Oct 1, 2012

Distributism: Concepts, Basis, and Initial Steps

At its heart, Edan adheres to a handful of core concepts, concepts that run contrary to much current thought. In this article we will discuss the moral basis for the Distributist element of Feudal Technocratic Distributism and introduce the basic steps for becoming more Distributist in your lives as Edanians. A Catholic concept for many years, Socialist tried to co-opt the meaning of solidarity to mean ‘the working classes banded together against the rich’. In reality, solidarity means “the distribution of goods and remuneration for work”, or (more directly) ‘earning a wage and being able to buy things’. It also ‘presupposes the effort for a more just social order’, or ‘the wages should be just and the prices of goods should be just’. Much more importantly than material goods, however, solidarity means friendship and social charity – caring for your fellow men as individuals and working together as a family at the same time. It means not just the poor cooperating with the poor, but with the rich as well – employees and employers banding together to make the workplace a better place. Indeed, at its heart, the concept of solidarity is a rejection of current concepts of 'class' - it is not about employer or employee as classes; just people who happen to do different things, but who share the same needs. no one in any society is alone. The factory owner depends upon the metal worker who makes the forms for the product being made; the metal worker depends upon the toolmaker, who depends upon the smelter, to the miner, who uses the machines made in the owner’s factory. Just like a family, society is a web of inter-dependencies. When this is forgotten, the result is tension, strife, and misunderstanding. This aspect of Catholic solidarity was explicitly referenced in Poland (a very Catholic nation) when the movement for justice that arose among the working men of the factories named itself ‘Solidarity’. It is also important to note that solidarity is more about the spiritual and emotional than it is about the material. The goal is justice, not wealth. Of course, a more stable, more just society often does lead to increased wealth! This is a direct contradiction of many ideologies that are seen as ‘Right Wing’, although the status of Liberatarians as 'Right' is problematic. Libertarians and Objectivists both reject the idea of solidarity. This admission of the fact of inter-connectedness directly opposes their beliefs (‘there is no society, just individuals’ for Libertarians and ‘there are a few demi-gods that everyone else mooches from’ for Objectivists) so that they must either reject solidarity or reject their own beliefs. Yet it is not Leftist, either. There is no compulsion in solidarity and, more critically, no collectivization. Ideas such as compulsory union membership or the seizure of land to make collective farms are alien to solidarity. Solidarity is a voluntary union, a decision made by choice, that forges the friendship that is the core of solidarity. Another key concept in Catholic social justice is Subsidiarity Subsidiarity is defined as the principle that "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1883). The OED defines it to mean “the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks that cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate, local level”. In other words – the smaller and more local, the better. This is a moral choice for two reasons. The first reason is that local efforts are both more likely to be appropriate (charity reaches those in need, business plans match the local economy, etc.) and more efficient (less is wasted on administration, distribution, etc.) than remote efforts. This is a moral impetus to local control because it means that there is less waste and wasted effort. The second, more important, moral reason is that the loss of personal autonomy can be dehumanizing. When people have less control of their own lives a person's free will is impaired. Our sense of worth (when we are mentally and spiritually healthy) comes not from material things, but from the choices we make. The exercise of free will is the motor for our choice. When our choices are constrained, we lose some free will. Although there will always be constraints on will and action, those imposed by others for reasons other than moral ones are the most deleterious to the will. This means that impairment of the will can lead to feelings of disconnection from others, depression, and despair. While efficiency alone is a compelling argument for subsidiarity, the addition of the moral pressure to avoid impairment of the will makes it the standard of the Catholic Church. Catholic social teaching also emphasizes that people have a right to private property (Catechism, para. 2402), but cautions that this comes with responsibilities. As stewards of the earth, owners of property have a responsibility to properly manage their property so that it not only secures them and their families from poverty and violence, but also so that the rights and well being of others are not harmed. Indeed, the Church teaches that property is ‘to be made fruitful’ so that after the owner’s first duty (to his own family) is met, the products of property can be freely shared with others, especially the sick and the poor. Indeed, the catechism states that waste and excessive expense are immoral and that willfully damaging one’s own property in a way that makes it less fruitful is ‘contrary to moral law’ and requires that reparation be made to the community (Catechism, para. 2409). The inevitable conclusion of the ideas of solidarity, subsidiarity, and the right to private property while recognizing the social responsibilities of ownership is the rejection of Communism and Socialism. Communism denies the existence of private property, making people dependent upon others for their livelihood, denying them the security of property, and reducing them to means of the end of production. Socialism uses central planning and ‘the state’ to make economic decisions for all, removing their free will and denying them security and property. However, another inevitable conclusion is the rejection of aissez-faire Capitalism or ‘pure market’ economics. The strict individualism of laissez-faire capitalism rejects the idea of solidarity and the primacy of ‘the market’ reduces humans to means of the end of profit. In both cases things (either goods or profits) are placed in a position of greater importance than people, a clearly immoral position. Derived from this simple, self-evident concepts are the following key elements of Distributism: 1. All men have a right to private property, to just compensation for their goods and labor, and to enter into business agreements, including employment, of their own free will. In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII anticipated the idea of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ which is, simply – things owned by everyone (like communal farms, fisheries, etc.) are depleted because no one is responsible for them and, more critically, no one sees them as critical to their own future or the future of their family. Private property is, overall, better cared for and developed than communal property. It is also generally more productive, creating a larger surplus. These are the basic reasons to approve of and promote private property. Another reason to promote private property is justice; a man is entitled to appropriate compensation for his work. Whether a laborer or a highly-specialized technician, wages should be appropriate and just. This means a living wage is to be paid except in unusual circumstances (a part-time job, for example, may be exempt from the requirement of a living wage). For the compensation to be just, the wage earner must be free to spend his wages as he wishes (within the bounds of moral law, of course) and if he is frugal, hard-working, etc. and accumulates capital, it is his to keep. Similarly, a man who produces goods or commodities must be paid a just amount for those items. This actually may not generate a living wage, but as long as the payment is just, that is acceptable. The concern here is the use of price controls and tariffs to push the margins of producers so low they can no longer afford to produce and sell their goods. One of the elements I find most important is the fact that business agreements, including employment, must be made of free will. While this is often pointed out as meaning that a starving man cannot be forced to sign a lousy deal, it has broader implications. A mandatory-union shop, for example, might be seen as an imposition of coercion. While Catholic social teaching is very clear that people have a right to join organizations such as trade unions, it also states that people must also be free to avoid them, as well. Private ownership of property and work (whether physical, artistic, or intellectual) >are good This is simply the argument that being productive is good for the person doing it. More critically, it points out that the goal of being productive is not just for one’s own benefit, but for the benefit of of the family, community and, thereby, society as a whole.responsibility and decision-making should be ‘pushed down’ as low as possible; the federal government is less efficient at and less capable of making good decisions than the state government, the state less so than the county, etc. down to the family itself. This is the most direct implication (and application!) of the concept of subsidiarity. While I have made arguments that this is a practical issue because of efficiency, it is more critically an issue of justice. People have a right to determine their own destinies and should be given every opportunity to do so as long as the ‘greater good’ is not at risk. This is an extension of the concept that people need to do things of their own free will – the more removed the decision making is from the person affected, the more of an imposition on there free will is involved. Same with private groups being preferable to governmental groups and local being preferable to distant – it grants greater autonomy to the individual as well as providing the best and most direct benefit to the individual’s immediate community. This can be taken too far! There is a need for, as an example, a national military. And I don’t think too many people would disagree with me when I state a military force should be under the control of a legitimate government, not private owners. While people should look for local solutions, this does not mean that there is a prohibition on distant opportunities. If you are a businessman and the only source for widgets is on the other side of the world, go ahead and buy them. You might want to mention to local entrepreneurs, however, your need for widgets! The statement is that local and smaller are better, not that large and distant are evil.4. In general, private organizations are better at getting things done than public ones; this is derived from #3, obviously. Smaller groups are generally better than larger; individuals and families over all are the best. Public groups can easily suffer from the 'tragedy of the commons'. One of the key concepts of a Monarchy/Aristocracy, as pointed out by the Anarcho-Capitalist Hoppe in his book 'Democracy: The god that Failed' is that the ultimate downfall of Democracy and other individualistic concepts of governance is that the government and pblic services are, effectively, 'publicly owned' and deteriorate in a manner similar to the tragedy of the commons. He contrasts this with the "Private Ownership" or a Monarch and Aristocracy, correctly pointing out that a Monarchy/Aristocracy is (overall) much more efficient, less exploitative, and less unjust. Interestingly, the Marxist Theron reaches similar conclusions in the book 'What the Ruling Class Does when it Rules'.The more local, the better. This was discussed, above, as an example of efficiency versus waste and of free will.All families should be as self-sufficient as possibleThere are a number of reasons for this. First of all, of course, is the fact that self-sufficient families do not go hungry. They may not have 3 cars and a boat, but they are also spared the fear of insecurity. It also means that the members of the family have fewer constraints on their free will; if they do not have to worry about the necessities of life they are less likely to be exploited by others. Self-sufficiency is likely to lead to more free time that can be spent on education, art, music, and the other things that make life richer. The idea that every family becoming self-sufficient would lead to a truly just, equal, and happy society with an absence of poverty, is the heart of early Distributist thought and is still the cornerstone of Distributism’s plans and goals. G. K. Chesterton summed it up in a single quote, “The problem with Capitalism is not too much Capitalism, but too few Capitalists. The preferred method of being self-sufficient is to own your own business. For early Distributists this goal meant that they were agrarians and felt each family should have enough land to grown their own food and generate enough income to meet their other needs. Later Distributists argued that the head of each family should have the tools and training to be an independent tradesman (such as a carpenter), and current Distributists acknowledge that certain professions, such as computer programmer, have the potential to meet this goal through specialized skills and knowledge alone.Coops and Guilds are preferred over corporations and unions This also means credit unions are to be preferred over banks. Just as with the preference for local over remote and private over governmental, Distributionism has a preference for coops and guilds to corporations and unions. Where corporations are legal individuals that have owners and employees, coops are employee-owned, meaning there is no differentiation between capitalist and laborer. Consumer coops allow many individuals to act as a community and gain all the advantages of scale by buying in bulk as a community. While unions are the sole domain of employees, pitting the employed against the employer, guilds are ‘vertical’ organizations that include managers, employers, and employees together, erasing the differences between the various people. While a bank is a private or corporate venture aimed at maximizing profits for owners, credit unions are, essentially, coops aimed at maximizing utility of the owner/users. In each case the goal is to provide maximum benefits overall to all participants (who are usually co-owners or have a vested interest in the venture), not maximize profits for a limited group of owners (who are often completely divorced from the actions of the venture other than the collection of profits).
Another point in favor of coops and credit unions is that the employee-owners/customer-owners are local, not remote, the vast majority of the time. Coops are employees working with and for each other; farm coops are local or regional farmers pooling resources and sharing production; consumer coops are local to regional people working together to get better prices, better quality, difficult to obtain goods, or some combination. In all cases people are drawn together, not separated, by work and commerce.8. When engaged in business-to-business ventures, avoid middle-men and deal as directly as possible with the end client/end user. In the age of the Internet this is easier than ever! Closely related to all of the above, avoiding middlemen is a goal of Distributism. In many cases middlemen add no value to goods or services, they simply add costs. There are even cases where middlemen use their access to resources to artificially control markets. In addition to these ‘negative’ reasons, there are good positive reasons; direct sales allows for the development of a personal relationship between buyer and seller/supplier and consumer/etc. Even if the widget factory is in Ghana and your sprocket shop is in Seattle, there is a chance that a direct sales relationship can build community through commerce.9. Government welfare programs are to be eliminated whenever possible, reduced or avoided otherwise. Government welfare is in some ways the antithesis of Distributism. Welfare programs are funded by taxes [which take away from the just earnings of workers and add to the costs of all communities], are administered by bureaucrats [remote, unconnected government agencies with no real interest in either those taxed or those receiving benefits], have no real hope of meeting the actual needs of recipients [those same distant bureaucrats must come up with a generic, one size fits all plan, attempt to implement it on a grand scale, and are further constrained at all times by political issues], and actively degrade communities [non-recipients assume recipients are OK; the recipients are alienated from others by being marked as ‘different’ with no human compassion associated, etc]. Distributism would repeal all such programs as could be repealed without harm immediately and push the rest as far down the ladder (state, county, local government, etc.) as possible and begin phasing the remainder out. Charity should be a matter for communities, not bureaucracies.Usury is to be avoided. "Usury" means “interest on loaned money, or excessive interest”.Traditionally, charging interest on money loaned to another was seen as taking advantage of another person, if not downright theft. It was almost universally condemned in the West until the Reformation and still has detractors. St. Thomas Aquinas argues that charging interest for a loan is the same as charging a person for a thing (after all, you must pay back the principle) and charging for the use of a thing, too; like selling a man a cake and then charging him additionally for each bite he takes. The Catholic position on usury is, bluntly, very complex. A number of theologians have approached the idea of interest on loans from a variety of viewpoints for, essentially, 2,000 years. Although there is disagreement on particulars (how much interest is ‘excessive’?) the basic ideas of just lending are fairly well defined. I will start with what is allowed.
A lender may charge reasonable fees for a loan or for exchanging money. A lender may charge a reasonable penalty for a late payment. Interest that is profit-based (i.e., the ‘loan’ is to purchase a share in a venture) is acceptable, especially if there is an ‘upper cap’ to the earned interest. Investment into public funds (like savings bonds, or t-bills) is acceptable. Loans where the lender shares in risk allow the lender to charge reasonable interest.
What is not allowed is to charge unreasonable interest in any form of loan. You may not charge interest on fee amounts or penalties. The more secure the loan, the less you may charge in interest and fees. If there is collateral held ‘in pledge’ you may not charge interest at all. You may not charge interest if the borrower is driven to a lender by necessity. The preferred manner of lending money that earns interest has always been for a productive venture where the lender shares the risk, such as buying a share in a new business. In this model interest is a share of profits, not a fee for the use of money. The modern stock market is seen by some as a violation of this, however, because investors often buy and sell stocks so rapidly that there is, effectively, very little shared risk. Under the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, the ‘best’ loan for interest would be a joint venture of local or regional investors (or global investors with shared values and a personal relationship) for a productive venture (a farm or factory, real estate development, mine, etc.) where the investors receive a fixed portion of net profits as interest and all share in the risk so that if the venture struggles they earn no interest and if it fails they do not regain their capital. Also, if there is a primary investor/owner, he should have the option of ‘buying out’ shareholders by repaying them their full initial investment in addition to any agreed shares of profits they may have already received. Similarly, interest-earning investments into public bonds, t-bills, and similar instruments is generally acceptable under the concept that the investment is funding the community as a whole. Certain cases (such as a municipal bond to fund the construction of a casino, or for a privately owned ballpark) are more problematic and require individual scrutiny.
The strongest debate on interest/usury is on loans for consumption. The primary examples of these sorts of loans are for family homes and cars. While homes increase in value, a person’s home does so so slowly (in general) and the need for a home is so great that the increase in value is certainly not the primary reason for investing; the primary reason to buy a home is to live there. A car decreases in value over time and is certainly not a productive purchase on its own (with a few exceptions). In almost all cases the lender has provisions to seize the home or car if payments are not made, making their risk very low; in the case of home loans, their risk can often be zero. Many theologians and ethicists that examine such loans argue that mortgage interest rates should be extremely low (on the order of 1-2% ) and others argue that no interest is acceptable at all, only fees. The most despised form of loan with interest is for necessities or passions. These are the use of credit cards to buy groceries, or a loan to a gambler. Their impaired will often leads such borrowers to ‘ruinous circumstances’, situations that usurious loans only make worse.Developing Distributism requires positive reinforcement Or, simply, you get more of what you incentivize. Edan will structure itself to encourage Distributism. Based as it is upon justice and the exercise of free will, Distributionism cannot be imposed. Some advocates of Distributionism argue that land should be seized and reapportioned equally; others want strong taxes on corporations and the wealthy with the tac receipts given to the poor. Both are against the core concepts of private property and free exercise of the will, respectively. Further, such actions would only break down or remove any feelings of solidarity between those who have their property and wages taken from them and those that receive them from no inherent virtue. Lastly, such actions would, by necessity, have to be performed by a national government, violating the spirit of subsidiarity. Distributism must be encouraged by just means.And the most important point for Edanians to remember-
12.There is no utopia, and there never will be. Edan is not and will not be a Utopian concept because there is no Utopia! Edan is an attempt to make a more-just society and nation than currently exists, no more and no less. No earthly system is perfect, nor will there ever be one. Distributism is not a ‘magic bullet’ that will cause the world to spontaneously break into universal peace, the immediate cessation of crime, or the permanent elimination of want and fear. It is an attempt to dampen the harmful excesses of laissez-faire Capitalism without resorting to plans that require the violation of human rights (Socialism) or the conjectured alteration of basic human nature (Communism), all while avoiding the tendency powerful central governments have of deciding that they know what is best for their citizens (Fascism). The tendencies of societies to shift to predatory Capitalism, confiscatory Socialism, authoritarian Fascism, or dictatorial Communism should be obvious. Forging a Distributist society will take time, effort, and some pain. Mistakes will be made, adjustments will be needed, and results will vary. The thing to remember is that the core ideas of Distributionism are the ones that matter; justice, solidarity, subsidiarity, and personal responsibility are the key elements. The details of how to reach a society that embodies those principles will certainly change over time.And, finally, a list of suggestions on starting down the path to being a Distributist.A. Avoid and eliminate debt. Debt is a pressure that limits your freedom of choice and drains your future earning.B. Shop in a Distributist manner. Farmers' Markets, co-ops, Community Supported Agriculture, buying directly from cattle and hog producers, wholesales purchasing from manufacturers, etc. These can often lead to lower costs because you are eliminating middle-menC. Save your money. This should be self-evident.D. Switch to a credit unionE. Increase your self-sufficiency. Increase your skills with tools, computers, etc. Plant a garden, make your own beer, use your saved money to accumulate tools and practice to acquire the skills to produce furniture, etc. Think often of 'how can I/my family do this for myself/ourselves?'.F. Increase your Solidarity. Get to know your neighbors, even the people two and three doors down. Ask them what they are good at, explain what you are good at. Learn self-sufficiency from them; barters services; teach them skills you have and they lack.G. Plan. List the skills and assets you think you need to be self-sufficient and plan on how to acquire them; do the same on working for yourself instead of for someone else. Stick to the plan, routinely review and adjust the plan.Now – go and start making a better country!
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