What is Distributism?

Distributism finds its roots in the social and economic theories articulated in the documents of the Catholic pontiffs, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum.” These social encyclicals raise imperatives on economic transaction and its relation to labor, solidarity, wages, the wide diffusion of ownership, and the proper limits of technology. Distributism is an economic system compliant with the principles of these documents, and is centered on the widest possible ownership of property as the best guarantee of political and economic freedom. A family that owns its own land or its own tools can make its own way in the world without being dependent on someone else for a “job.” Thus, Distributism seeks to extend property ownership to as many as possible, and end the concentration of ownership by few capitalists or state officials.
 

What are the ‘means of production’?

 
The ‘means of production’ are the land, tools, and equipment needed for labor to transform raw materials into goods and services. As wealth (goods or services) is only possible by the combination of the means of production, labor, and raw materials, we believe it is best when these are owned cooperatively (worker-owned) or entirely operated by the family.
 

Are you Capitalists or Socialists?

 
Neither. Capitalism–or Proletarianism–is a system bent on the maximization of returns on investments, and seeks it at the expense of labor and the common good. Socialism aims to eliminate ownership and place it in the hands of an impersonal, centralized government. Both systems–Capitalism and Socialism–limit real ownership in practice. The only difference between a Socialist state and a Capitalist state is whether power is concentrated in a few private or a few bureaucratic hands.
 

So you don’t support “Big Government”?

 
Distributists are decentralists who believe most organizational functions (whether business, government, or labor) should occur at the smallest competent level as possible (subsidiarity). Institutions like local guilds and governments exist to curb large-scale control, whether bureaucratic or commercial.
 

What’s with all the talk about justice?

 
Since the time of Aristotle, philosophers and economists have deemed justice an integral element of the marketplace; a factor to be considered before exchanges take place. However, during the period of history known as the Enlightenment, a misconception arose that social justice springs solely from “market forces,” or from central planning by the government. In this case, man becomes a mere cog in an economic machine; he is reduced to material insignificance with disregard for his fallen nature or telos (purpose). Thus, while acknowledging man’s dependency on material goods, we recognize trade and social policy as subordinate to his virtuous vocation.
 

Wouldn’t Distributism be less efficient, and so make us all poorer?

 
Although Capitalism claims to be highly “efficient,” it doesn’t work very well without massive government expense and interventions. Distributists assert productive property as a genuine generator of wealth, because it serves and sustains the family materially (food, clothing, and shelter), and cultivates the soul through work. Moreover, we emphasize that distributed property is actually more efficient and is less dependent on huge government or corporate conglomerates. Property means liberty for the household from the jaws of financial volatility, as from the perspective of the household, land transcends market values due to its indispensability for the family’s stability.
 

What is your position regarding our present economic crisis?

 
Stagnate wages, usury, speculation, derivatives, waste, and consumer debt, are but a few of the problems which have transformed a land of small businesses and small farmers, into a nation pitted between corporations handing off their liabilities to taxpayers, and an obliging government looking the other way as jobs are shipped overseas. With relatively few producers and more outsourced production, the family’s confidence in obtaining healthy food, fair wages, home ownership, healthcare, and proper education for their children through the means of employment, has collapsed.
 

How does Distributism plan to help us restore economic sanity?

 
We believe a renaissance of local economics will repair the damage wrought by corporations that squeeze the government for greater subsidies from the public purse. Distributism puts forward a humane economic and social policy invested in the needs of the family through property ownership and measured technology. Our objectives include the restoration of the guild system, family and worker-owned business advocacy, micro-credit lending, Community Supported Agriculture, and associations tasked with implementing vigorous husbandry programs. We support political initiatives to favor differential taxation policies, legal assistance for the home-based business, as well as the revision of current accounting and banking practices. We intend to achieve our goals by forming a popular movement consisting of academics and laymen working together to create regional chapters dedicated to the implementation of the Distributist program.
 

Isn’t this all very Utopian?

 
No, Distributism is a practical system, which is validated by the many examples of functioning Distributist firms; on the small scale, there are thousands of home-based and employee-owned companies, micro-lending banks, credit unions, and insurance companies; on the large scale, there is the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation of Spain, one of the most successful cooperatives in Europe, and the Distributist economy of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna) in Italy, where over 45% of the GDP comes from cooperatives, and which boasts a living standard twice the rest of Italy and among the highest in Europe. Distributist economies and firms have a built-in competitive advantage over their Capitalist and Socialist counterparts, as well as social and community advantages that Capitalism and Socialism cannot begin to match.


Further Resources:

Catholic Social Teaching

Classic Reading List

Contemporary Reading List