Sunday, May 10, 2009

Distributism Part Two

Although not yet a fully paid-up convert to the economic theory of distributism, which I introduced in a previous post, the system does have the advantage of combining in my mind a number of previously disparate strands of thought which have exercised me over the years.

Among these have included:

  • a decentralised approach to life. My observation is that both the centralised planned economies of twentieth century socialism and the emergence of multi-national corporations over the last fifty years have tended to produce powerful oligrachies that end to reduce democratic actvity whil claiming to preserve it. Decentralism affirms both the ability and the naturalness of individuals taking actions that they percieve to be in their best interests without the stuperfying levels of management and bureaucracy that typify centralised organisations
  • an emphasis on small scale business. Whatever our views about the causes and origins of the current financial collapse, there can be little doubt that the sheer scale of the institutions at the heart of it was a significant factor in their downfall. This was also a factor in their ability to hold nation states hostage with dire threats of the damage that their collapse would do to the economy as a whole if they were not rescued by those same states
  • an emphasis on localism. Ever since reading Nick Spencer's essay Where do we go From Here? I have been convinced of the social, personal and environmental benefits of geographical rootedness. Much current environmental thinking - from issues as apparently diverse as transport, leisure, energy production and food - emphasies the ecological benefits of "acting locally". Although distributism did not arise historically from an explicit environmental agenda, many of its conclusions are compatible with the emphasis on localism that informs much current, progressive environmental thought.
  • an emphasis on self employment. For whatever reason, I have always fouind the idea of working for myself, which I am currently doing, far more satisfactory an arrangement than being employed by another person, this latter arrangement appearing to me (personally) as merely a step up from servitude.
  • its origins in a Christian worldview. The early distributionists were Roman Catholic thinkers and, although not a Catholic myself, I do identify with some of the ethical views that underpin distributism. These include an affirmation of the dignity and social usefulness of work, an acceptance of the legitimacy of private ownership, a rejection of the capitalist pursuit of excessive (or "artificial" wealth) and a recognition (contra classic marxism) that mankind is a spiritual being not merely a materialistic entity.

In essence, I can see how distributism (defined as the widespread ownership of private productive property) contains emphases that can be found in theoretical aspects of capitalism - its emphasis on private property and individual freedoms, for instance - as well as in socialist thought - its demand for structural economic change that takes away the means of production from "the few" and gives it to "the many". Time will tell whether distributism is robust enough to be sucessfully implemented against the backdrop of the powerful vested interests that currently pull the strings of the global economy.

I guess there's only one way to find out.....

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Janet Baker said...

Are you familiar with the present proposal for a worker buy-out of the big three auto companies? AAWOC--Michele Mauden.Are you familiar with cooperatives, or Mondragon in Spain? Would you consider those to be distributist? The Distributist Review does (do you know that site?).

I can't consider myself a 'paid up, bona fide' supporter of either distributism or AAWOC, but it seems like an awfully convenient alternative to the 'free market' religion or Obama's version of ignorant and clumsy fascism.

But if I did write about what I liked about distributism, it would be exactly these points you post, and I thank you for making such elegant work of it.

I am going to try to write something about the AAWOC proposal. Google the Distributist Review if you don't know it. You might find a couple of things on my own blog less elegant but still useful (to a couple of poor souls,perhaps) on wall street and justice and such like. I am a Catholic.

Al Shaw said...

Hi Janet,

Thanks for dropping by and for your comments.

I had heard in passing of the AAWOC proposed buy-out but understood that this was effectively dead in the water at present. Is that incorrect?

I am not familiar with Mondragon but have been inspired by the high levels of co-operatives and worker-owned business currently operating in Italy's Emily Romagne region. More on that phonomenon here

I hope to blog about the emergence of co-operatives on the continent in the near future.

I have recently started reading the Distributist Review and have enjoyed trying to get my head round the theory it expounds.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Janet Baker said...

Dear Atlantic Writer,

I went looking for your name, at your profile, and didn't find it.

I also went looking for an answer to your question, 'Isn't AAWOC dead in the water,' and did not find it. I am giving up for now, as it is my own time to write fiction.

However, I found something else which is troubling me, and will share it with you as someone who seems to have some connections that might help. I followed an AAWOC thread to the American Independent Party via Norman Kurland, who evidently is or has been representing AAWOC in Washington and who is also on the board of the American Independent Party. I had run into this body on the distributist trail earlier, and I'm betting you have, too.

Well, here's the troubling part. There's a lot of pro-life stuff on the American Independent Party website, links to pro-life sites, Notre Dame news and so forth. And yet I have Norm Kurland's personal word that he is NOT for a roll-back of Roe v Wade, and NOT for 'having a civil war' over abortion. We had a little exchange over it, I can tell you!

So I'm all confused, and worse, detered from showing my support of any thing at all. Is everyone misrepresenting themselves? Could the American Independent Party be charged with duplicity for representing themselves as 'pro-life' when they in fact are not? And what would they possibly gain thereby? I guess support from the pro-life crowd. Would pro-abortion supporters stick with them knowing the party's pro-life position did not extend to making abortion illegal? That's possible.
I probably shouldn't put these thoughts in print, and if you wish not to publish the comment, for my own sake, please don't. But it's six in the morning and I feel so confused.

But the word opportunism is clear enough. That's a possibility.

I also wrote AAWOC earlier with promise of help, only if they were not affiliated with people who supported abortion, and Michele said they were not a political party and had no position, but were not affiliated with the Democratic Party or the UAW. But now I see they're affiliated with Kurland. Whom anyone would think was pro-life, from the website. There are very many pro-life posts there.

If you can clear any of this up, please write me.

If I knew that AIP was indeed opportunistic, I'd fight them. I'd start by writing the people on the site.