

    Javier H. von Sydow; I’m certainly in favour of bringing back corporate personhood under the guise of the guilds. However I wouldn’t go so far as to say current corporations have much successes. Even aside from Kevin Carson’s anaylsis which shows they largely rely on the state for their efficiency, a lot of their ‘successes’ are not things that are very high priority according to my reading of the traditional Christian view of man and society and in fact the likes of the demand for cheap consumer goods from the third world simply retards progress in a distributist direction.

  31. Stephen Peterson

    @Thomas
    Great article. I especially like your definition of capitalism as characterised by the employer/employee divide. Elegant.
    ——
    @Wessexman/Javier
    In regards to the corporate personhood, it has always struck me as odd why governments tax individuals and corporations as individuals and corporations when, if you want to recognise family as the most basic of society, the family ought also be the most basic unit of economy. Why do we elevate personhood above family in the first place, be that individual or corporate? Aristotle, in his Politics, considered private property to be held communally by the household for the good of the household, not by an individual. Whatever happened to that idea?

  32. So I’m new to distributism, but it certainly interests me. I’m used to the idea that the harder you work, the more money you make. So is this concept completely negated with distributism? For example, would a doctor be compensated more for his schooling and the importance of his medical advice? I think I like the basic idea of distributism, but I won’t get behind it if good old work and perseverence aren’t rewarded to some degree.

  33. Stephen Peterson

    @Brady
    In fact, I would argue that hard work is rewarded more so according to distributist principles than according to the status quo. At present a person can slog their guys out and barely make ends meet, while someone else can work half as much and make fifty times more, just because they are in possession of large property aggregates. You might argue that they had to work hard to get there, but beyond a certain point money begets money, since percentage overheads are reduced, and can you really say they worked hard enough to deserve *fifty* times as much as someone else? Two or three times, maybe, but *fifty*? People can also make lots of money day trading stocks, which adds no value to the economy whatsoever. Distributism rewards *honest* work more than either capitalism or socialism.

  34. Pingback: More Chutzpah from Liars for Truth | Catholic and Enjoying It!

  35. There are a lot of objections and good questions that need to be answered here. Some of the answers are in the various other articles available here, by others as well as myself. But I’ll try to address some of the points people have raised.

    First Mr. Wiberg wrote, “But when distributists start talking about real solutions about how to make this happen, seizing property, setting salaries and wages, etc, I can only think of restricting freedoms by force (directly or indirectly through law); I can only imagine dictatorships, and not the Kingdom of God… perhaps I am dull.”

    I’ve never advocated confiscation of incomes, at least as a general policy, but according to very sound moral theologians, such as Msgr. John A. Ryan, such a policy would not be unjust, even if it would not always be wise. Provided, of course, that the upper limit of income was really reasonable and a generous margin of error was allowed in the interests of freedom. But consider the analogy with marriage. Is my genuine freedom restricted by being allowed only one wife? Even more so, would my genuine freedom by restricted if the civil law forbade remarriage after divorce? Why are our economic appetites more sacred than our sexual drives? Holy Scripture and the traditional teaching of the Church consider both of them as needing restraint and traditional Catholic praxis often put legal limits on both of them.

    Then he wrote, “you write approvingly of the Italian cloth traders that worked 5-6 hours a day and were satisfied with very little. I read stuff like this and I think about all the magnificent palaces and plazas that exist in places like Florence and Venice, and about the disparity of wealth that must have existed then! I mean imagine how expensive building those wonders were without modern equipment!!! And you honestly expect me to believe that greater economic equality existed back then?”

    Well, those cloth merchants I referred to were actually German, but no matter. Consider however those Renaissance princes. How much of their wealth went to endowing public buildings, churches, etc., which everyone could enjoy and profit by? And in their palaces and private houses, how many servants did they employ, often mostly for show, who may have had very little actual work to do on most days? The entire work/leisure rhythm was very different in that era. I’d suggest that you immerse yourself in traditional Catholic socio-economic thought. You might find yourself being more receptive to distributist thought.

    Mr. Peterson,

    Thanks for the good words. The definition of capitalism as denoting the employer/employee divide comes from Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno.

    Distributists do not advocate a leveling of income. There will always be differences and this is both inevitable and just. The best discussion I know of this is in Msgr. John A. Ryan’s book, Distributive Justice, where he weighs all the factors: education, hazardous type of work, difficulty of finding competent employees, etc., etc., and tries to balance all the factors in justice.

  36. you are not describing capitalism you are describing corporatism, true capitalism is many employers and many employees, the freedom to start a business without government interference, and to keep the fruits of your labor, none of which is currently happening. There is nothing wrong with true capitalism. The problem is when we have business that are “too big to fail”, in capitalism as well as in religion there has to be hell, the ultimate recompense. GM should have been left to fail, any another business that we propped up. The housing mess was started by Government mandating loans to people that traditionally would not be considered good risks, I have family in banking, a small local owned bank, they paid penalties for years because they would not go along with the Fannie and Freddie, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd mandated high risk loans, they have had no defaults on housing loans. No what we currently have is corporatism, crony capitalism aided and abetted by corrupt liberal politicians.

    Get it straight, we do not need to be europe, they really are doing good aren’t they

  37. Well, Egyptian, you’re right, we do mostly have crony capitalism right now. But crony capitalism is simply a logical development of capitalism itself, since our fallen human nature will want to take advantage of opportunities to use political power to further one’s economic interests. Again, Pius XI has a brief discussion of this in Quadragesimo Anno, where he talks about financial interests capturing state power.

  38. The Egyptian; it might also be worth pointing out that capitalism has always been ‘crony capitalism’ historically. A lot of people who say they’re against ‘crony capitalism’ and the like still seem to think state intervention is easily detachable from actually existing capitalism and can therefore claim most of the fruits of it(that these fruits are not necessarily as sweet as vulgar, popular ideology would have it is usually ignored.). This is not true, state intervention is endemic in actually existing capitalism and always has been(and needs to be to support it in anything like it current structure.).

    While it is probably true that if this completely ‘non-crony capitalism’ could be instituted and, as importantly, maintained in a more or less pure state, it would be significantly better than actually existing capitalism. However it is not at all certain it would be come close enough to fulfilling the main goals of distributism nor that we must simply follow the blueprints of the free market capitalists as the only viable or just economic system.

  39. @ Wessexman
    Ha, interesting way of putting it. I guess the people who say: “capitalism is really great, it’s just that what we have at the moment isn’t *real* capitalism”, those people aren’t really that much different to the people who say: “communism works great on paper, it’s just that what happened in the USSR et al wasn’t *real* communism”.

  40. One of the outstanding benefits of the USA system that has existed is that an individual with an idea – a Thomas Edison, a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs – which leads to a product or products which many people want, can earn large financial rewards. The people in the OWS movement seem to criticize mostly CEOs of corporations, who are typically hired managers. The guys who have the ideas and succeed in “selling” investors on putting in the risk capital needed to develop the new inventions can (but usually do not!) become multibillionaires.
    Do the distributists claim that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is evil because they succeeded in accumulating large fortunes? The possibility of gaining such a fortune seems to be a requisite for talking venture capital investors into taking the risk (of losing the investment) if the idea fails, as most ideas do.
    Economic systems designed to prevent anyone becoming wealthy also seem to prevent anyone taking the risk of financing a new idea. The demonstrators in the USA in the OWS movement are not starving. They have their own cell phones, for example. Contrast this with the real poverty in poorer areas in Latin America and Africa. It is not what a government claims to do, but how it actually functions that impacts the living standards of the people in a country.
    Pure unregulated capitalism has not existed in the USA since the 1920s; and the Depression of the 1930s was exacerbated by failures of the central bank (Federal Reserve)
    Most decisions of banks and other corporations in the USA in recent decades are heavily influenced by regulations and the US Tax Codes. If the government subsidizes an activity (ethanol produced from corn), you get more of it. If the government taxes an activity, you get less of it. If government programs penalize a poor family with the husband present, but reward a family in similar circumstances with a single mother, you get lots of unwed mothers. This is well documented in the changes since the War on Poverty programs of LBJ’s administration in the 1960s. Good intentions often do not lead to good results. We should try to learn from what DOESN’T work, rather than just increasing the amount of money disbursed in programs that fail.
    TeaPot562

  41. Teapot; you start with the wrong mentality; as if the only aim and standard of an economy were the extent it could proliferate electromagnetic gadgets and consumder goods. I’m not saying there might not be worth in these, simply that perhaps you need to look again at your priorities and consider just what the goal of society and the economy is and start from there.

    There was no pure capitalism, in the sense used by the free market dreamers, in the 1920s; such a system never existed. The system you claim allows innovators, a word that once had at least as many negative connotations as positive, to flourish is, and always has been, replete with state intervention.

    Stephen; Kevin Carson has done excellent work on actually existing capitalism and state intervention. He came up with the term(I think, he at least uses it well) vulgar libertarian, to describe free marketeers who one minute concede corporate welfare exists and is bad and the next minute are claiming the successes of actually existing capitalism as that of the ‘free market’.

  42. Thomas,

    I really appreciate this article. I’m very glad you penned the following: “socialism means different things to different people, and some forms of socialism closely approach the distributist economy.” I think Distributist are long overdue in examining again their relationship to Christian Socialism, as one example of socialism, which looks a lot like Distributism at the end of the day.

    Distribustist, when they debate socialism, often seemed mired in the debates of early 20th century political economy. Things of course have changed (as you note from Pious XI Quadragesimo Anno). For instance, many socialist (especially Christian Socialist) are happy to say that Marx was 100% right about capitalism and 100% wrong about communism. In fact, there existed a version of Socialism that predated Marx, which was started by Christians who advocated a decentralized economy. With that said, I appreciate the olive branch you’ve offered to OWS, if not a genuine rapprochement.

    Somewhat obvious tangent: I also think it should be noted that Marx was not against private property per se, but against bourgeois private private property. Conversely, the private property of the distributist, stemming from Aquinas, looks much more communal than anything dreamed up by liberalism, as Storck notes.

    Robb

  43. To the point made by TeaPot regarding whether distributism calls Gates and Jobs evil “because they succeeded in accumulating large fortunes” , I think the answer was given by Gates himself in his “Creative Capitalism” speech at Harvard. In the speech he himself talks about how the markets considered it worthier to save some lives over others. It is this inequality that comes from accumulating wealth that is evil and not Gates or Jobs per se.

    Also Gandhi took this argument about accumulation to the extreme when he said “I suggest we are thieves in a way. If I take anything I do not need for my own immediate use and keep it I thieve it from somebody else”. I think what distributivism is trying to do is just to reduce this theft and thereby reduce the inequality by using minimal force unlike the socialist/communist regimes.

  44. Robb,

    Thanks for the good words. You commended me because of “the olive branch you’ve offered to OWS.” But I don’t think that OWS has only one ideology and I think that distributism has as good a claim as any other. Some of us, including myself, have been at the various protests, handing out distributist literature, and I don’t think we saw ourselves as outsiders, simply as adding another ideological voice to the mix.

    Now as to you comments on socialism, I want to try to be precise, in part because I know I might be criticized by Catholic capitalists, who are only too ready to brand distributists as socialists.

    I noted, as did Pius XI, that the economic proposals of some kinds of socialism “come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon.” But as you probably know, he went on to say, “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” Now what did he mean and why did he say that?

    The operative word in that last quote is the word “true,” be “a true socialist.” The British Labour Party used to call itself socialist, but the British bishops never said that Catholics could not vote for Labour or serve as Labour MPs, on the contrary, Catholics tended to vote Labour. But that’s because they were not “true” socialists. Pius XI said this of socialism: “Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” (QA 117)

    In other words, the socialist movement historically was materialistic and at bottom atheistic. Now you may protest, what of Christian socialists? Well, using Pius’ terminology, they probably weren’t truly socialists. The name is not the important thing, after all. But, then, why would someone insist on that name if he felt no affinity with historic socialism? It’s kind of like the stupid word “conservative.” There are so many people claiming to be conservatives, sometimes hardly agreeing on anything. Why is the term important to them? I’m not sure, but the same may be said for those who are anxious to be called socialists. In some cases it may be because they don’t want to be identified as capitalists, and I can certainly understand and agree with that. But one doesn’t have to be either a socialist or a capitalist, as we distributists never tire of pointing out.

    By the way, the fundamental criticism of socialism that Pius XI makes, John Paul II extends to the philosophy behind capitalism in Centesimus Annus. Both socialism and the philosophy that has always been behind capitalism are each equally materialistic and opposed to Catholic truth.

  45. I am still completely baffled how distributism, a system of widely distributed private property, has anything in common with socialism, the abolition of private property. As Pope Pius XI clearly stated in the passage Mr. Storck carefully omitted from the passages he quoted from Quadragesimo Anno,

    “120. If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

    If it’s distributism, it’s not socialism. If it’s socialism, it’s not distributism. A thing cannot both “be” and “not be” at the same time.

  46. What Thomas Storck is talking about are the proposals of moderate Socialism, which do approximate to Distributism, though still not Distributism.

  47. Hi Thomas,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    I agree: we often get too caught up in a name WRT terms like “Christian Socialist” or “conservative.” The only thing I would add by way of response is that historic Christian Socialism of the early 20th century said something quite simliar to distributism; that is, they pushed for decentralized and local economies, bypassing market and state, AND they adamantly held to a Eucharistic understanding of social organization – not unlike Vat II and Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est, which puts them far, far from Marxism. To my mind they effectively demonstrate that “socialism” is not a univocal term nor even a “left” term (see John Milbank); unhelpful, perhaps; but certainly not owned or even created by Marxists. Christian Socialism, not unlike distributism, are trying to recover “the primacy of the social” out from under the neo-liberal logic of market, state and anthropology. And not just any sense of the “social,” but the transcendental nature of humanity that _is_ inherently social. In this, they are completely in line with Benedict XVI.

    Thanks again!

    Robb

  48. Mr. Simnel,

    You wrote, “I am still completely baffled how distributism, a system of widely distributed private property, has anything in common with socialism, the abolition of private property.”

    I am baffled how you can ignore or not understand Pope Pius’ statement that the economic proposals of some moderate socialists “at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon.” Please understand that not all forms of socialism advocate the abolition of private property. This does not make socialism right; socialism is wrong, however, because of its materialistic philosophy, not necessarily always because of its economic proposals.

    BTW, I did not “carefully” omit Pius condemnation of socialism because of its materialistic philosophy. (See my first reply to Robb.) But I was focusing on their economic ideas only at that point.

    Robb,

    Certainly the Guild Socialists advocated something with affinities to the Church’s social teaching. Pius XI was focusing on socialism as the international movement it was, what he considered “true” socialism. But the example of the British Labour Party, shows I think, that the term can be used by anyone with many different meanings. But I’d certainly not advise a Catholic to apply that label to himself. It’s unnecessary and distracting, and one would have to continually try to explain how he didn’t fall under Pius XI’s condemnation. We can advocate for economic justice without becoming socialists. I am not interested in trying to reclaim the label “socialist” or trying to rehabilitate it, or to join in a quarrel about who are the real or original socialists. It’s clear that socialism as a movement is wrong, and thus forbidden to Catholics, while it’s equally clear that there have been people who’ve called themselves socialists who did not fall under that ban. And it’s equally clear what I’ve said several times in these comments, to Mr. Simnel especially, that the economic proposals of real but moderate socialists can at times come close to Catholic social principles.

  49. Thomas,

    Again, appreciation all around for the response. Fair enough – if you’re not interested in the term, then you’re not interested in the term. The same aversion you feel toward the word “socialism” is shared by many Christian Socialist brothers and sisters who are completely put off by the term “distributism,” which is sad. I hope greater mutuality and understanding can come about some day – especially since they share a common faith. And as your orignal post indicates, OWS might be a good place to begin speaking about Distributism.

    As you’re probably aware, a book responding to Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate called, The Crisis of Global Capitalism, is due soon and contains an essay be Medaille (which he might have already shared). At any rate, I for one greatly forward to the book as it seems to indicate a third way – combining the best insights of distributism and Benedict’s pushing for a “civil economy,” echoing the Christian Socialism of RH Tawney and Karl Polanyi. But I can see that I’ve taken us off topic and so I’ll bow out for now. In the meantime, I look forward to your future posts!

    All the best,

    Robb

  50. Now I am even more confused and baffled than before. Socialism is defined as the abolition of private property. If something does not advocate or demand the abolition of private property, it is, ipso facto, not socialism.

    Thus, I ask again the question that you keep dodging:

    How is it possible in any way to reconcile distributism, defined as a policy of small distributed private property, with socialism, defined as the abolition of private property? They cannot possibly “approach” each other, as they are inherently opposed; their substantial natures are completely different, however much their accidentals may outwardly resemble one another in some circumstances. You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, or (as I originally said) you’ve figured out a way, to your satisfaction at least, to have your cake and eat it, too.

    You’re playing word games, with the result that, by discarding the idea that definitions mean something, or that reason has any applicability, nothing has meaning. By dismissing or discarding reason, and changing definitions at will, you undermine the basis of Christian doctrine — as well as Jewish and Islamic, as Pius XII warned in § 2 of Humani Generis.

    You seem to be confusing form and substance. Call me dumb, but you are coming across as saying two contradictory things and yet maintaining that they are, in fact, the same thing in some cases, when it is impossible — by definition — that they can ever do any such thing.

    Pius XI stated as clearly as it is possible to state anything that you can’t be a socialist and a Catholic at the same time, yet you seem to want to insist that, on the contrary, yes you can.

    You can throw all the jargon around you like, you can cite other statements, but I, for one, am not going to believe that the pope is going to contradict himself, or that he really means white when he says black, or black when he says white.

  51. Lambert, there have been many definitions of “socialism” throughout the years, and not all advocated the abolition of private productive property. Marxist socialism does, yes, but Marx largely hijacked the term to make people forget about the other varieties of socialism. In any event, no one is saying that distributism and Christian socialism are identical, just similar.
    Viking

  52. Not just Marxist socialism, but all socialism is defined as the abolition of private property. Any system that does not recognize that the right to be an owner is inherent and absolute in the human person, however limited the exercise of that right for the common good, is socialist. To deny that private property is a natural right is to abolish private property — whether or not the State or community or whatever “allows” private ownership — it has ceased to be a natural right, and has become contingent upon something other than the fact of the owner’s humanity.

    If, as Chesterton and Belloc insisted, distributism is a policy of small distributed private property in capital, land, or whatever, and — as they also insisted — that all forms of socialism are opposed to this ideal, just as capitalism is, though to a lesser degree, then how is it possible to say that any form of socialism approaches, is similar to, has the appearance of, or in any way resembles distributism? Am I really so stupid that no one can explain something so fundamental to what it means for something to be distributism?

  53. Mr. Simnel,

    You wrote: “Not just Marxist socialism, but all socialism is defined as the abolition of private property.” Question: When and by whom was “all socialism defined as the abolition of private property”?

  54. What condemns socialism and liberalism is the materialistic philosophy; not that private property isn’t important, but Pope Pius XI stated, even if every one of the erroneous economic errors of Socialists has been corrected, they would still be Socialists because of the erroneous philosophy of believing there is no afterlife and thus the aim of humanity to pursue earthly happiness. If you would read the encyclicals thoroughly instead of having this knee-jerk reaction of disbelief that Distributists and moderate Socialists do hold things in common, but from different perspectives.

  55. Socialism is a term as vague and broad as capitalism. There are various movements called socialist, like mutualism, individualist anarchist and so forth, that do not call for the abolition of what could be called private property. There are certainly forms of socialism that approximate a distributive state; an economy of widely dispersed property ownership.

  56. Repeatedly throughout the article and other writings on this website I have encountered the phrases like “reasonable comfort”, and others which indicate that there is a proper level of material wealth which individuals can have without falling into the category of “the rich”. What is this scale in terms of yearly salary? Many would agree that the salaries of corporate executives are bloated. However, when we leave the realm of billionaires, many in the top 70-95% of income earners would argue that they living reasonable life styles.

    What exactly is the difference between the wealthy and the rest of society? What amount of wealth are people entitled to?

  57. Stephen Peterson

    @Izaak Bruce

    If I can give you a quote from good old Pope Leo XIII:

    “That right to property, therefore, which has been proved to belong naturally to individual persons, must in like wise belong to a man in his capacity of head of a family; nay, that right is all the stronger in proportion as the human person receives a wider extension in the family group.” (Rerum Novarum §13)

    Effectively, the right to ownership of production of any individual is proportionate to the size of his household. A man with a wife and five children has a significantly greater right to property ownership than a single man living on his own.
    Phrases like “reasonable comfort” are specifically chosen because they avoid naming a dollar figure There is always going to be a certain amount of flexibility around that question. However, the above stated rule, that the right to property is proportionate to the size of the household, takes precedent.

  58. “Phrases like “reasonable comfort” are specifically chosen because they avoid naming a dollar figure.” This is true. However, there have been attempts, and I think for the most part successfull, to put a dollar figure on these things. There used to be two family budget published by different agencies, one I believe from the federal government, the other from the University of California, which set frugal, medium and high family budgets. They were usually in agreement within a few hundred dollars or so. I think both of them are no longer produced. But the Department of Agriculture still publishes a food budget, dependent on age, family size, etc., with four levels. Here is the link http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodCost-Home.htm

    They also have separate budgets for Alaska and Hawaii.

    To calculate a reasonable standard of living for a particular family size is not as unreasonable as it seems to some people. But this is not to say that distributists want to nail down everyone’s income to an exact dollar amount.

  59. I think that socialism and capitalism approach distributism where the scale is sufficiently small. I’d also suggest that to properly implement distributism in an area, at least some necessities must be socialized. Roads, for example, cannot fall into the hands of private monopolies who can then control access to one’s home or business.

    I would argue the same is true with the infrastructure connecting houses to the public switched telephone network, and to the internet. But if the services are separated and remain privately provided over that infrastructure, then we have more capitalists with less power, which is what the Distributist wants.

    I want the government to run roads, not ship freight or run taxis. I want the government to run lines to connect to the telephone network, but not portions of the network or services on these which are not necessarily tied to it. In so doing, the level of regulation of businesses can be reduced because competition and free access to the market is built into the system rather than the assumption being that owners should have control over their business investments.

  60. Mister Storck, as I thought, you duck the question. I will ask it one last time and then, because you refuse to answer, I will answer it for you. I will then explain why my answer is correct, and your position is not only incorrect, but is directly opposed to the natural law accepted by the Catholic Church, and thus to Catholic social teaching.

    The question is:

    How is it possible, in any way, shape, or form, to claim that Socialism, explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church on the grounds that it is directly contrary to human nature, is in any way, shape, or form similar to, approaches, akin to, resembles, or any other words you choose to employ, Distributism? Socialism, the abolition of private property, is the antithesis of Distributism, which is a policy of small distributed property.

    You cannot and will not convince me, bully me, nor intimidate me or in any other way get me to admit in any way, shape, or form that black is white, or white is black, especially when all you have done is repeat that the Popes have in some way contradicted their own teachings. You can call me dumb. You can call me stupid. You can call me a heretic. You can call me a liar. No matter what you say, I cannot, and will not believe that the Popes are talking nonsense, and you can’t make me.

    The answer is:

    Socialism is clearly defined not just by Karl Marx, but by Pope Leo XIII, as the abolition of private property. As he said in Rerum Novarum,

    4. To remedy these wrongs [of Capitalism] the Socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.

    Leo XIII did not say “some Socialists.” He did not say “some forms of Socialism.” He did not say “a couple of Socialists.” He did not say “except for those forms that approach or resemble Distributism.” He did not say “just kidding.” No. He said “Socialism.” No exceptions.

    Pope Leo XIII condemned Socialism. Pope Pius XI condemned Socialism. Chesterton and Belloc condemned Socialism. You, on the other hand, try to clean it up, or say that it is “really” Catholic, when, according to the Popes, it is the only thing worse than the Capitalism or, according to you, hating the sinner and not the sin, the Capitalists. You thereby “create utter confusion in the community.”

    It looks like you find this useful. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, it’s easy to be popular by loudly condemning those sins that your followers are least likely to fall into or especially those sinners they think they don’t resemble. It’s so much easier to point the finger at others than to examine your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Gluttons attack the dangers of dieting. Misers warn against the perils of profligacy. Socialists, as you have seen, get hysterical about the evils of Capitalism or more usually the evil Capitalists, forgetting that Socialism, which would abolish human nature, is much worse than the distortions of human nature imposed by Capitalism. This is that “one little twist to the mind” Chesterton talked about. Accept this, you say, and all will be well. Unfortunately, what you want is to save humanity by making it not human.

    My guess is that you are taking great comfort in the assumption that I must be some sort of crypto-Capitalist, have bad faith, or am unintelligent. I must be evil or I would agree with you. No. I detest Capitalism far more than you ever could, for I understand it and Socialism far better than you do. I do not, however, as you do, detest Capitalists. Whether or not you want to believe it, Capitalists are as human as you or I. No human being deliberately does evil knowing it to be evil. All things, as Aquinas explains, seek the good. If evil is sought, it is because someone has a distorted idea of the good, or is avoiding some greater evil. You, of course, know better. You hint that anyone who disagrees with you must be evil or not a good Catholic, when it is the Socialists who the Pope says cannot be good Catholics.

    Why is your position contrary to the truth? Because all that exists is created by God and is a reflection of His Nature. Nothing created by God can be inherently evil. Having free will, humanity can construct things using God’s creation that, misused, can be used for evil, but the things themselves are, as things, good. The same nuclear weapon that can incinerate millions of human beings can also, conceivably, be used to power a space ship or move a meteor or asteroid from a collision course with the Earth. A thing is morally neutral until it has been used for good or evil, but as a thing, it is good, for it exists. A disease germ is only evil to humanity, not to others of its species. Man can do evil to his fellow man, but only because he has free will, and because he believes it to be good. If you doubt that, you should read Mein Kampf, in which even Adolph Hitler presented himself as a savior of the human race. Don’t forget that “Nazi” means “National Socialist,” not “National Capitalist.”

    Only ideas, the only thing that humanity as a rational creature can truly be said to create, can be good or evil in and of themselves. Thus, even abortion as abortion is not evil. It is the intent, the idea, that you can deliberately terminate an innocent life even for the best of reasons that makes abortion objectively evil. An unintended abortion, while it remains abortion and causes great harm, is not objectively evil.

    Similarly, you present a long list of reasons why Socialism not only isn’t so bad, it is really good. You even misquote Pius XI and list all the good things that, to give the Devil his due, the Pope admits that Socialism attempts. Nevertheless, while it is true that Capitalism has many evils, it is not contrary to nature. Capitalism is a serious distortion of nature, but it does not contradict nature. Socialism, on the other hand, contradicts nature. While it has deceived you and your followers, and appears to have entered the Distributist movement by the front door, nothing you say or do can change the fact that Socialism, if it remains true Socialism, is directly contrary to human nature, and thus to Catholic social teaching.

    Your error appears to be rooted in what Pius XII identified as the chief danger undermining Catholic doctrine. This is the widespread belief, as false as it is dangerous, that the natural law, and thus Catholic social teaching, is based on God’s expressed Will. Thus you insist not only that the Bible or the teachings of the Popes are true (as they are, but not for the reasons you suppose), but that your personal interpretation must be correct, even when it contradicts in some fashion something else that is in the Bible, or that the Popes have taught.

    In short, you have fallen into the trap of believing that something is true because the Pope said it, or because it is in the Bible, and then assume that your personal understanding of what is said is equally true. This is exactly the opposite of the truth. Nothing is true simply because the Pope says so or because it’s in the Bible. No, the Pope says so, or it’s in the Bible because it happens to be true. That’s a completely different thing. This has the advantage of letting you get away without making any real argument, but also to attempt to settle arguments by sneering at others who “just don’t get it.” This is why, as Chesterton remarked, that there is so little argument these days, and so much sneering.

    Your method shifts the whole basis of the law from God’s Nature, to your will. No natural right, whether life, liberty (freedom of association/contract), or property, is subject to change in its essence, regardless of the need you see or think you see. You cannot redefine essential terms or substantial nature for your convenience or need, no matter how great, any more than the taking of an innocent life can be justified on any grounds whatsoever.

    If you insist on changing definitions of natural rights like life, liberty, or property, you are not only mocking the teaching of the Catholic Church that the truth is not subject to change, any more than you can change God’s Nature on which it is based, you are making a liar out of Jesus, who promised that not one iota of the law would pass away.

    Do I think that any of this will convince you of your errors? No. But, being only human, I could be wrong. Maybe you do have, hidden away in some corner of your ego, enough humility to admit that you have made a great mistake. That’s not for me to say. I have a purely human conviction that you will never be able to let go of your devotion to your own will and faith in your own infallibility.

  61. Stephen Peterson

    @Lambert Simnel
    I don’t think that Mr Storck was saying that socialism was a good thing or that it was compatible with the Catholic Social Doctrine. I understood simply that certain variants of socialism, such as mutualism and guild socialism, had significant areas of overlap with distributism. Of course, it is the areas that don’t overlap that make distributim distributism and not just another variant of socialism.

  62. Which, of course, brings up the question he keeps avoiding. How is it possible to say in any way shape or form that Distributism, a system of widely distributed private property, has anything in common, overlap, approach, or anything else with Socialism, defined as the abolition of private property? If the Popes aren’t liars, then there is nothing in common. The essence of Socialism and the essence of Distributism can never be reconciled. Mr. Storck is bending over backwards to accommodate the Socialists, and openly sneering at anyone who dares ask him a straightforward question. Haven’t you noticed how quickly he changes the subject every time I ask the question?

    I never said he was saying it was good or bad. I was asking how it was possible for him to make the statements he makes with a straight face. He keeps ducking.

  63. Stephen Peterson

    Well, for example, distributists and guild socialists both argue for the reestablishment of a medieval guild system. Distributists and anarcho-socialists both argue for governments not to interfere in production matters. The popes also condemn liberalism in the same breath, and yet there are areas of overlap between liberalism and distributism.

  64. In Catholic teaching, liberalism is the belief that all religions are equally true. The Catholic Church condemns liberalism (not to be confused, as you have done, with political liberalism), because, logically, if all religions are equally true, then all are equally false. You should find out what the terms mean that you use before you use them, or ask a question when someone uses a term or makes a statement that doesn’t seem to make sense, such as how can Distributism, a system based on widespread distribution of private property, be in any meaningful way similar in any way to Socialism, which is a system that abolishes private property? I keep asking that question, and no one seems able to answer it.

  65. Stephen Peterson

    “Rerum novarum criticizes two social and economic systems: socialism and liberalism.” (Bl. Pope John Paul II, Centissimus Annus, n.10)
    Yes, I do know the meaning of the term and the different contexts in which it can be used. I think the above quote speaks for itself.

  66. Stephen Peterson

    And I thought I just answered your question. I even gave specific examples. This conversation seems to be going something like:
    You: Dogs have nothing in common with cats.
    Me: Actually, they both have four legs.
    You: But cats don’t like dogs. They are completely opposite.
    Me: They also both have tails and eat meat.
    You: But you still haven’t explained how they have anything in common. You keep dodging the question.

  67. And still avoids the question: How is it possible for Distributism, a system of small distributed property, in any way similar to, analogous to, comparable to, or any other words you want to use, with Socialism, a system based on the abolition of private property?

    Okay. You win. I give up. I’m not going to get an answer.

  68. Stephen Peterson

    What about the examples I just gave you about guild socialism, mutualism, and anarcho-socialism? What else do you need? I really don’t get where you’re coming from.

  69. Mr. Simnel, are you denying Socialism has any truth, in opposition to the Supreme Pontiffs?
    _________
    Quadragesimo Anno:

    117. But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.

    118. For, according to Christian teaching, man, endowed with a social nature, is placed on this earth so that by leading a life in society and under an authority ordained of God[54] he may fully cultivate and develop all his faculties unto the praise and glory of his Creator; and that by faithfully fulfilling the duties of his craft or other calling he may obtain for himself temporal and at the same time eternal happiness. Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone.

    119. Because of the fact that goods are produced more efficiently by a suitable division of labor than by the scattered efforts of individuals, socialists infer that economic activity, only the material ends of which enter into their thinking, ought of necessity to be carried on socially. Because of this necessity, they hold that men are obliged, with respect to the producing of goods, to surrender and subject themselves entirely to society. Indeed, possession of the greatest possible supply of things that serve the advantages of this life is considered of such great importance that the higher goods of man, liberty not excepted, must take a secondary place and even be sacrificed to the demands of the most efficient production of goods. This damage to human dignity, undergone in the “socialized” process of production, will be easily offset, they say, by the abundance of socially produced goods which will pour out in profusion to individuals to be used freely at their pleasure for comforts and cultural development. Society, therefore, as Socialism conceives it, can on the one hand neither exist nor be thought of without an obviously excessive use of force; on the other hand, it fosters a liberty no less false, since there is no place in it for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things.[55]

    120. If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.

  70. From Wikipedia:

    “Lambert Simnel was a pretender to the throne of England [read: a pretender to Internet discourse]…. His real name is not known.”

    Our Lambert Simnel is imitating the original one. I suggest ignoring him and his comments from now on.

  71. Pingback: SUGGESTIONS FOR READING: VOLUME TWELVE. « THE LORD OF THE WORLD

  72. A quick response to Stephen Wiberg. I am a neopagan, not a Catholic or even a Christian. My view on distributism is perhaps a bit different than some others. I don’t believe that the government can force a capitalist system to become distributist, though it can support distributist solutions. At the moment, we the people, must be the ones who decide whether we want to live our lives dominated by giant corporations or whether we want to be free.

    I can understand the objection to capitalism being a materialist one. I think a fair rejection of that (though it is a pro-distributist rejection!) is that economics is only one part of life, and materialism may be appropriate there.

    The real solutions? These occur on two sides: What the People Must Do and What the State Must Do.

    The People Must:
    1) Often seek to be self-employed
    2) Foster and support self-employment in others
    3) Bank with small local banks and credit unions

    The State Must:
    1) Make bailouts of businesses that are too big to fail contingent on breaking up those businesses so that the pieces are no longer too big to fail.
    2) Exempt the smallest businesses from as much regulation as feasible
    3) Allow welfare programs to support those who are seeking to become self-employed when on public assistance
    4) End corporate loopholes regarding taxes, increase the corporate marginal tax rate significantly (this might mean giving a tax break to small corporations though)
    5) Ideally there would be an excise tax on long-term rentals and leases (leases lasting more than a month or two), with the exception that natural persons should be allowed to lease out one item at a time, tax free.

    This excise tax would force rental prices up, but rentals would be in competition with sales, and so the real squeeze would happen at the landlord or similar level, and it would discourage buying property to use to make income. There would be no seizure. People could sell freely or not rent out.

  73. @Chris Travers
    I think you’ve got some good ideas, although with your last point I’d suggest, instead, a progressive tax on total rental incomes with a tax-free threshold for natural persons.

  74. I completeyly disagree with distributism. I believe in God given rights of all people. Freedom is tied to land ownership, even Malcome X understood this. A government is there to protest the rights of it’s people not divy them up as they see fit. The answer is less government not more.

  75. OOps! Government is there to pretect the rights of it’s people not “protest” Hahahah- too funny!!

  76. Freedom is in God. A government is there for justice St. Augustine knew this.

  77. Stephen Peterson

    @Shelly
    I’m not sure how your argument follows. What does that have to do with disagreeing with distributism? Distributists defend the freedom to own land to a far greater extent than capitalists do. Also, has anyone on this site actually advocated for government to divvy up land? I can’t remember reading that anywhere, but I’m pretty sure that distributists would disagree with that too.

  78. Stephen Peterson

    Also, distributism hold sacred the duty of government to protect the right of *all* citizens. Capitalism is inherently a plutocracy in which the government predominantly acts in the best interest of the rich and only looks after others to what ever extent it needs to preserve the rich.

  79. Too many people, as I said, not bothering to actually trying to understand Distributism, but giving knee-jerk reactions because of bad propaganda and non sequitur arguments.

  80. My problem with the protesters and perhaps a distributist outlook is the myopia which it seems to foster. Anger at the banks, at capitalism and at Wall Street in particular has put these things under a lense and yet has overlooked similar “greed” which is just as harmful.

    I’m referring to our own govt. and it’s allies and subgroups which have had just as much a hand in creating and worsening the economy of 2008-2011. The sourse of much of this is politics and how it both fed the crisi and at the same time caused agencies to
    overlook the dangers which were evident. I’m talking about the FEd., the agencies which had authority over Wall Steet and those bodies which Fannie which fed the ongoing credit bubble.

    Now if distributism forces us to consider more control over this, I’d wonder why? Why push for more of the same thing that was not done (or done poorly) in the first place?

    Taking this pne step further has caused even more problems. I’m talking about the 2–8 Stimulus bill which borrowed 800 billion dollars to stimulate the economy. It did none of this. It was a slush fund for Liberal/Progressive allies – which were in themselves partners in the same greed which the protesters now protest. The latgest component of the 800 billion dollars was Education, which both ont eh k-12 and college level got fed enormous funding which led to more studentand national debt.

    We all know how expensive college has become and increasing aid and direct funding only makes college more expensive. Please consider the following example of how such misguided thinking has done the same in the k-12 level.

    In 2008 100 billion dolars was awarded to k-12 education. this was intended to lower class size, retrain etachers and introduce pre-school and full day kindergarten. The 15,000 school districts which particiapated were told in advance to not spend it for continuing programs, because the funding would cease in 2011. They intentionally disregarded this warning. This was free money which swelled the local budgets by 11% in both 2009 and 2010. Now in 2011, when budgets have gone back to 2008 levels, districts have had their budgets go back to prior levels and have cried Rape! They have forced local taxpayers to increase funding to retain part of such Federal beneficence. In other words to steal from the taxpayer even more. As bad as the Wall street give away (Tarp) was, this was worse. (Much of Tarp was repaid) None of this 100 billion will ever be repaid. It is borrowed money which stands as part of the national debt and now has increased local taxes. Why are not protesters marching against Dc, against the Federal dept. of Education, against the NEA ? Where is the distributist thinking here?

    yes Subsidiarity is so very important today -but not giving and taking form the many to enrich the few. the few in the above case are the six groups which are the real beneficiaries of public education 1. Teachers, 2. Administrators 3. school boards. 4.state depts. of Education (and Federal) 5. politicans who capitalize on such giving and 6. the college depts. of Education which run a closed shop on who can teach.

    Now this really is greed.

  81. You’re ignoring the fact that the U.S. government and Wall Street have worked hand in hand for this current capitalist society. Wall Street wouldn’t be where it is today if government didn’t surrender and borrow money from banks!

  82. Mr. Rysz,

    I certainly don’t deny that others besides bankers bear responsibility for the mess we’re in. But by and large, the financial sector controls the government, or at least has a large influence over its actions. Of course, at the root of our problem is our fallen human nature which affects all of us. But capitalism makes this worse. It pretends that the vices of human nature are virtues.