Monday, October 26, 2015

Is Distributism Realistic?

 Three Acres and a Cow, the slogan of Chestertonian distributist, shown as a large G. W. Chesterton in front of a comparatively smaller cow.

My mind has been on economic theory more than usual recently for a variety of reasons.  All of which is surprising, as while I now find economic theory, particularly the large theories, to be extremely interesting, this wasn't always so. When I was younger, I would have found them frightfully dull.  But, having come into them from the outside, rather than the inside, I'm not amazed by how little thought is given to the big theories, and how much really should be.

On my recent thought on the topic and what brings it about, first of all, we presently are witnessing an unusual election season in this country and others.  In our country, we have an admitted Socialist, Bernie Saunders, running for President and actually doing well.  He can't really be taken as a gadfly anymore, as he is genuinely attracting a fair amount of attention, and while unlikely, its not impossible that he might end up being President of the United States, the first time a Socialist of any stripe would have occupied that office, and the first time a person with fairly radical economic ideas would have occupied the office since 1945.  The recent decision by old school centrist Democrat Joe Biden to sit this election, and hence any future election of him, out means that the Democratic race is really down to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Saunders, and in that race, quite a few will favor Saunders for one reason or another.  On the GOP side of the contest, one candidate who keeps hanging in, Donald Trump, is obviously an ardent Corporate Capitalist and all the players on that side are on the Corporate Capitalist free market side of things.  I'm still pretty sure that Trump's day will pass, but he certainly is impacting the race right now, although not for anything that really has to do with his economic ideas.

Moreover, earlier this week the Canadians elected the center-left Liberal Party to Parliament.  In truth, this is less of an economic shift than might be perceived, as the Canadian Liberal Party is really basically the same on economic matters as the British Conservative Party.  The Canadian Conservative Party is a center-right party that does have more of free market, oil based, economic approach to things, but it's not anywhere near as Corporate Capitalist as the American Republican Party is.  The Canadian party that had been in second place, the New Democratic Party, is a Social Democrat party that took a pounding in the election, which has not really been noticed here, so the net result is that the Canadian economic landscape is pretty solidly corporate capitalist Keynesian.  Justin Trudeau intends to run mild deficits, something that would make most Americans gasp, given as we run deficits that are more than mild and no matter what economists' opinions may be on that, we wish we didn't.  The concept of running mild deficits to spur the economy is classic Keynesian, however, and shows the degree of stress that the Canadian economy is currently under.

The same sort of thing, by the way, recently happened in the Australian election where the electorate returned a Liberal, but not Labour, majority, to office.  The British just returned a Conservative government to office.  The Greeks, in stark contrast, recently put a real Socialist party into power.

All a lot of interesting economic stuff.

And then recently a dear friend of mine and I were corresponding regarding the economic views of Pope Francis, which have been much in the news.  My friend maintains that they're Socialistic, which is different, we should note, from classical Socialism of the old school.  I think they're Distributist.  He raises the point regarding Distributism that its a Utopian, and hence unworkable, economic theory.

I wonder, is that correct?

We should look at that.  But, first, I suppose, what's with all the entries here tagged "Distributism" on this blog, and what does that even mean?  There's just two economic theories, right, Capitalism and Socialism.  Well, no there aren't.  And even Capitalism is sort of a big house encompassing a lot of different theories, with the type we now use being Corporate Capitalism. Distributism is actually another one of the Capitalist theories.  I.e., it's also a free market theory, and truth be known, even though some people associate it with the left for some erroneous reason, it's more free market than the Corporate Capitalist theory we actually use.

Apparently the concept is now so buried that not even one of the numerous politicians running for office in the US, or the UK, or Canada all of which would have had a least a passing chance of having had a Distributist candidate, is one.  In interesting contrast, however, one of Australia's oldest serious political parties, the Democratic Liberal Party, is a Distributist party, or rather openly espouses Distributism as its economic platform, although it presently has a single member in parliament.

If a person looks back over earlier entries here you'll find quite a few that describe Distributism in some detail.  Yet, they're all just overviews.  Hence the first part of the problem.  Distributism, unlike Capitalism or Socialism, is much poorer defined in modern times, even though it seems to be regaining a little traction for the first time in nearly sixty years.

What the heck is Distributism anyway?

 The prolific writer G. K. Chesterton, who wrote novels, poetry, and philosophy in stunningly large quantities.  An intellectual giant, he was enormously influential on British writing in his era and was part of the collection of personalities that included C. K. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Hellaire Belloc.  Together with Belloc he was a major proponent of Distributism.

I'm fairly convinced that part of the problem with Distributism is the name.  At least up until recently, the concept that a politician would act to "distribute" wealth has been a hugely negative on in American political speech.  I suppose with Saunders running, a person could ask if this was still true, but for purposes of our discussion here we should note that Distributism doesn't mean that sort of distributing.  Quite the contrary.

Rather, Distributism is based on the concept of Subsidiarity, which of course doesn't help much to most people as most people don't know what that means.  That too is problematic as the term is really confusing to most people. The term comes out of Catholic social thinking, and it holds that the best and most just means of doing things is to push it down to the lowest practical level.  Ironically, that's a highly American concept and the polar opposite of the large-scale statist approach to things that many conservative Americans fear.  Subsidiarity stands for local control, or control below that level if possible.

In economic terms, or rather through Distributist terms, what this amounts to is an economic system based upon a free economy that favors economic power being concentrated at the family or individual level.  It's a highly capitalist system, and one that is actually more capitalist than the Corporate Capitalism that most westerners believe to be capitalism, which is really Corporate Capitalism.

A Distributist economy, therefore, would discourage, or perhaps even prohibit, the concentration of the means of retail distribution in the hands of corporations in favor of family or individual enterprises.  So, rather than have a Walmart, you'd have a family owned appliance store, a family owned clothing store, a family owned grocery store, etc.  That's a pretty simple illustration the retail end of the economy, but that's a major aspect of Distributism. Distributism also has an agricultural aspect to it that's frankly agrarian, although agrarianism predates Distributism.  What that means is that farms would be owned and operated by the actual farmer.  That sounds simplistic but it stands contrary to much of what we see today, with agricultural land held by absentee owners, or by the wealthy who do not work it, or by agricultural corporations.

Modern Distributist sometimes get wrapped up in romantic notions of local production as well, and that's clearly an aspect of a Distributist economy.  Nonetheless any rational economist, no matter what stripe they may be, will acknowledge that in the modern world large-scale industrial production is the province of corporations.  That may be good or bad, but it's been known and discussed as an aspect of this since the mid 19th Century at least.  Rational Distributist, to include, on this topic, Theodore Roosevelt, have discussed how to handle this in the context of a Distributist economy, but that it would be one is quite clear.

In short, Distributism favors the smallest economic unit possible.  And it does this on a philosophical basis, that being that small freeholders, or small businessmen, or small artisans, should hold the reins of the economy, as that concentrates wealth in their hands, those being middle class hands.  By doing that, that makes much of the middle class more or less economically independent, but not wealthy, stabilizes wealthy in the hands of the largest number of people, and strengthens the ability of the people to decide things locally.  In other words, that sort of economy "distributes" economic wealth and production to the largest number of people, and accordingly "distributes" political power to the largest number of people, on the theory that this is best for the largest number of people.

Interestingly, almost any stripe of Capitalist will actually use most of the same words, as well Socialist, even though there's reasons to question their respective impacts.  Socialism actually concentrates power in the hands of bureaucracy and dissipates wealth.  At least to some extent, Corporate Capitalism in recent years, and perhaps in all years, tends to concentrate wealth in remote corporations and a few who lead them.

What does a Distributist Economy look like?

This all raises the question, of course, of what a Distributist economy would look like. And by that, we mean a real one, rather than the type of Distributist economy that is imagined by people who imagine that they are Distributist as they buy corn at the farmers' market on Saturday afternoons.  Indeed, that always ought to be the question about any economic theory, what does it look like in actual application. And to their credit, while they get various things right or wrong, proponents of other economic theories do in fact do that.  Indeed, both the Socialist and Capitalist proponents have explored their theories at length, and of course we know that they've both been tested in the real world, where Socialism ends up being a major flop, and Capitalism, no matter what a person may think of it one way or another, has demonstrated vast amounts of wealth can be created through it and has raised many poor economies out of the economic dirt.

So let's take a look at what Distributism argues, in the modern, real world, context.

Generally, what Distributist would do is to strip away, as noted, the ability of large entities to own and operate businesses and "distribute" that down to the smallest practical element.  So, where you have big box stores you'd now have lots of small retail stores.  Where you have chain stores you no longer would. Where you have have chain services shops, a relatively new and fast developing economic entity, you would have individually owned shops.  Where you had chain service industries, such as reality brokerages, you would once again have small locally owned ones.  Where you have H & R Block, you'd have your local accountant. 


 Paint store.  It's not Home Depot.

 Colorado Bakery and Grocery, a local store of the past in Ft. Collins Colorado.  It's now a brew pub.  Local grocery stores have fallen way off, from once dominating the field to now being a boutique exception.  Brew pubs, however, are a Distributist triumph in the true sense.

This raises the natural question of what about production?  All that addresses is retail.  What about service industries, what about production, and what about agriculture.

Service is one of the easier aspect of this to address, actually, as it started remote national concentration late in the game, and its far from complete.  When we look at doctors, lawyer, and accountants, and the like, we still a lot of the old economy around, while we see the encroachment of national corporate consolidation coming in at the same time.  Something about many of these industries, however, is resistant to too much consolidation, even as we see big efforts to cause it to come about.

In a Distributist economy, quite simply, this would stop.  Law Firms, Accountancy Firms, Doctors offices, would be local.   Hospitals and the likes would be as well.

A couple of old building in Rock Spring's historic district, across from the class Union Pacific depot.  The building on the left is the National Bank building, and was built in 1892.  The one on the right has much of its "ghost signs" painted out, so I'm not sure of its identity, but it's number 18 on the historic district tour. From Painted Bricks.

Well, what about banks? They're a service industry.

Banks, under classic Distributist thought, were really taken on as a negative aspect of the economy and frankly this is one of the areas where old school Distributist, prior to World War Two, sounded a lot like Socialist.  If you look back at Distributist commentary of that period you will find a lot of references to preventing banks from charging interest, and things of this ilk.  All that was extremely unrealistic, to say the least, and it also reflects an earlier era which has really passed.  Taking  on banks is a favorite topic for all politicians now days, but the biggest problems we've had with banks are founded on banking consolidation and inadequate regulation.

Banks, as concentrations of economic maladies, usually only develop real problems when they are largely unregulated. When the old school Distributist formed their thoughts on the matter, that was the case. And the recent banking problems the United States has had largely flowed from the concept that regulation of banks was passe, followed by an actual effort on the part of the government to encourage banks in areas that they shouldn't go.  An overarching aspect of all of this is that an old policy of encouraging home ownership via home loans is a remaining nonsensical central American governmental goal that creates problems in and of itself.  Finally, the consolidation of banking into larger and larger remotely owned banks contributes to the problem. There still are locally owned or regionally owned banks, but not nearly as many as there once was.

Realistically, as banks are so heavily regulated, in a modern Distributist economy the goal would be to keep the banks local or at least no more than regional.  That keeps them focused on their locality and the local economy. The Federal government's sponsorship of home loans probably ought to cease, although that is probably a Distributist concept, or maybe even a Socialist one, in and of itself.  Encouraging any one kind of loan is something that should be really carefully thought out before its done.

Or maybe the ship has sailed with banks, like industrial production (which we'll address below), and today Distributist would have to have a mixed approach, encouraging local but tolerating national.  It's hard to see how industry in particular could exist without large banks.

Large banking has given us credit cards, an aspect of the economy wholly unknown to the original Distributist.  Of course ,they were unknown to earlier Capitalist as well, and have just sort of occurred. This too may be an area where the ship has sailed, but on the other hand, it would be one that I'd have a hard time imagining modern Distributist avoiding.  But how that would be handled in the new economy, which only saw the introduction of widespread use of credit cards starting in the 1970s, is an open question.  Credit cards now make up a huge percentage of the "money" in our economy, and they are interesting an huge unregulated sector, to a significant degree.  That is ,the percentage of interest they charge are regulated, but the creation of them is not.  It's been an amazing change in the economy.

Comedian Marty Allen making a joke of having a large number of credit cars, something that was looked down upon in the 1960s when this photograph was taken.  Now, nearly everyone in the American economy has at least one credit card.

It's an interesting topic, but one that I won't be able to address fully, which is one of the problems when discussing a modern Distributist economy (we'll get to problems in a minute). As there's been no real development of the theory in decades, and as it's never been fully implemented anywhere, some of these topics need to be completely re-thought by Distributists.

Among those topics are topics like insurance.  Americans like to complain about insurance, but by and large the insurance industry is amazingly capable and it really can't be done efficiently on a local level.  This is true of all types of insurance, to include most particularly liability insurance, which people don't think about much but which is particularly important to the economy.  Indeed, topics like banking and insurance do indeed suggest that a Distributist economy might be a bad idea.

Farm Resettlement Agency poster from the Great Depression. The FRA was not a success, by and large.

Agriculture, on the other hand, and the ownership of land in general is definitely something Distributist would touch. At least in the case of agriculture, it can in fact be done by individual farm owners without raising many of the other questions that might be raised..  Ownership of land, moreover, may always be local and may always be in the hands of whomever is using the land, for whatever purpose.

Agriculture has always been close to the hearts of Distributist and in regards to it they can really be regarded as the close associates of Agrarians. When we read older Agrarian texts, we're basically reading Distributist ones. That's why modern Distributists can be found quoting Thomas Jefferson, who basically lived in a naturally Distributist world, mixed with Mercantilism, and who never heard the word Distributist.

Agriculture, for that part, has remained somewhat in this category anyhow, although in recent decades this has been heavily impacted by various developments that threaten that.  Absentee land ownership has always been a problem that has been there.

In a Distributist economy the US would adopt policies that actually do exist in other Western nations. France, for example, has had a Distributist set of agriculture policies since World War Two and I believe that Germany has as well. Greece also does.  In Germany's case, the road map for a Distributist agricultural sector has been set out in book form at that, in Wilhelm Von Roepke's "Economics of a Free Society", in which he addresses it.

In short, in a Distributist economy those employed farming would own the farms.  Absentee landlords and remote corporate ownership of land would not be allowed.  Indeed, a purse Distributist might take this even further on land ownership, and not allow it for use outside a person use or business entity in general, but that's straying from main topic.  In agriculture, it's pretty clear that's what Distributist would have to advance. So, no more wealthy people from one state buying a land and claiming to be "ranchers" in another.  And no more lawyers or doctors in town claiming that their small hobby farm is a farm.  Farm, or practice law, but don't do both.

This part of this is, we'd note, truly radical.  More on that in a moment.  But what this would do, is to make individual farms more viable economically, but worth considerably less individually.  It would therefore be easier for people to enter agriculture, but it would be much less lucrative to sell out of it in some ways.  And I suspect in a pure Distributist economy regulation in this area would come in to further advance this set of goals.

Blacksmiths working on the iron rim of a wheel.

That leaves production.

In production, this can also be done, but only to a certain extent in a realistic modern economy.  Indeed, a surprising amount of production of various types is done this way, as nearly every major economic field features local fabrication of some sort, which is local production.  But it's quite clear that in a modern industrial economy, you can't have local production of everything.  Cars, for example, aren't going to be made in a local shop by skilled craftsmen.

How Distributist would handle this aspect of their economic theory is an interesting question, and I don't know the answer.  Some would borrow from Socialist examples, all of which are problematic.  Some might borrow from Theodore Roosevelt's progressive era suggestion and require public ownership of a certain percentage of large corporations, to give a voice in their affairs.  Some might restrict organizing in the corporate forum until a business reached a certain size.  All in all, I don't know how this topic would be approached.  It might be approached in the same way that modern Socialism tends to approach it, which is basically not to except by regulation and taxation, which really takes a person outside of the context of the theory in general and into something else.  What is clear is that in this area the example of Corporate Capitalism would have to largely suffice for Distributist as well.

Union Pacific Depo in Rock Springs Wyoming.  This surviving business from the 19th Century would never have come about except through extensive government support, something that often tends to be forgotten when the stories of large business in the United States are considered.  Indeed, nearly every very large railroad in North American had some government assistance of some sort when it came into existence.

Distribution of goods, on the other hand, is really mixed, but will probably cease to be in the future for environmental reasons.  Right now, distribution of goods in the North American economy is an interesting mixed system, using locally owned and often leased semi tractor combined with large corporate railways.  By and large, the system, if it involves distance, is corporate owned one way or another, and that probably cannot be avoided.  Transcontinental distribution, therefore, may be something like large scale manufacturing and have to be basically left as is, in a Distributist economic model.  Or perhaps it would be handled in one of the several fashions described above as theoretical possibilities for manufacturing.

Okay, I suppose that's all well and good, but so what?  Once again, lots of people note these things and then think they're bold Distributist as they buy free range Cornish Game Hens at the local market.

A person can believe that they can bring an economy about through self actuation, but that's baloney and its really only a comfortable delusion for the really well off. It's the same sort of delusion that comforted wealthy western Communists in the 1920s and 1930s who lived in countries that were never going to be Communist, as there was never any real threat of a real Communist economy to them.  A real economic system, no matter what it is, never comes about without state intervention or support of some kind.

This is most evident, of course, in real classical Socialism, in which the state owns the means of production.  Taking that one step further, as the Communist tried to, the state can end up owning everything.  Those are the most blunt examples, and by the way they're examples of massively unworkable economic failures. That's why there are no real Communist economies outside of North Korea, and that's why most Socialist don't really advocate real Socialism anymore.

But even Capitalism, of the type that we have, requires state intervention to exist. We're just so used to it, we don't notice it.

That's because our Capitalism is Corporate Capitalism.  It's based on the existence of corporations and related business forms. These entities have the status of "persons" at law.  They can sue, be sued, and are taxed, like people as we've seen.

The biggest economic advantage that they convey is the sue and be sued part, as that's where they are distinctly different from their natural fellow, the partnership.  In a conventional partnership, a person can be sued as an individual. That puts their individual assets at risk.  That's not true, however for shareholders in a corporation.  Only the corporate assets are ever at risk.

So, by way of an example, if Walmart does something bad, they don't look to the individual shareholders to make it good. They only look to Walmart.

Additionally, corporations allow for easy remote control.  Generally they're directed by boards rather than by everyone in the entity.  That's less true of normal common partnerships, where everyone gets a say.

All of this is noted as corporations, and related business forms, very obviously have a huge economic advantage over other types of business entities.  They're not natural, but legal fictions, but that legal fiction gives them enormous economic advantage. And that legal fiction is a creature of the state.  Corporations only exist as the statutory law allows people to create them. They would otherwise not exist at all.

Which leads us back to Distributism.  Rather obviously the way to bring about a modern Distributist economy is simply to limit where corporations can be formed, as we've seen. That would largely do it.  And that's a mere modification of the existing law.

If you prohibited, for example, corporations on the retail end, it would wipe out overnight entities like Walmart. There's no question about it. And in its place you'd soon find multiple locally owned stores where once the big box store had been.  And if you provided that land had to be held by the person working it, absentee landlords in agriculture and owning land as an exotic hobby would likewise be over.

There would obviously be limits to how far a person could go in this direction, however, in a modern economy.  Corporations would have to exist for large scale manufacturing.There's no earthly way that products of the type made by General Motors, or Boeing, of Apple, can be made by local entrepreneurs operating without the corporate form.  Therefore any rational system of Distributism, as opposed to a purely theoretical one, would have to accommodate itself to that just as modern Socialism also has.

Should it be tried?

So, it's pretty clear that a country could have a Distributist Economy.  It is realistic.  But that doesn't answer whether Distributism should be tried, which is quite another questions.

In other words, just because you can do something, sure doesn't mean that you should.

In order to answer that question, you have to determine what the goal of Distributism is, and whether that's something we want to effect.  You also have to determine what the negatives of it are, and whether they are worth enduring.  To even look at that, you have to first ask what the point of any economic system is.

It's pretty easy to determine the point, or thesis, of Capitalism, even in the modified Corporate Capitalist system that we have, or that anyone else has.  The general idea is that a free market is the most efficient and natural of economies and that as it is efficient, it leads to the efficient production of goods, and that creates wealth for everyone.  Corporate Capitalism's thesis is that the allowance of a legal fiction, the corporation, allows the combination of capital and management in such a fashion as to facilitate business in a capitalist model, thereby boosting productivity and hence wealth.

Before going on to Distributism, which is actually a species of capitalism, I'll note the same for Socialism. Socialism in its classic form is pretty easy to grasp, thesis wise.  Socialist argue that capitalism creates an unequal distribution of wealth favoring the owners of the means of production over the actual producers, and the solution to this is to have the state be the owner and distribute back to the worker.  As Socialism fails pretty badly in the execution, modern Socialist by and large don't actually advocate that, however, and instead focus on social activism and engineering, thereby taking themselves quite some distance from their economic theorist origins.  Indeed, many Socialist now appear to actually be some sort of capitalist, but of the state intervention variety.  The interesting thing about that is that it takes them in the direction of the "managed economy", which is basically what most western nations had, including the United States, from about 1932 through about 1980, when corporate capitalism reasserted itself.

Socialism was a reaction to early laissez faire capitalism, which was really early Corporate Capitalism.  It's undoubtedly the case that early industrialization lead to a very unequal distribution of wealth, but taking the long view, any early Capitalist economic enterprise does that.  Sure, factory owners of the 19th Century were vastly wealthy and their workers on the edge of poverty, but then the creators of electronic and internet based enterprises have become vastly wealthy in our modern age as well.  This is not to say that things were not unfair on the factory floor, but often missed in that story is that those jobs attracted a steady stream of applicants in any event, indicating that they were better than whatever they were fleeing from, which was probably rural poverty for those who did not own their own land.  At any rate, Socialism was an attempt, and a radical one, to address the ills of Corporate Capitalism of its day.  Ironically, Socialism in its real forms turned out to be worse, and the antidote to that nearly everywhere was Corporate Capitalism to at least some degree, often with a fair amount of state management in the old Communist countries.  

Put another way, where you don't have rich people, you tend to have all poor people.

Corporate Capitalism, however, was itself sort of a reaction to mercantilism.  Capitalism is a natural form of economics, but Corporate Capitalism clearly is not.  It came about in order to attempt to efficiently handle the scale of modern business, with the only prior way to do that being the unwieldy system of mercantilism, which  granted state sponsored monopolies to big business enterprises, such as the East India Company.  Mercantilism at least allowed for big business endeavors, but at the expense of discouraging competition, and hence it was inefficient and more than a little unfair.

Distributism came about as a reaction to both Corporate Capitalism and Socialism, back in the first half of the 20th Century when Socialism in its extreme form, Communism was strong (as was its socialist/autarkic competitor, fascism).   Coming up out of Catholic social thought, as it did, it was focused on the plight of the common man, but with a distinctly different viewpoint of Socialism.  It did not oppose the private ownership of property at all, but rather sought to vest it under the principals of subsidiarity, as previously noted.  This, it was thought, would address the unequal distribution of wealth (hence "Distributism") in a natural way, for the benefit of common people.

It's easy, of course, to find examples of Corporate Capitalism (just go downtown anywhere) and Socialism, but as Distributism is a younger theory in modern terms, and as Distributist shelved their ideas during World War Two in order to work for the common good, it's much harder to find examples of it.  You actually can, but you have to be able to recognize bits and pieces when you see it, and quite frankly it's often the case that the drafters of anyone proposal that went into law didn't conceive of themselves as Distributist, although sometimes they did.

A good example of it is provided by various European farming laws which disallow corporate or absentee ownership of farmland.  France is a good example, which is how the rural sector of France has remained fairly strong. Post war Germany also had a farm sector that was intentionally designed to be Distributist, by a Distributist.  At least one US state, however, also has a variant of such a law, and would probably be pretty surprised to find itself described as Distributist.  Various state and city ordinances restricting big box stores in some localities are also clearly Distributist, although the backers of those laws are no doubt largely ignorant of that.

Okay, so that's what it is, but that still doesn't answer the "so what" question.  Should Distributism be tried, or advanced as an economic theory?

Well, that probably depends upon how you view an economy in general. The Corporate Capitalist model, which has existed since the 17th Century, has certainly had its ups and downs, but over a very long course of time, and when braced by some state management, but not too much, it clearly is highly efficient.  It drives prices down and floods the market with  nearly endless options.  It's brought wealth to the nations that employ it. All of this is good, so the question could be, why tinker with that?

An answer to that might be to note that Distributism really is tinkering with that.  Not wholly replacing it. That's because Distributism is also a form of capitalism, just a more natural one.  Or potentially a more natural one. As Distributism is much poorer formed than Capitalism as a theory, some Distributist flirt with Socialism and high degrees of social activism, while others do not.

If we take the simply notion of Distributism, however, it's merely another type of Capitalism, and an older one, as by implication it would have to rely less on the corporation.  No modern capitalist economy can avoid corporations, but as previously noted they could rely on them less. But why would that matter?

It would matter, if it does, because the net effect would be to push down the economy to a much more local and personal level.  To be blunt, is it better to have really cheap prices, but remote ownership, and lower wages (Corporate Capitalism) vs. higher prices and locally owned self sustaining middle class business (Distributism)?  That's pretty much what it boils down to.  Under a Distributism model, assuming that it would actually work, there'd be fewer very rich people and more middle class business owners. But even being in the middle class would be probably at least somewhat more expensive than it current is, and it'd be more the middle class of fifty years ago, which most people in the middle class were in the middle, or bottom, of the middle class back, with few in the upper areas of it.  Now, quite a few in the middle class are upper middle class, and of course we have more super wealthy than every before.  So, by getting more in the middle, on both ends, we take some out of the bottom and some out of the top.

Some would argue that the depression of economic classes from the upper end down, while taking the bottom and bringing it up, was a good collateral byproduct from a social point of view, although that really takes us out of economics, and Distributist economics, into something else.  Certainly bringing the bottom up undoubtedly has it merits, and is the point of any economic theory really.  Depressing the top down is another matter when it extends into the middle class, and very few in our economy would openly admit that. Even modern Socialist always claim to be acting on behalf of the Middle Class, when formerly they would have condemned as being bourgeois.  The arguments on that would vary, but basically it would be that there's something bad about having too much wealth in an economy, which again really gets beyond economics and into social theory. That's a problematic theory, but it is interesting to note that wealthy societies do tend to become effete. 

Of course, everything would also be much more locally focused, with is an additional point advanced by Distributist as an advantage.

The answer to our question, therefore, I suppose, might depend on how you view your role in the economy, but there are some serious things to consider here.  Corporate Capitalism has brought vast wealth to the world, and we no doubt live in the wealthiest period of time the world has ever seen.  Indeed, by world standards, the United States has virtually nobody who would qualify as truly poor, although by our standards we clearly do and that is not to be made light of.  Anyhow, why would anyone want to mess with that?

Well, one reason may be in that in the long history of Corporate Capitalism it seemingly goes through stages over time where it truly does concentrate vast wealth into the hands of very few, with bad results for almost everyone else.  The mid 19th Century history of Corporate Capitalism heavily featured that, which as we know gave rise to Communism and hardcore radical Socialism.  In the US, it gave rise to Progressiveness, a movement that flirted with Socialist ideas (and which flirted with some Distributist ones).  The ills of the mid 19th Century ended up being addressed, one way or another, and in most localities that ended up with labor coming out pretty well. But in our new highly global economy that does seem to be not so much the case anymore, at least if the arguments of individuals like Thomas Piketty are to be believed.  Indeed, individuals like Piketty argue that the economy is yielding to a new type of oligarchy, at the expense of everyone except the oligarchs.

Added to that, a prior feature of Corporate Capitalism was to alter the nature of a locality fairly heavily, and sometimes an entire society, but often not so much.  Now, however, Corporate Capitalism in its current form, in the US, seems to be driving everyone to the cities in a fashion not seen since the early British Industrial Revolution.  There's no good evidence that this really suits everyone, it merely suits the economy itself.  So, it has to be seriously asked if the economy is serving the people, or are the people serving the economy.  Looking at contemporary choices that people have, or don't have, it seems more and more that people are serving the economy.  Put another way, is a life of cubicles and clerking really all that nifty?

As part of that, the high state of development of Corporate Capitalism like we know have has very much worked to divest people from business. That is, localism has really suffered as a result of it.  People have little connection to the stores that provide much of their goods, and for that matter the people providing them have little connection with the people they're providing them to.  In some agricultural sectors the people owning land have next to no connection with the states where they own them.  Indeed, one of hte more amusing, and at the same time sad, aspects of modern Western ranching is that sooner or later everyone doing it is going to run across a photo in some journal of a smiling wealthy man whom the journalist writes up as a "rancher", when what he really is a hobbyist with clothing that makes him look a bit absurd to locals. But that same individual keeps those locals from actually being ranchers, as they cannot compete with him economically. All of that hurts the local, and over time people become divorced form their own localities, with negative results.

For these reasons, I suspect, we're starting to see some really serious flirting with Socialism for the first time in about thirty years, which is interesting, and scary to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the history of Socialism in actual practice.  By and large, people are doing well economically but there is something they don't like about what their seeing, maybe.  Bernie Saunders now stands a real chance of being the nominee of the Democratic Party even though he's an avowed Socialist, the first time that a Socialist has advanced in Democratic politics since the late 1940s.  While none of this may have anything to do with economic thought, as earlier noted Australia and Canada have taken slight left turns in recent parliamentary elections, and Greece took a huge left turn.  Of course, some nations, like Denmark and Hungary, have taken sharp right turns.  We can assume that all of these voters don't know what they are doing, but that's not a safe assumption.  Some state of general discontent on something seems to be lurking out there, with some pretty radical solutions in the mix here and there.

And for that reason, it's to be lamented that there aren't any Distributist candidates in any party, anywhere.  Distributism is a subtle economic theory, but it's clearly more of a realistic one than Socialism is, and yet it seems to address many of the aspects of discontent that drive people into leftist economic theories.  As with our national politics, in which everyone has to be a Republican or a Democrat, no matter what they actually think, in our economy it seems you have to be a (Corporate) Capitalist or a Social Democrat, which makes very little sense.  There's no reason to believe that these two camps are the only natural ones, and taking a look at some Distributist ideas seems to be well overdue.  It's clear that no purely Distributist economy is going to come about in our day and age, but that doesn't mean that some of the ideas do not indeed have merit.  Some should be looked at.  Indeed, that's where the disappointment in a lack of such ideas being floated, except by some theorist and seemingly the Pope, is a shame.  It isn't as if any modern country is going to wholesale adopt Distributism.  But maybe some Distributist ideas are worth seriously considering, and right now they aren't getting any air.  It would be nice if they could, particularly when we see the failed theory of Socialism getting some, amazingly.

But they won't be.  Our political system, which is right/left, conservative/liberal, just doesn't allow for a "third way".  That is to be lamented.

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