On Distributism and the Futility of Third Ways

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 \AM\.\Tue\.

The search for an economic and political “third way” has haunted intellectuals for over a hundred years in the Western nations. Many forget that fascism was at one time considered a viable “third way” between liberal capitalism and communism, preserving for the most part private ownership of the means of production for profit but subjecting it to near total control and regulation by the state. Many other models would follow, from the local and anarchistic to the national and statist, appearing under many different names.

I too was caught up in the desperate search for a “third way”, as are many Catholics who eventually find their way to Distributism. But it became quite obvious to me that what people who actually defined themselves as libertarians and capitalists were promoting and defending really wasn’t what I had always thought it was, nor was it anything I could possibly find objectionable.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday, September 9, 2010 \AM\.\Thu\.

(Content advisory to the above video.  A few of the Rules of Acquisition are off-color.  You know what the Ferengi are like.)

We have been having a debate recently on The American Catholic between Austrians and Distributists.  As a devotee of free enterprise with as little government intervention as possible, I have found some wisdom in the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition as set forth in one of my favorite fictional realms:  Star Trek.  Many of the Rules of Acquisition of course are merely for entertainment purposes and would lead to immoral results, if not bankruptcy or prison, if attempted in reality.  However,  after a quarter century of running my own business, I believe these rules are insightful:

Read the rest of this entry »

Oh What a Tangled Web…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

Few things are more annoying to me than the obstruction of both semantic quibbles and logical fallacies to a clear understanding of reality. Thus my experience as a Distributist has become one of near-perpetual annoyance, given the proliferation of both throughout the Distributist camp. Here I want to address a few of the latest examples of this obstruction, and provide some insights as to how and why it ought to be overcome.

First, there is John Medaille’s interview with the Young Turks, in which he declares that one cannot be in favor of both free markets and capitalism, simply because he has defined a free market as a situation in which there are vast numbers of competitors, and capitalism as a situation in which economic power has been concentrated in the hands of a few large firms. When challenged on this distinction by the interviewer, who asserted that capitalism could be defined as a free market economy while this economic concentration could be defined as corporatism, Medaille essentially had no choice but to agree. He then decided to add that “the capitalism we have” is what he claims to be talking about, regardless of how one wants to “define it in the abstract.”

By answering in this way, however, Medaille might leave you with the impression that people who claim to be in favor of capitalism aren’t interested in criticizing that which “we have”, when it is beyond obvious to anyone who actually reads the material of self-identified pro-capitalist organizations such as the Mises Institute that they view “what we have” as corporatism or statism or state-capitalism or some variation on that theme, and oppose it as well.

Read the rest here.

Liberty Matters – And So Does Virtue

Sunday, May 23, 2010 \AM\.\Sun\.

In recent months I have been walking a fine line between libertarianism and communitarianism. Now that Phillip Blond has made his American debut, everyone is weighing on the conflict between these ways of looking at the world. I already covered David Brook’s assessment in the NY Times a while back. A brilliant Catholic philosopher by the name of Edward Feser has also given much attention to the viability of the libertarian/conservative “fusion”, which shares many similarities with the libertarian/communitarian debate. And now a Patrick J. Deenen weighs in on Blond, for communitarianism and against libertarianism. And a Mike Gibson fires back on his blog.

Since I’ve had a lot to say about these issues in the past, I’m going to say a bit about the latest round of conflict between libertarians and communitarians, and explain why I don’t think there needs to be any conflict at all. For one thing is missing from almost all of these analyses and exchanges – mention of, let alone fidelity to, the US Constitution. Not only that, but I am convinced that “subsidiarity” needs to appear in any discussion or debate between these ideological camps, as it really does bridge the gap between them. I would venture to say that the US Constitution is fairly good embodiment of the principle of subsidiarity.

Read the rest here.

Congratulations Rand Paul!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

Rand and Ron Paul are the true face of the Tea Party. I support them 100% in the months and years to come.

Though I agree that with Rand that we don’t need to apologize to the world for our economic system, we do need to continually revise and update it in accordance with the demands of the moral law and human dignity. My hope is that Distributist ideas can continue to gain traction in America, and among the Catholics in the tea party and hopefully beyond.

Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

Sunday, May 9, 2010 \PM\.\Sun\.

The “means of production” (which may be defined, roughly, as consisting of capital goods minus human and financial capital), is a central concept in Marxism, as well as in other ideologies such as Distributism. The problems of capitalism, according to both Marxists and Distributists, arise from the fact that ownership of the means of production is concentrated in the hands of the few. Marxists propose to remedy these problems by having the means of production be collectively owned. Distributists want to retain private ownership, but to break the means of production up (where practicable) into smaller parts so that everyone will have a piece (if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it).

Where a society’s economy is based primarily on agriculture or manufacture, thinking in terms of the means of production makes some sense. In an agricultural economy wealth is based primarily on ownership of land, and in a manufacturing economy ownership of things like factories and machinery plays an analogous role. In a modern service-based economy, by contrast, wealth is based largely on human capital (the possession of knowledge and skills). As Pope John Paul II notes in Centesimus Annus, “[i]n our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources.”

Read the rest of this entry »

A Distributist Manifesto

Friday, May 7, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

It recently occurred to me that I, and many others, talk an awful lot about Distributism without defining it. This is no longer an acceptable practice to indulge in, as the word becomes more known in Catholic circles in these economically troubled times.

There is a great deal of confusion about what Distributism is, what it means, what its place is in Catholic social thought, and even over who started it. This essay will attempt to address some of these confusions, by answering the following questions:

*What is Distributism?

*What has the Papacy said about Distributism?

*Why Distributism?

*What is the relation of Distributism to capitalism and socialism?

*How does Distributism answer its critics?

I will state forthrightly that I speak only for myself, and not for any other individuals or organizations purporting to be Distributist themselves. Though I have written for The Distributist Review, the following arguments and opinions are mine alone.

With that said, I hope you will find the following exposition helpful in your own mission to understand this idea, which is regaining popularity among Catholics. With this newfound popularity comes a great deal of criticism and sometimes even distortions by those who are sympathetic to it.

What you will not find here are technical details about cooperative firms or Distributist legislation, though I may always make future additions or posts on the topic.

Read the rest here.

The Real Antidote to Big Government

Sunday, January 31, 2010 \PM\.\Sun\.

In the third installment of my proposal for a libertarian-distributist alliance, I explore why libertarians ought to be open to distributist ideas. An excerpt:

Chief among the reasons to support a greater distribution of property is the simple truth that the maximum sphere of individual liberty is not to be found in an individualist utopia, but a strong localism that provides individuals in a moral and efficient way that which they would otherwise turn to a powerful state or crime syndicate to provide.

Aristotle & Distributism: Part II

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 \PM\.\Tue\.

(Part I may be read here. Some of the discussion may be followed on my blog. Note: the presentation of this essay on this blog may differ somewhat from the outline I set forth in the introduction in Part I. The critique of communism/welfare-statism will be published tomorrow.)

In an academic culture that is often characterized by historicist and relativist viewpoints, the notion that Aristotle may have had anything relevant to say about modern economic systems seems a little strange to us. While it must be admitted that we cannot expect the ancient versions of capitalism and communism to be identical to their modern counterparts, we can nonetheless differentiate the historically-shaped form from what is arguably the timeless content. Moreover, by way of critique of the two dominant economic paradigms (for in the final instance, welfare-statism/Social Democracy incorporates the worst features of both), we can arrive at a more clear vision of the Distributist alternative.

Though it ought to become obvious through the critique of communism, it bears stating up front that the Aristotelian critique of capitalism is not an attack on private property. Difficult as it may be for some readers, the notion that the essence of capitalism is the possession and use of private property is a fallacy bequeathed to us not only by certain capitalist ideologists, but by many (though not all) communists and assorted “anti-capitalists” as well.

A definition of capitalism that accords well with Aristotle’s critique is an economy in which production for exchange is predominant, as opposed to production for immediate use/consumption. Though it is modern technology since the Industrial Revolution that actually allows such an economy to come into being, the pre-industrial tendencies towards this type of economy have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and reached a pinnacle in the great civilizations of antiquity, including the ancient Greece in which Aristotle lived and wrote.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aristotle & Distributism: Part I

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 \PM\.\Tue\.

(Upon request, I am presenting my essay, which I will develop in five parts over the course of this week, here at TAC as well as my blog, Non Nobis)

Distributism is a current of Catholic social thought which holds that a greater distribution of private property, used in accordance with higher moral values and within the context of duties to community and society, is the best economic arrangement. It stands in contrast to both nationalized industry (socialism) as well as the permanent existence of a propertyless class (a feature of modern capitalism). For this, it has sometimes been wrongfully criticized as a reactionary anti-technology theory, a political program that would take society back to the technical level of the Middle Ages.

These accusations are groundless, for Distributism does not depend exclusively upon a particular mode of production; a business wherein shares of ownership were distributed among the employees would qualify as a Distributist enterprise. Thus whether we look to businesses such as the Spanish Mondragon, or to the ten-thousand plus Employee Stock Ownership Programs in the United States, Distributist ideas are not only alive and well, but are growing in appeal.

Although Distributism is most often associated with the modern social teaching of the Church, it is arguable that the first Distributist was in fact Aristotle. This should not be surprising, for insofar as Aristotle’s political and ethical philosophy stressed the importance of discovering and implementing the mean, that is, the middle between two extremes, it is only natural that he would arrive at a Distributist philosophy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aristotle & Distributism: Part I (Non Nobis)

Monday, September 7, 2009 \PM\.\Mon\.

Rather than drown my readers with a lot of words, as I sometimes do, I’m going to write and post this essay in several parts over this following week. I hope that by the end of it at least some will have a somewhat greater understanding/appreciation of Distributism, an idea that Catholics such as myself hope will gain more ground and exposure in the coming years, though I absolutely do not claim to be anywhere near the final word on it (some will say other things, some will say the same things better). I look forward to discussion on this topic.

Read Part I here.

To read this on the American Catholic click here.

Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

Monday, June 29, 2009 \PM\.\Mon\.

I am going to provide everyone with a nice blast from the past- everyone I know respects Pope John Paul II- most orthodox Catholics refer to him as John Paul the Great. So I think what he thought officially as Pope on the question of Capital/Labor/State as part of the tradition deriving from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum- is incredibly interesting and relevant. Here is Chapter One of Centesimus Annus with no personal commentary- let the “man” speak without any interference from me:

Read the rest of this entry »

Will The Real Utopians Please Stand Up?

Thursday, April 23, 2009 \PM\.\Thu\.

To follow up my last post on the Papal defense of Distributist ideas, I think it is also time we cleared up this notion of  ‘what can work’ and what actually does work.

Distributism, if it is practically defined as a set of social or political initiatives that encourage greater ownership of property, and specifically, worker ownership of the means of production, does exist and does work.

Here are some regional facts to consider:


“In Canada, there are distinct trends in worker co-operatives in Québec and the rest of the country. From 1993 to 2003, there was 87% growth in Québec and 25% growth in the rest of Canada.”

The United States

” In 2004, there were 300 worker co-operatives and 11,500 ESOPs covering over 8.5 million participants and controlling about $500 billion in assets.”


“Spain is home to the world’s oldest and most famous worker co-operative, the Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa (MCC), established in 1956. In 2004, this group located in the Basque County, had sales of 10.4 Billion euros, 10.0 Billion euros of administered assets, with a workforce of 71,500.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Calling Me a Commie!

Thursday, April 23, 2009 \AM\.\Thu\.

I can’t seem to go to any Catholic website or forum and talk about Distributism without at least one person accusing me of being a communist.

So, I post this not only for myself, but for anyone reading who is also sympathetic to the idea of spreading, by voluntary means, greater workers’ ownership of the means of production throughout society. Keep these in mind if you ever find yourself backed into a corner.

Rerum Novarum, 46 & 47. Excerpt:

“We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

Quadragesimo Anno, 65. Excerpt:

“Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.”

Mater et Magistra, 75-77. Excerpt:

“[I]t is especially desirable today that workers gradually come to share in the ownership of their company, by ways and in the manner that seem most suitable.”

Laborem Exercens, 14. Excerpt:

“We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else.”

If this is communism, then the Church is the original communist international, and the Bolsheviks were just wasiting their time. Or, maybe, the people who call these ideas ‘communist’ don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s probably that.