The Red Tories and the Civic State

by John Médaille on July 27, 2009 · 97 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Economics & Empire,Politics & Power

mPhillip Blond

Irving, TX. It has been sometime since I have called myself a “conservative.” It is not that any of my opinions have changed, but rather that conservatism forgot just what is was trying to conserve. Increasingly, it became, under Reagan and the Bushes, “neo-conservatism,” and with that philosophy I have only two quarrels: it isn’t new and it isn’t conservative. Or rather, what is “new” about it is the attempt to pass off Enlightenment Liberalism as something worth conserving. As one of neo-conservatism’s founders, Michael Novak, noted, “neo-liberalism” would be a more apt description.

In practice, neo-conservatism was little more than state-supported, monopolistic capitalism with a veneer of “family values” rhetoric. Never mind that the position of the family actually deteriorated in the last 30 years, both culturally and economically. It wasn’t necessary to actually deliver on any promises to the family, since the Democratic alternative of support for abortion and homosexual “marriage” ruled out that path. The end result of such “conservatism” was bloated government complete with debts we cannot pay, obligations we cannot meet, wars we cannot win, and an economy that cannot work.

One had to be even more skeptical of the conservatives when they got “compassionate.” The single program initiative of this “compassion” was the further expansion of the Department of Education, which is a department in search of a job. The job it choose for itself was to impose unfunded mandates on the states under the rubric of “no child left behind.” The department grew with its mandates, even as actual education shrank.

Therefore, I can be excused if I was somewhat skeptical when hearing of the “progressive conservatives” of England. The name sounded a little bit too much like “compassionate conservatism,” just another attempt to dress up a shabby liberalism in the borrowed finery of the conservatives. Further, the English situation struck me as even worse then the American one, with Thatcherism even more destructive of true conservatism than was Reaganism.

But a few weeks ago in Nottingham I got to meet Phillip Blond, one of the “Red Tories” and a founder of the progressive conservative movement. His address was actually about Distributism, and it was backed up with facts and figures in a way that most Distributist presentations aren’t, alas. Perhaps I was wrong, and there was more to the Progressives than a little political cross-dressing. Upon returning to the States, I looked up his speech that is considered a founding document of this movement, The Civic State. What I found is one of the most remarkable short political speeches that I have read in decades.

In Blond’s analysis of the last 30 years, both the Conservative and Labour parties have tended towards the same end: bloated monopolistic capitalism and a bloated welfare state. Thatcher established a “Market fundamentalism [that] abandoned the fundamentals of the market.” Meanwhile Labour entered into a “Faustian bargain” with monopolistic capitalism which:

[E]nsures a permanent ascendancy of the middle class over the working class and creates an antagonistic feudal structure—where any genuine extension of power and ownership to the poor is resisted by the liberal middle classes who fear mostly for their own status and their sole assumed inherited right to social mobility. (Just look at British schooling)

Blond argues that modern conservatism should reject both alternatives (which turn out to be the same) and replace the market state and the welfare state with the Civic State, which:

[A]ims to blend the benefits of welfare and the market mechanism not by favouring one or the other, but by exceeding both. The Conservative’s new civic settlement privileges the associative above the alienated, the responsible over the self-serving and (yes I know this is shocking) the communal over the individual.

This civic state has three main tasks in the current crises: The re-moralization of the markets, the re-localization of the economy, and the re-capitalization of the poor. As the the first, it is a timely project since it is the major theme of Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. Both men call for markets which serve the public good rather than just private interests. As Blond puts it, the market must have a purpose:

For Conservatives it must be the extension of wealth, assets and the benefits of ecological and social well being to all. Freedom from the monopoly dominance of state bureaucracy and market power would allow independence for the formation of community and autonomy and a rebalancing of the demands of work, family and childcare.

As for re-localization of the economy, Blond notes that the Blair/Brown worship of monopolies “produced the paradox of competition without competitors,” favoring the big-box stores over local production and retailing. Blond (incorrectly, I believe) attributes this dominance to “economies” of scale, when in fact it is attributable to government subsidies. The Wal-Mart distribution model, for example, would collapse if their were weight/distance tolls on the so-called “freeways.” But in any case, it is true, as Blond says, that,

Small and medium businesses are how millions of ordinary people own and secure the wealth for themselves and their families. The present market dispossess them and re-categorizes them as permanent members of the low-waged shop serving, rather than shop owning, class.

Of all the tasks, the re-capitalization of the poor is the most pressing from the distributist point of view. Blond notes that in England in 1976, the bottom half of the population owned just 12% of the nation’s liquid wealth, but by 2003 that number had dropped to just 1%. In the same period, the share enjoyed by the top 10% rose from 51% to 71%. Clearly, the bottom half of the population has been dispossessed even of the share it had. In the same period, the median wage has flat-lined. Such concentration of wealth is not only inconsistent with a free-market economy, it is economically unsustainable. Markets depend (for those who have not forgotten economics 101) on a broad base of solvent consumers and a wide distribution of productive capacity.

Blond concludes by noting that this conservatism “represents a deep and profound critique of the pre-existing extremes and a restoration of something close to the real heart of Britain: an organic conservatism that cares for all.”

I cannot see any “red” in Red Toryism, and much that is true conservatism. It remains to be seen whether such a conservatism gains any traction with the Tories. David Cameron, the party leader, has endorsed the movement, more or less. But “party leader” is an amazingly pliable profession; we will have to see how it all plays out. Nevertheless, if there is any chance of this program regaining control of the conservative movement, then it may be safe to call oneself a conservative again.

{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 7:24 am

“The Wal-Mart distribution model, for example, would collapse if their were weight/distance tolls on the so-called “freeways.””

Why would you wish to destroy a corporation that a.) employees hundreds, perhaps thousands of our neighbors and b.) pays something along the lines of a “fair” wage?
And, in imposing your road tax aren’t you making the citizen suffer in your desire to punish a corporation that manages to sell it’s items at a lower cost to the consumer than their competitors?

I sympathize with your desire for “ownership” and there’s nothing wrong with that, however, its all in the fine print, the implementation, and finally, as Americans, it’s about “freedom.” I see no difference in your use of law, the beauracracy, and the state in general to implement your economic scheme than the illegal/immoral methods of the National Sociialists, Fascists, and Communists.

I agree with your critique of the state/corporation/bank model. However, your solution, which has many positive attributes, fails in its implementation…e.g. it is the same methodology that gave us the existing governmental and economic failure. We are just changing “masters.”

It’s all about freedom!

avatar Mark T. Mitchell July 27, 2009 at 8:06 am

Bob,
I think John’s point is that Wal-Mart’s distribution model depends on government subsidies. If the subsidies were removed (that is, if the government got out of the way), that distribution model would be far less profitable. Now it may be that the world is better off with Wal-Mart, as you suggest, but we should at least be honest enough to admit that the current structure redistributes wealth from all of us (taxes to build highways) to create a system that makes Wal-Mart possible (or at least far more profitable). That’s not a free market. And as some wise man recently said in the com boxes, “it’s all about freedom.”

avatar Jim Lothian July 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

As an historian of modern Britain I’m very interested in Blond and his proto-movement.

I have a couple of questions re your description of his Civic State.

First, isn’t it a sleight of hand to refer to “share” of liquid wealth? Declining share would be a problem if an economy is a zero-sum game — which it is not. Now of course it would be troubling if Blond’s bottom half of the population wasn’t improving wealthwise but not necessarily regarding its “share” of wealth.

The other question I have, which relates to my first, is the focus on “liquid wealth,” presumably cash, stocks, bonds, I suppose.

What of housing. You criticize Thatcherism, but it seems to me that some of what the lady did — e.g. her selling off of council flats/homes to the residents — would’ve have effected the nonliquid wealth of that lower half of the population, but would be lost in Mr. Blond’s measure. And of course this aspect of Thatcherism seems something that a Distributist could certainly support.

My last point re Thatcherism regards the defining question for conservatives of what exactly is to be conserved. I wonder if things had gotten to the point by 1979 in Britain when she became PM that there wasn’t much left to conserve. That is, ought the postwar consensus that one could argue her predecessors Heath, on the one side, and Wilson/Callaghan, on the other, to have been conserved?

(By the way, I’m following with interest, and quite enjoying, the back and forth between all y’all fropo-cons and your friends the pomo-cons.

And as an aside, but without wanting to be seen as spamming this site, fropos and pomos alike may be interested in my new book which deals in part with Distributism — http://undpress.nd.edu/book/P01292 )

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 9:35 am

“Never mind that the position of the family actually deteriorated in the last 30 years, both culturally and economically.”

Is there anywhere, in any corner of the world under any economic system, where this is not the case? What do these societies have in common?

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 9:36 am

Well, Mark, that sentence was rather difficult for me to figure out, so your help is appreciated. You’re right “it’s all about freedom,” so I don’t have a problem with applying the law across the board, and I’m no friend of subsidies of any kind however, Wal Mart, if I may play the devil’s advocate (and I have no affiliation with Wal Mart) is merely acting on existing law and, probably engaged in working assiduously to have laws written on a state and federal level that benefit them. But, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with serving your own interests; it’s what we do as human beings.

Also, I might add that Wal Mart trucks do, indeed, pay road taxes, and there may be additional taxes of that sort involved in other aspects of their operation….I’m no expert on these matters.

Again, I have no problem with removing all subsidies. However, we are dealing with the here and now and I don’t see Wal Mart acting illegally or immorally…please feel free to straighten me out! And, let me reiterate, Wal Mart employs a lotta folks and that money is probably a large part of their family’s income. I don’t want to see these folks screwed by some winsome, esoteric scheme.
And, yes, I do understand we don’t have a “free market,” and I’d like to see one before my days are done.
In the end, any correction of the current cultural/moral/economic dilemma has to be predicated on what that olde German Idealist, Herr Schelling, referred to as “metaphysical freedom.” Because the root of this problem we are dealing with, is the idea of “sin.”
Mark, enjoyed your insightful comments and I’m not entirely opposed to ‘distributism’ but there’s negatives I’m trying to work through.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 27, 2009 at 10:36 am

It is possible to win every battle and lose the war; FPR’s battle-winning, war-losing condition seems to be as follows: no matter how many times we remind so-called conservatives that their idol of the true free market is a) a classical liberal fantasy and so by definition not conservative; b) a chimera, since the free market as they understand it requires that little else be free beyond the marketplace in order to provide the stable architecture external to the market; c) that, following from a), therefore the attempt to combine a classical liberal free market with true conservative beliefs will inevitably undermine the latter; and d) that, following from b), the “free market” actually generates a bloated, labrynthine state that must, to preserve that market, extend its power of ever-wider stretches of cultural terrain thus, to sustain that horizontal growth, will also extend vertically, creating ever more towering and teetering layers of bureaucratic administration.

The only argument against these claims is not an argument but a mere refusal. “No!” they say, because they know bankers who are also pious Christians and good fathers. So do I. No one is arguing that one cannot be in favor of the market economy and still be a Catholic and a “social conservative.” George Weigel seems a good bloke, and I was deeply moved by his biography of John Paul II, even though it had some major intellectual weaknesses. But if one believes society to be organic, rather than to consist of two incoherent structures called “the economy” and “culture” held in snarling competition, one ought to believe that culture and economy form one whole. And if one believes that, one ought to recognize that the supposed “free market” destroys freedom as it generates bureaucracy and as it destroys the conditions that make possible a fruitful society of families.

We repeat. We repeat. And the classical liberals go on calling themselves conservatives. They are Jacobins.

avatar Marchmaine July 27, 2009 at 10:45 am

Mr. Lothian… per the Civic State speech, “Even when property is included, the bottom half of the population still only owns 7% of the country’s wealth.”

While owning a home is a good, it is a subordinate good to owning your means of production. So the question is this: is supporting home-onwership a reflection of a man’s ability to buy a home, or a bribe to keep him quiet as he generates wealth for another?

Further, who really owns a House? Did Thatcher really generate home-ownership, or did she transfer the lease vehicles from the government to a government backed private cartel of banks?

Walmart certainly is acting legally, they are the very definition of legal; in fact they are so legal, they have a seat at the table when laws are written that might impact their business. That is rather the point of Mr. Blond’s so called Labor sell-out and Conservative buy-in to the Government/Business Collusion.

As John writes and Mark notes above, it is not only the direct hand-outs (a’la Farm Bill Subsidies) but the hidden subsidies that skew the market in favor of certain businesses at the expense of others.

It may not be prudent policy to obliterate certain laws, practices and subsidies in one sweeping change, but it is certainly true incremental changes to laws and regulations can and will alter the market landscape… we know this because the market landscape has been altered to favor Govt/Biz Collusion before our very eyes.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 27, 2009 at 10:50 am

Dr. Lothian, thanks for mentioning your book. A welcome contribution.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 11:06 am

James,

“a) a classical liberal fantasy and so by definition not conservative”

One has to realize that America was founded, not exclusively but largely, on liberal and not conservative principles. To be a conservative in an American context is thus, in a sense at least, to be a liberal. We never had the Ancien Regime.

“b) a chimera, since the free market as they understand it requires that little else be free beyond the marketplace in order to provide the stable architecture external to the market”

I think this is a little harsh. Liberalism has always insisted on human rights along with a free market, and in almost all of its modern forms has emphasized the later more than the former. In fact what distinguishes classical liberalism from an Anarcho-Capitalism is having an institution beyond and which sets the conditions of the market.

“c) that, following from a), therefore the attempt to combine a classical liberal free market with true conservative beliefs will inevitably undermine the latter”

If we take my commentary on a) seriously, which I believe there to be a great deal of historical evidence to support, than this does not necessarily follow.

“d) that, following from b), the “free market” actually generates a bloated, labrynthine state that must, to preserve that market, extend its power of ever-wider stretches of cultural terrain thus, to sustain that horizontal growth, will also extend vertically, creating ever more towering and teetering layers of bureaucratic administration.”

I don’t think this follows. Again, whatever liberalism’s faults it gives us two things, 1)A justification for a public sphere beyond the market, and 2) A role for the public sphere in protecting human rights and the common good. It is out of a dedication to a public sphere and human rights that the market emerges. The free market is an accident of not the motivating cause of liberalism (Classical or otherwise). This, at least on a theoretical level, is a grounds for limiting the state. This seems like a problem with all bureaucratic systems (Weber style) and not with frameworks for political economy per se (Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, etc.).

“We repeat. We repeat. And the classical liberals go on calling themselves conservatives. They are Jacobins.”

Could not American liberals say the same thing, replacing Jacobins with Cossacks of course.

avatar Russell Arben Fox July 27, 2009 at 11:09 am

John, thanks very much for this summary of the “progressive conservative”/”Red Tory” movement in Great Britain. I’ve followed it some from afar, and like much that I see. I’ve blogged about the Red Tory tradition a few times before, and I would love to see it revived, if only to demonstrate to the rest of the word that a positive conception of local empowerment, tradition, and sovereignty is a possibility, and not a nostalgic sales job. David Cameron and the British Tory party is definitely worth watching over the next few years.

You end by saying that you don’t see anything “Red” in Red Toryism. Obviously, if you say “Red” as meaning Marxist-Leninist, or explicitly communist, then you’re right–there’s nothing Red to it at all. However, I do think the label is still appropriate, for reasons which I think are well exemplified by the exchange between Bob Cheeks and Mark Mitchell. I would argue that the deep, foundational truth of all Red or socialist thought is that you have to consider the material conditions by and through which human beings express themselves and make their choices; hence, you need to think about corporate power and systems of dependency conveyed by the “free” market. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily socialist about thinking in that way: that is an observation shared by all who question liberal individualism, Burke and Rousseau and Hegel alike, not to mention most by Catholic social thinkers and the Distributists as well. But I would further argue that different forms of Christian democratic and Christian socialist thought–as elucidated by Karl Polanyi, Wilhelm Ropke, etc., and as implemented (however imperfectly) by more than a few Western European governments–have done more than most agrarian or distributist thinkers to apply that foundational insight to modern egalitarian and consumerist demands (as manifest, for example, in the enormous faux-populist success of Wal-Mart). Absent a complete peak oil-type collapse (at which point the sort of thinking we’re doing here will be the least of our problems!), we will not be able to–and, I think, should not try to–tie material conditions too closely to culturally or historically rooted ways of distributing material goods. Obviously, at the present, we have the opposite: a market economy that is for all intents and purposes opposed to culturally and historically rooted ways of being! Every conservative ought to oppose that. But it seems to me that every conservative ought to recognize the value of selective parts of the socialist or social democratic package (regulation, redistribution, etc.) as part of the means to preserve such things, while at the same time balancing that against and helping to maintain and make more just and more available the material opportunities which have blessed the modern world.

That’s way too philosophical, I know. But what does it mean? It means a lot of the things which Phillip Blond talks about (see here for more): opposing unthinking privatization, breaking up large corporations, protecting social services which are universal and genuinely empowering (but find local ways of delivering on those services), raising wages for those on the bottom of the market so as to make occupations that reject social mobility and the educational meritocracy more capable of sustaining families, etc. He calls this a “radical civic communitarian conservatism.” It’s also, whether he wishes (for political reasons perhaps?) to admit to it or not, more than a little socialist: orienting the power of government to enable individuals and communities to better pursue materially just–as opposed to merely liberal expressive–ends. So no, Red Toryism isn’t Red in the sense of the vanguard of the proletariat taking away your private property; nothing of the sort. But it is, at least potentially, a union of social democracy and traditional conservatism that has been rare in the United States, one that localists of all stripes ought to consider as worthy of learning from.

avatar Russell Arben Fox July 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

But if one believes society to be organic, rather than to consist of two incoherent structures called “the economy” and “culture” held in snarling competition, one ought to believe that culture and economy form one whole. And if one believes that, one ought to recognize that the supposed “free market” destroys freedom as it generates bureaucracy and as it destroys the conditions that make possible a fruitful society of families.

Again, James Wilson (who no doubt would disagree with more than a little of what I wrote above) says it all much more pithily than I ever could.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

Dan,

You just defended classical liberalism as a liberal; you are what you preach. The supposed strain of conservatism I attacked advocates classical liberalism either without knowing what it does or with a bone in its throat. I was attacking such conservatism. I’ll attack your liberalism (again!) in a more appropriate venue.

Actually, your first point suggest the problem of calling oneself a conservative in America, and that’s a point you and I have exchanged words on before (to wit, “Community”). Those of us who derive our politics as a mere desideration of our Church can only reply, “The Eighteenth Century was a terrible time to found a country.”

avatar Albert July 27, 2009 at 11:43 am

Blond (incorrectly, I believe) attributes this dominance to “economies” of scale, when in fact it is attributable to government subsidies.

This implausible-at-first little secret of neoconservatism deserves a book in and of itself (or at least an article), in my opinion. It is certainly a valuable bit of research that will come in handy in future debates concerning the ordering of the polis.

That said, I’m not so sure that “economies” of scale and accompanying Taylor practices contribute so little to productive capacity, so I’m wary of this line of argument. It seems to me that if you treat people just like machines, they will work efficiently just like machines, and so the critique of scale and Taylorism ought to rest on different foundations than the level of productive capacity, foundations articulated in Shop Class, for example.

Another line of argument addressing the “economies of scale” would be that those efficiencies are nullified in practice by corruption and the inability of human minds to responsibly account for very large entities, whether corporate or government.

avatar Albert July 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Hmm… with respect to the inertia of neoconservatives, I can empathize with them while agreeing wholeheartedly with Wilson’s criticisms. Part of the difficulty is the illusion that there really is no Third Way, no alternative. That is why Medaille’s countervailing posts have been so beneficial. The force of perceived inevitability against reason is underestimated.

This is also why I am aggressively critical of statist tendencies on this site, that is, because I am aware of the damage such public writings (which I think are wrong) do to the cause of persuading conservatives to at least be open-minded. Opposition to Big Business and Big Government ought to go hand in hand not simply because they rest on the same intellectual foundations, but also because of how folks are persuaded.

That said, many conservatives are in fact hesitant to give up on Big Business. I think the best way to articulate why they should centers on the kind of localism that is grounded in the finite created nature of man, need for local community, and forms of neighbor love that encompass all of life–economic, political, social, etc.–which is only sustainably possible with one’s actual neighbors. For example, the abstraction of love out of the economic calculus of value, where modern consumers consider only price and quality and not the relationship intrinsic to the economic transaction in their decisions, is quite difficult to justify for a Christian called to love one’s neighbor.

I think the logic of localism rooted in a true anthropology (man as limited, relational creation of God, etc.) will make it increasingly plausible for conservatives to recognize how small businesses are more fitting for the kinds of life in which neighbor love can be sustained.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

James,

You are correct that this is essentially our old argument. I don’t see how you can be upset by American conservatives for a lack of conservatism with America’s liberal origins. Frustrated that they don’t see it but in the end I think most of them would say, “Well I guess I’m a liberal.”

Albert,

In every strain of illiberal conservatism/traditionalism I’ve seen the “Red” part is essential. The narrative goes like this:

Once we had a traditional order which was, while not without its faults, much better than what we have now. Then secularism/capitalism/socialism/feminism/Decartes/Kant/The Jesuits etc. broke it. The solution is using the state (“Red”) to reestablish a system of Privilege/Hierarchy/Order. Once returned to the original balance of the traditional order these measures will be unessisary and the state will wither away.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 1:40 pm

James,

“Actually, your first point suggest the problem of calling oneself a conservative in America, and that’s a point you and I have exchanged words on before (to wit, “Community”). Those of us who derive our politics as a mere desideration of our Church can only reply, “The Eighteenth Century was a terrible time to found a country.””

This seems problematic. This does not seem in any sense a conservatism. It writes off a cultural history as a mistake. It is in fact not rooted in the historical experience of the community at all. Perhaps Vaticanism would be a better name for what you are advocating if that is truly its source.

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Dan, I haven’t actually seen an argument that resembles what you are calling the “traditional narrative.” Unless you class every gov’t action as an increase, that is, the old anarcho-libertarian argument. However, in practice, that argument leads to more gov’t, not less. By putting the argument in “all-or-nothing” terms, you guarantee the victory of the all, since there are just not enough nihilists to vote for the nothing, especially in times of crises.

The task is not to whither the state away, but to prune it to its proper functions. Man is a social animal, and exists naturally in some determined hierarchy, as in the family, for example. The only way to do away with gov’t is to do away with man. But anarchism, imo, is simply a refusal to face the task of determining (and therefore limiting) the government.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 1:52 pm

John,

“Dan, I haven’t actually seen an argument that resembles what you are calling the “traditional narrative.” Unless you class every gov’t action as an increase, that is, the old anarcho-libertarian argument. However, in practice, that argument leads to more gov’t, not less. By putting the argument in “all-or-nothing” terms, you guarantee the victory of the all, since there are just not enough nihilists to vote for the nothing, especially in times of crises.”

I’m not sure what this is referring to. Could you clarify this?

“The task is not to whither the state away, but to prune it to its proper functions. Man is a social animal, and exists naturally in some determined hierarchy, as in the family, for example. The only way to do away with gov’t is to do away with man. But anarchism, imo, is simply a refusal to face the task of determining (and therefore limiting) the government.”

Whither was not the right term. The traditionalist argument for many of the government programs that Albert finds troubling are merely short term measures needed to restore the old order (Like paid parental leave in a previous column). It would be unfair to say that traditionalist support these type of measures for the same reason those devoted to the welfare state do. Traditionalists support them because traditional social and economic structures that could deal with these problems have been destroyed by modernity. They are measures of temporary relief in the face of modernist problems. Once the traditionalist social order was restored they would no longer be necessary. Am I reading this wrong?

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Dan, I agree. “Whither” is not the right word; “Whether (or not)” is the right question. And that question is always prudential, never answered in advance but always related to particular circumstances. An economy of huge and powerful enterprises might require extraordinary actions by the state; an economy of dispersed production and property might require something completely different. And while no question should be answered in advance, some principles will always apply: the action or power should be the least required by the situation and done for the shortest practical time, and should be performed at the lowest practical level.

Related to this question are the so-called “economies of scale” that big corporations are supposed to have. In fact, they don’t. Whatever economies they reach or quickly overwhelmed by a series of diseconomies, including lack of internal markets, information costs, agency problems, the divorce of technical from entrepreneurial knowledge, among other problems. (see http://distributism.blogspot.com/2009/03/chapter-xvi-distributism-and-industrial.html) In fact, these corporations are indigestible lumps of socialism in what is supposed to be a free-market system. So why are they “successful”? Because of inherent gov’t subsidies.

I am somewhat amused by those who equate free-ways with free-dom. I thought the later involved some minimum level of personal responsibility, such as paying for what you consume. If Wal Mart can be successful with the subsidy, then they should have no objection to a test of the theory. I will gladly exchange their gas taxes for weight/distance tolls, but I don’t not think they will agree to that exchange; they know a good deal when they see one.

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Russell, if by being “too philosophical” you mean “talking over John’s head,” then you are too philosophical by half. But then everybody is, or nearly. Nevertheless, I think your definition of “red” would catch everybody who isn’t actually an anarchist; even Locke wants a state that he can call on to defend his property from the hoi polloi. If red means we should care for each other and have institutional and legal means for doing so, then we should all be red.

avatar Sam July 27, 2009 at 2:26 pm

There is nothing “red” in Blond’s analysis. And yet I find confusing his idea of a “permanent ascendancy of the middle class over the working class”. Is the middle class one and the same with the “liberal middle class”? And by “liberal middle class” does he understand the upper-middle-class liberals defined by Christopher Lasch as “a new class” whose livelihood rests “not so much on ownership of property as on the manipulation of information and professional expertise”(Revolt of the Elites)? The upper-middle class liberals did indeed entered into a “Faustian bargain” with financial and monopolistic capitalism. Acting as “experts” and “uber managers”, the “new class” support the “techno-bureaucracy of the global managerial order” (Samuel Francis). The financial and monopolistic capitalism – globalism – have proletarianized the middle class and almost wiped out the working class by encouraging the formation of an underclass through massive illegal immigration and outsourcing. Both the neocons and the liberals approved of the process. Distributism should restore the dignity and material independence of the “old” middle and working classes, the pillars (together with the small farmers) of any future distributist order.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Is Freedom…aka Liberty… an unalloyed right or is it a responsibility? Within that question lies our discussion. In my estimation, the value of any notion of freedom is made greater when personal responsibility and hence, personal opportunity are increased. Watching Cameron’s conservative Tories come on in England has provided a small dose of hope for the authentically conservative cause as we review what has become of it in this wholly bought and paid for on debt nation. If Mr. Burke’s old Whig Toryism is rustling up for another charge to the summit of human dignity, it cannot come soon enough. Reading Mr. Blond’s speech (thanks for the link), one phrase leaps off the page:

“…the philosophy of entitlement destroys consciousness of mutuality and it fragments working class culture and permanently disables the associative drive that alone can make communities and foster the development of wealth and independence”.

Mr. Blond makes this statement in his assault upon the welfare state. It is an old argument proven many times over. Interestingly, the Framers used this same argument in its opposite sense : about the entitled and remote despot of Britain. Oddly enough, it is also an indictment against the winners and losers in our current economic system. Government protectionism, laws, syndicate and special privilege are an entitlement heartily enjoyed by the current masters of the economy. The most startling indication of this sordid state of affairs….. where those most fortunate consider themselves the most entitled….. is seen in the current farrago at NASDAQ where it is purported that certain owners of exceedingly powerful computer trading ability are granted a first peek at market moves so that they might churn the market for a brief but monstrously remunerative time before the rest of the market has a chance to move. It might not be specifically “churning” or “insider trading” but if it exists, it is a tawdry form of favoritism and entitlement. The fact that the taxpayer might have funded, with no return…… this effort under the rubric of a “bail-out” while unemployment ascends toward the level of the Depression is an amazing development. We will likely not see any meaningful investigation of the issue because the culture of “entitlement” has formed a carapace of self-infatuation around our government and the government itself is stacked deeply with the denizens of entitlement from top to bottom.

We think we do not have a House of Lords but it is in the majority and owns its only historic check: the Common and its media. To make matters worse, this nobility is a technocratic one and scoffs at the things which have built the society they so assiduously mine. We have class but it is increasingly class-less in all but material goods. This is a civilization whose only record shall be landfill jammed to the rafters with technological wonders and fancy packaging.

This leads me to the final point….. our reliance upon a federal edifice to solve our problems. Since our emergence from WWII with our industrial capacity energized and our control of the oil fields strong, the United States has been the anointed policeman across the globe. For 60 years now we have been expensively armed and in search of an arrest. This mantle of security won the Cold War but it also has resulted in the current insecurity . Despite our gargantuan investment over many decades, 19 men…. for the cost of boxcutters and a plane ticket…. rocked us to the core and virtually reinvented the power of the presidency in a form destructive to our security and welfare. We have leveraged our history to perhaps make a back-end profit via a more militaristic and concentrated State. This bit of historically maligned legerdemain has roundly backfired and finds us in a tightening circle of self-abuse. The more government fails, the more we feel the need to have government fight the failure it has conspired to create. Because the historic guts of the lapsed -Republic have been set to rot and arrayed for collection by a new age of global carrion-eaters, debt is the methadone of choice and one of the largest holders of this debt is a culture which includes the prehistoric Peking Man as part of its historic patrimony listed in the history books for its junior high level curriculum. This same holder of our debt produces cheap goods for sell to us by a large institution that has embraced the treadmill racket of stocking their shelves on the value of the goods to be sold over the next 6 months in another round of debt spending to “save money”.

Entitlement you see, is an illusion and has always been a presumption of mortgaged faith fed by gluttony and an intemperate addiction to displays of power.

I will feel better about these new developments in favor of an “organic conservatism that cares for all” when it is emanating from a polity that has stopped confusing citizenship with slavery. Our National Mall, tattered, threadbare and worn out is the perfect metaphor for a nation caught in the act of free-basing entitlement. The junkie has had his Waterloo and it is him. We hold these truths to be self evident, that nothing whatsoever is evident to us anymore.

avatar N. P. West July 27, 2009 at 3:31 pm

The question now is how to unite these disparate elements in the U.S. and put this “communitarian civic conservatism” on the agenda in Washington and around the country in State capitols. Until progressive conservatives find a way to create the “Civic State” by promoting a humane economy, faith, the natural family, community, and conservation there still will not be a a sound alternative to the neoliberalism dominating the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement.

avatar Bruce Smith July 27, 2009 at 3:40 pm

The reason Phillip Blond’s ideas are exciting is because he is stating the need to radically reassess our norms, or political philosophies, whilst retaining a belief in capitalism and markets. He has been attacked a good deal for his criticism of Liberalism (Founding Father’s Republicanism in addition to Democratic Party Liberalism for Americans) where he has argued that having overthrown divine rule of monarchy and theocracy human society became dominated by the idea that every woman, or man was their own queen, king, or pope and ideally beholden to no one and especially not society in the form of the government. It was this idea (revealingly encapsulated I think in the American Rugged Individualist myth) that he believes allowed elitist capitalism to let rip, corrupt and subvert government and give us Jack Welch’s Barge Economics and eventually lead up to the outright fraud of the Sub-Prime Disaster. In other words Liberty and Freedom have become corrupted into a “grab what you can” mentality. The Invisible Hand of Adam Smith today has less and less qualms about picking your pocket if it can both as worker and consumer!

Phillip’s idea concerning Liberalism, however, when you think about it can be understood far more simply. Evolutionary psychology has shown us that human nature is logically both selfish and altruistic. Because of this dual nature there really is, therefore, no alternative for us but to set up economic and political systems with appropriate checks and balances on liberty and freedom if we are all to flourish. Barge Economics and the Sub-Prime Disaster show very clearly that we have failed to do this. Britain and America are unnecessarily being hollowed out by elite capitalist global trade as a direct result of the misconceived understanding of the purpose of liberty and freedom. In truth we hold liberty and freedom in consequence of and relative to each other. Accordingly, it is Consensual Capitalism that must rule and not Feudal Capitalism.

Phillip Blond quit his job in early July as Director of the Progressive Conservative Project at the British think tank Demos. Nobody is entirely sure why this happened but rumors swirl that he found it increasingly difficult to work with the director of Demos Richard Reeves and probably the Board of Trustees chair, Phillip Collins, who used to be the chief speech writer for Tony Blair but was previously an investment banker. I can personally understand that Blond would get very frustrated with their middle-of-the-road views especially since he was disgusted by the Blairite sell-out to elite capitalism. Certainly the free e-report “Recapitalising the Poor” on Demos’s web site that was issued in July under Phillip Blond’s directorship would I suspect have been reluctantly issued by him because of its lack of radicalism and failure to fully understand his message. Reeves and Collins also wrote another free e-report issued on their site in May entitled “The Liberal Republic” which must have further reinforced Phillip Blond’s view that his position was untenable. It is rumored that Phillip may be setting up his own think tank. He is also under contract to finish writing his book “Red Tory” towards the end of this year for publication early next year. It remains to be seen whether he will retain any influence on the Tory Leadership who are riding high in the polls and will most likely get elected as the next British government in May 2010. The Tory leadership may decide to stick with their elite capitalist corporate sponsors and dance to their tune. This has been their usual pattern for obtaining and exercising power. Meanwhile the Labour Party is in disarray because of the Sub-Prime Disaster and accompanying bank failures. The electorate perceives them as having also sold their soul to elite capitalism for the sake of power and many of their MP’s were recently exposed as only interested in feathering their own nest in the most despicably selfish of ways. Some Labour MP’s, however, are now beginning to pick up on Phillip Blond’s ideas but there is nobody strong and popular enough holding these beliefs who is likely to force a leadership change before the general election. It may well be a very long time before distributist ideas get translated into power in the UK but inevitably they will because of the likely continuing hollowing out of the British economy.

avatar rex July 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

With respect to corporate power, identifying the myth of economies of scale is important, as is identifying the myriad forms of subsidies. Another element to examine is the corporate charter itself. Corporations are designed to limit risk in order to attract investment. If you change the level of risk associated with that investment you will limit the power of a corporation without necessarily increasing the size of government.

Now that we have identified corporations that are “too big to fail”, we have guaranteed those investments in perpetuity. This represents a quantum leap in corporate power that will lead to increased tyranny that can only be battled with ever larger government and yet more tyranny. I am not saying do away with corporations, I am saying is that there is a way to limit corporate power without ever increasing regulation of the market.

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Bruce, Phillip has set up his own think tank in the last week or so, ResPublica. He does not as yet have a website but he does have a researcher on staff. What other resources it has at this time I do not know.

Rex, good observation on corporate charters. This is a relatively new development, indeed a new and privileged form of property, one that relieves a person of the normal risks and responsibilities of property ownership. Within this limitation of liability, it would be dangerous to own property in that amount. To give an example of the effect of limited liability, suppose a blacksmith drops on anvil on your foot. You would expect him to pay at least for medical care and lost wages. But suppose that the blacksmith were an employee of Anvil, Incorporated. The managing director could say to you, “I am sorry, but we have limited liability; we are responsible for damages only up to the value of the anvil,” as if it were the anvil and not the foot that had been injured.

Corporations exist without limited liability, such as Lloyd’s insurance, which cover shipping. When a ship goes down, the individual investor’s expose their entire fortunes to cover the losses.

avatar Albert July 27, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Hello Dan, thanks for the comment. That articulation of the development of modernity is a bit ugly and makes me wonder whether the complexity inherent in its history is represented in your mind. I will assume that it is, and so I’d say the gist of the first part of the summary is on target.

As to the “solution” aspect, I agree that there are probably some who do not see the incoherence and futility of implementing (“Red”) national programs to promote localism.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that sort of “solution,” which is likely to perpetuate the problem, is preferred by most traditionalists. At least it is not my preferred solution. Instead, we would hope to eliminate abuses of government power and scale back its reach to more appropriate boundaries, while still recognizing the existence of a legitimate sphere of government authority, unlike anarcho-libertarians. An example of a government power to be eliminated is the various sorts of subsidies, direct and indirect, that favor larger corporations over smaller, local businesses. That the government’s scale would be reduced via the political process is our hope, though whether it is realistic remains to be seen. If not, it’ll just get bigger until it implodes, in which case we’ll have better had made preparations for local community life anyway.

At root, the vision that holds together the varied perspectives represented on this site is one that honors the limits of place, community and a better concept of freedom in opposition to the insanity of modernity’s rejection of limits, that is, a rejection of reality. It’s likely that the contributors here have somewhat different ideas as to how to get there, but that makes for pretty good discussion.

So I understand your concerns, but I would suggest that at least we’re asking the right questions, as opposed to those who cannot even recognize the fundamental anthropological and cultural assumptions both statism and libertarianism share, which are largely responsible for the extraordinary growth of government in American history, including during neoconservative rule, plus other contradictions explored by the localist-distributist-traditionalist bunch here.

avatar Russell Arben Fox July 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm

John,

Nevertheless, I think your definition of “red” would catch everybody who isn’t actually an anarchist; even Locke wants a state that he can call on to defend his property from the hoi polloi. If red means we should care for each other and have institutional and legal means for doing so, then we should all be red.

I can see your point, but in the end, I don’t think you’re right. Just look at your last two sentences: does “defending property from the hoi polloi” really include “institutional and legal means to care for each other”? I don’t think so. Locke’s defense of property rights, and a capitalism premised upon such, can make room for a variety of welfare and liberal redistributionist programs (justified in a utilitarian way, of course), and it’s possible that in a world of great inequalities between the rich and the poor that may be the best we can hope for, but it doesn’t help to materially sustain an ethic of care, responsibility, participation, and many other things that are part of the social democratic and Christian democratic package. Red thought means–or at least, I think, can mean–taking a step beyond mere (and often condescending) welfare, and thinking about what should be positively established so that people in their local communities and families can flourish and treat one another justly in their own places. That’s not “Red” in the sense of a communist revolution and government collectivism, of course, but it is “red” in the same way that the early Populists, for example, were called radicals and reds for daring to suggest that some of the control over wealth, land, transportation, medical care, banking, etc.–in other words, all these material concerns that situate and too often can control our being who we are–ought to be taken ought of the hands of business and corporations and returned to the people. “Conservatives,” or whatever they call themselves, ought not be worried that a little leftism is their ally in this fight (the same way some of my other friends shouldn’t be so worried about “conservatives” participating in leftist causes!).

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm

D.W., excellent as always, albiet, you left out of your litany of cultural/gov’t/economic failure the rise of racism instigated by the POTUS, and you neglected to mention “solutions.”

Dr. Wilson, dude….”Jacobin!”, now I do love that, excellent shot though I do think it falls a bit short of my “commie-democrat” or was it “socialist-Democrat” remark rendered a few weeks ago. I’m not sure of the relevancy of your remarks concerning the definition of “Classical Liberal” vs. “contemporary conservative,” simply because the question I’ve been asking lo these many weeks is this:
HOW DO YOU INTEND TO IMPOSE ON SOCIETY THOSE ELEMENTS OF THE DISTRIBUTIST SCHEME YOU CHAMPION?
That’s it and I’ll be darned if I can get a straight answer out of any of you pro-distributists!
Curious!

avatar Bruce Smith July 27, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Thanks John for the information about Phillip Blond’s new think tank Respublica. I wish him well with it and look forward to seeing detail added to the distributist road map on its internet site.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell July 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Bob,
Your question is a good one, but it’s been answered quite a few times. At least one simple strategy is to eliminate regulations that favor the big concerns and disadvantage the small ones. The trouble is the big guys can hire lawyers to lobby the legislatures to pass regulations to their advantage. Joe Smith, the small businessman, has neither the time nor the resources to do this. This, of course, is easier said than done, but implementing it would not involve the socialism or command economy that worries you (and me too). Maybe freedom is not all that matters. In this light, it seems justice is an equally important concern.

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I don’t think anybody is looking to “impose” distributism on anybody, certainly not on Bob. We keep answering his question, but I guess his hearing aid is off. Allan Carlson did a whole post on the topic. And this post referred to Phillip Blond’s agenda to accomplish the civic state. But the main tactic is not so much about what gov’t should do, as it is about what gov’t should stop doing. The historical fact is that the big corporation and big gov’t grow together; if you kill the one you kill the other. The simple tactic of imposing weight/distance tolls is sufficient to kill the big box stores and re-vitalize local manufacturing/farming.

But if it makes him feel better, I am working on the last chapter of my new book on distributism, which is about implementation. I’ll send him a copy of the chapter when I’m done.

avatar Bruce Smith July 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Bob. Coercive is as coercive does.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 27, 2009 at 7:00 pm

John M., thanks for the comment on my hearing, much appreciated. I have Meniere’s (Sp) Disease in my right ear and its inoperable so consequently I go around with this gigantic roar going on in my head. Every once in a while I loose my balance and things get really weird. Actually, it may interfer with my concentration and I’m not aware of it, I tend to speed through written material, because reading can be a little uncomfortable, so your critique may have some basis in fact. I’ll have to read a little closer I guess. Again, thanks for your concern, it’s what we’ve come to expect.

Mark, thanks for cluing me in! To be honest I’m not impressed with Dr. Carlson’s citations; I noticed Eleanor’s homesteading deal and Fanny May weren’t exactly successful…human nature?

If we can’t promulgate and enforce laws for banking and business that will set just parameters within a capitalist system what makes anyone think it’ll work within a distributist system? If gov’t and business are engaged in corrupt practises in the capitalist system, what makes anyone think it’ll be different in a distributist system?

The problem isn’t the economic system, the problem is a people who have grown corrupt and distributism isn’t going to change that.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Albert,

The modern problem, as articulated by traditionalists, is certainly a more complex one than by hyphenated list illiterates. Thank you for excusing the shorthand.

“Nevertheless, I don’t think that sort of “solution,” which is likely to perpetuate the problem, is preferred by most traditionalists. At least it is not my preferred solution. Instead, we would hope to eliminate abuses of government power and scale back its reach to more appropriate boundaries, while still recognizing the existence of a legitimate sphere of government authority, unlike anarcho-libertarians.”

I see nothing here that cannot be embraced by liberals of all types, greens, socialists of a decentralizes stripe, small government American style conservatives or even non-ideological moderates. In fact the only groups that would find it problematic would seem to be progressives, the dominant strain in the modern day Republican party (For lack of a better term Neo-Conservatives), and anarchists of all stripes.

“An example of a government power to be eliminated is the various sorts of subsidies, direct and indirect, that favor larger corporations over smaller, local businesses. That the government’s scale would be reduced via the political process is our hope, though whether it is realistic remains to be seen. If not, it’ll just get bigger until it implodes, in which case we’ll have better had made preparations for local community life anyway.”

Again I see nothing unique in this program. The same groups that would embrace the first would embrace the second, and I believe the anarchists could be added.

“So I understand your concerns, but I would suggest that at least we’re asking the right questions, as opposed to those who cannot even recognize the fundamental anthropological and cultural assumptions both statism and libertarianism share, which are largely responsible for the extraordinary growth of government in American history, including during neoconservative rule, plus other contradictions explored by the localist-distributist-traditionalist bunch here.”

You’re right about the right questions. This is why I read despite my frustration and disagreement with many of the answers. I don’t disagree that the embrace of technocratic solutions both originating in the state and in public-private partnerships and conspiracies are to blame for many of today’s problems. I don’t believe the way out is through a rejection of modernity. I believe the baby in the bathwater is worth saving. That he is not, in fact, the anti-Christ.

avatar Dan July 27, 2009 at 7:14 pm

John,

“But the main tactic is not so much about what gov’t should do, as it is about what gov’t should stop doing. The historical fact is that the big corporation and big gov’t grow together; if you kill the one you kill the other. The simple tactic of imposing weight/distance tolls is sufficient to kill the big box stores and re-vitalize local manufacturing/farming.”

If this were the case it seems the libertarians would be the ideal allies and not enemies of the movement. For instance, the vast majority of literature on toll roads is by libertarians, particularly of the dreaded anarcho-capitalist type.

Bob,

As Heidegger said best, “Only God can save us.”

avatar John Médaille July 27, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Dan, you are correct. That is why I do a lot of work with the Libertarians, just not (or rarely) with the Austrians, but with the mutualists or other “left-wing” libertarians. My industrial analysis, for example, is heavily indebted to Kevin Carson’s Industrial Organization: A Libertarian Perspective, which is likely the most comprehensive work on the subject. I can’t agree completely with the mutualists because they have no philosophy of gov’t and no possible way to get one. But from the moment we are born, we are born into the little republic of the family, which may be a tyranny or may be a commonwealth, but in any case is governed, well or badly.

The Austrians I generally don’t work with. What Marx did to socialism, Mises did to libertarianism. And both did the same: converted what were basically anti-statist and anti-corporatist doctrines into a nearly fetishistic worship of mere size and power. One worships the public bureaucrat and one the private bureaucrat, and there is not much to choose from between them. I just wish that John Galt would make good his threat. Here’s your hat; somehow, we’ll manage to survive.

avatar JD Salyer July 28, 2009 at 9:01 am

Mr. Medaille’s point about the Department of Education is apropos to anybody’s concerns about distributism being imposed on a “free” market.

A slogan I saw not long ago, plastered across a banner hanging high at the University of Kentucky:

“EDUCATION = JOBS”

Strangely enough, I don’t think the jobs for which public educators train our children are with, say, the local mom & pop business…

avatar Bruce Smith July 28, 2009 at 10:13 am

The task of persuading David Cameron (the probable next British Prime-Minister) to devolve capital and evolve consensual capitalism is not going to be easy as this article from a British newspaper suggests:-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-462313/Dave-Cameron-says-hes-touch-reality–wealth-blue-blood-wonder.html#comments

avatar D.W. Sabin July 28, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Cheeks,
Ornery today ehhhh? “Rise of Racism as instigated by the POTUS”….? There is intemperate and then there is spectacularly intemperate for no good reason. There is nothing about racism today that wasn’t covered in detail and with penetrating humor and honesty by Richard Pryor or Fred Sanford, 30 years ago. In fact, there aint much out there today that is new and so perhaps those neo-cons were accidentally correct that history has ended. Then again, it aint history that ended, its simply good old fashioned common sense and dignified decency that has. Racial Politics is just one of the menu items of identity politics practiced by a government that thinks it is there to serve itself rather than get out of the way and serve the people. Identity Politics is what they use to take the dog out for a walk. The dog seems to enjoy it immensely.

As oft stated, there will be no planned and orchestrated “solution” because the Big Idea generally backfires. Instead, we will more than likely slouch vigorously into near perdition …and fester there for some time before another force of intelligence manages to reinvent the wheel that a Separation of Powers, Republican Government and a less big institution-centric economy is a fine vehicle to follow. Of course, simplicity is the virtue that keeps on giving. Needless to say, Government of the Government, For the Government and By the Government considers simplicity to be kryptonite.

This current system is patently un-reformable and impervious to solution. It finds itself treating a sucking chest wound by painting a Happy Face on the cast iron skillet it is beating itself over the head with. The drunk must hit bottom and then we will have a new problem…..the habitual inclination of the drunk to attempt digging down through the bottom as a solution. Quantitative Easing is There is also the other problem which the 20th century excelled at: The Political Charlatan and Sociopath as Savior.

But, as to potential solutions, this Civic State and Distributist discussion should be fully aired as something which can temper the zero-sum abuses of the current economic policy of contradiction, Special Interest and good old fashioned Bait and Switch.

Robert, while your ears have been ringing, the Economic Masters which bought your government and leveraged it to the hilt have managed to take all you hold dear, beat it to a pulpy rotten gruel and serve it back to you while claiming it is Prime Rib. I too would like more specifics on the models suggested and have done as much half-assed investigation of the Mondragon Cooperative as I can and am remaining open to this journey from the general to the specific before summarily judging it. Again….it is not the Single Big Idea we are in search of , it is a system that empowers the individual within a construct of decency, secures their means of production through, among other things, subsidiarity and encourages stewardship via property ownership. One of the things the current so called “conservative” does is execute the bidding of his corrupt master quite ably…swallowing all manner of half-truth and outright lies with a kind of cheerful obedience generally only found in jungle cults. It might seem altogether logical to be worshipping the edifice of a high-tech cargo cult when caught up in the various enthusiasms of the day but at some point, we need to take a look around and recognize the de-facto sacking of that great flyover land from the Hudson to the Sierra Crest that has occurred in just six short decades, during which we supposedly won a Cold War and became “leader of the free world”. There are parts of Viet Nam that possess a better industrial infrastructure than we do and Spain has managed to produce a far better train system a scant 30 years out of the yoke of Fascism.

Believe me, these boys try and replace one malevolently obese and counter-productive institution with another and I’ll be the first to mount the ramparts of this here keyboard and howl into the vacuum in the manner of the armchair revolutionary. You storm the ramparts while I fulminate.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Bruce Smith….
Thanks to the reference to the Daily Mail article on Cameron. A “Toff”….can’t get enough British slang.

avatar Bruce Smith July 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Despite Cameron being a “toff” and his probable class conflict over devolving capital distributism will ultimately prevail because of the need to deal with the dangers of monopolization. The historical lessons of China tell us this.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

D.W.
Your concern re: my hearing is touching. The hearing thing, if I may, is very much like walking around with a Phantom F-4 revving its engine in your head, with occasional puking. My response to the affliction is to thank the Good Lord for my health. I’ve got too many friends and relatives who’ve had real health problems and, as you know, everyone has something they’re dragging around with them.

Re: distributism, I was aware of its “state-supported” dimension with Lew Daly’s blog several months ago when Lew (Lew, I love ya dude!); spoke of taking money from overpaid CEO’s and transferring that money to some needy mother or some scheme like that, and I believe Brother Medaille gave his support for Daly’s Marxist project. Well, we have a name for that in these parts and along with my brain lodged jet-engine came a searing white light and the words “commie rats” written in blue glitter across the mental horizon. It was shortly after this time that I referred to Medaille as a “commie-Democrat,” and a few weeks later after a comment or two from my favorite Augustinian scholar, Professor Wilson, that I referred to him as a “socialist-Democrat!” I probably should apologize for this episode but, hey, it began one of the more interesting threads in the ethera and I do not, at this moment, have true contrition in my heart. However, my identification of the feisty Prof. Wilson as a “socialist-Democrat” may be erroneous since there are indications that he leans in the direction of a Catholic monarchy, which I find titillating simply because Pope Benedict XVI would obviously be a better ruler than Obama the Invincible-may His wisdom spread across the Earth like an infection.

I am guilty of writing “comments” trying to tease out of the Distributist wing of the FPR, which appears to be dominating the website, some attribute or structural element of distributism that would soften the blow of its obvious connection with the idea of “state-supported,” and “imposed,” words oft associated with various socialist schemes popularized by foreign regimes. Well, as you know, this raised the ire of Dr. Wilson and generated a lecture on the definition of various and sundry political movements, for which I am grateful. In the end I am reminded of Mr. Stegall’s comment relating distributism with “socialist succotash,” and while accurate appears to be as harsh as Caleb gets.

Now you and Prof. Mitchell are recommending an unbiased look at the issue while allowing the discussion to play itself out! Truth is, I was all set to bail outta here, while snarkily complaining about FPR being taken over by the Catholic distributists, when I read Dr. Carlson’s ‘comment’ last night. In my opinion Allan Carlson is one of the leading intellectuals in America today, a Christian humanist and gentleman of the first order, and if Allan Carlson is defending distributism I’d better be sure of my position. But, there is one point that Carlson made that’s appropriate in this discussion, e.g. the movements (in European history) related to the re-distribution of the land all followed some trauma in society e.g. war. And, because the re-distribution of the land to small proprietors is the primary objective of distributism the question becomes, how is that accomplished in contemporary American without the confiscation of lands by the central regime, the extirpation of liberty, and the oppression of the citizenry​​?

Well, one condition conducive to the implementation of distributism is the economic collapse of America and the ensuing disorder. Consequently, I lobbed the “racial” soft ball thinking I could provide you with the fodder necessary to begin the discussion along the lines of Obama’s FDR like handling of the economy (e.g. magically making the economic recession into a depression through inept policies), his Afro-centric Marxist agenda, and his antipathy directed toward Caucasians best illustrated by his attempt to nail Officer Crowley all of which are a volital recipe whose potential trajectory defines a movement toward rebellion. Stranger things have happened in the drama of humanity. Yet, you continue to refuse to take the bait!

So, dude, I’m cool though I continue to find it difficult to suffer the socialist, though I do kinda like Arben!

avatar Russell Arben Fox July 29, 2009 at 11:53 am

So, dude, I’m cool though I continue to find it difficult to suffer the socialist, though I do kinda like Arben!

I like you too, man.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Yoo Bro,I know!
The irony, of course, is that most of my closest friends are confused socialists and we’ve shared many an hour engaged in “teachable moments,” honest discourse mixed with loud argument, and sundry threatening gestures sans weaponery!
There aren’t many Social Security collecting Randolphian Terium Quids!

avatar D.W. Sabin July 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Cheeks,
….”commie rats written in blue glitter across the mental horizon”. It’s gems like these which make your brand of enthusiasms worthwhile. When I ever get around to sending that mason jar of Cohiba Exhaust to you, I’ll wrap it with a copy of the picture of my friend Jerry peeing on the doorstep of the French Communist Party in some dirtbag neighborhood in the City of Light.

As to taking any bait on the Obama-Gates-Cambridge Cop imbroglio…..the issue started dumb and is only getting dumber. I can’t agree with your assertion that he has some kind of Afro-centric agenda. If he harbored any antipathy to the Grey-Eyed Devil, he’d have to dislike his ma and so I doubt it. However, he is part of the Harvard Technocratic Establishment which continues to think that Government….. an institution that has not seen a problem that it cannot screw up even more with a 1,000 page bill and a little more printed currency……can solve our so called “problems”. This alone makes him entirely suspect. He’s not in a league by himself though. Washington D.C. and its swampy humours seems to infect everyone with a kind of Rube-Goldberg Utopianism that is fine for a recreational debating society but lethal in government . Just this morning , I overheard some thoroughly flummoxed Republican discussing their much-more-better Health Plan on the Telly and they actually suggested that there be financial incentives …ie cash paid…. to people for practicing good health. Even Republicans think rubbing a cash handout on something is the answer now. A Republican lobbying for cash incentives for Yoga Vegans…gee , there’s a future for the party if ever there was one. I digress.

As to “confiscation of lands by the central regime”…Well, there has already been some of that in a kind of de-facto manner with our Ag Policy favoring Industrialized Agriculture and its remote distribution systems , thereby making it virtually impossible to function profitably as a small farmer. Furthermore, one can also assert at least some tangential “confiscatory” element to the current Mortgage disaster and over-leveraging orgy as well as the general flat-lining of the wage-laborer under the current system in place for over 25 years. Yesterday, I was speaking with a timber-man who does work for me and he was lamenting that due to the decline in work, he’s taken a part-time job at a local mill and that they paid $120 a load of wood in the 80′s and today, near 30 years later, they pay $5 less a load. To a degree, that confiscation ..of land…of the means of production you are concerned about….has already happened under the rubric of Free Trade, Globalism and a distinctly non-laissez faire, laissez faire.

This is why, my fine aurally-bojangling friend, I will suspend my hair-trigger libertarian sympathies and listen in on this distributist….ehhh…… cabal because the gig is long past up on the current paradigm.
I hope you get the inner-ear roar under control.

avatar Bob Cheeks July 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Actually, you’ve just provided a fine start to my requested rectal exam of our elected representative of the Afro-Affirmative Action-o-racracy (tip of the hat to Steve Sailer!)whose policies have drastically driven up the price of guns and ammo!

BTW, I was thinking of getting ten acres of woods cut for wood, but if the price is that low I may just fugg-et-aboutit! However, I have great need for firewood.

“…because the gig is long past up on the current paradigm.” There’s always the hope for reform. Again, for me, the problem lies with a moral corruption…that will occur among the distributists as well.

I cooked a 20lb. turkey today, I must go tend it. Oh, the smell of turkey invades the house. It is rapturous, it is the odor of heaven where there will be turkey sandwiches, turkey and biscuits, turkey and stuffing, turkey and noodles…it is all good, as I tremble at the thought. My best to you and the wife…btw, you and the wife watch the movie, “Defiant,” ….reall good stuff!

avatar Clare Krishan July 29, 2009 at 8:18 pm

How about defending what’s already “distributed” before it becomes “inventoried” by the GUMMINT, something Wendell Berry indicated was worthy of a “out of my cold dead hands” spirit of resistence we armchair warriors owe assent to? Seems Ron Paul and other like-minded citizens

http://www.examiner.com/x-12704-Houston-Holistic-Health-Examiner~y2009m7d27-HR-2749–voice-your-opinion
http://www.amconmag.com/schwenkler/2009/07/27/a-time-to-call/

got the message out re: HR 2749 and that legislation was defeated, preventing
* Mandate NAIS (National Animal Identification System)
* Allow industrializations of all farms
* Give the federal government arbitrary power to force any practices they choose on any farm.
* Allow the federal government to outlaw raw milk

Shout it out!

avatar Bruce Smith July 30, 2009 at 4:15 am

I’ve been thinking of the use of the term ”commie rat” in this dialogue in relationship to something I read a few months ago that 60% of the foreign investment in the Communist Republic of China comes from the United States. The country of China, as currently governed, is the place of the Tiananmen Square protests which led to approximately 400 to 800 Chinese citizens being killed by their own government for wanting the same democratic rights that the American investors enjoy. A Chinese government security clamp down prevents the true figures being known. In my morality the people who do this investing really deserve the term ”commie rat” for their unfeeling, selfish and downright sociopathic behavior that in many cases not only deny jobs to fellow Americans in the name of greed but long term undermines the security of the United States. As Lenin is purported to have said “You can always rely upon the greed of capitalists to compete with each other to supply the rope for their own hanging.” Accordingly, to criticize distributism for wanting to use the only effective tool of capital devolution to stop this ”commie rat” sociopathy reveals for me an inability to reason logically, morally and patriotically.

avatar John Médaille July 30, 2009 at 8:13 am

Clare, HR 2749 is a wonderful example of how big gov’t and big business feed upon each other. In order to solve a problem that mere size creates, the gov’t imposes regulations which are only practical for entities of a certain size. This squeezes out the small businessman, which creates more problems requiring more gov’t. In order to reduce the size of gov’t, you must reduce the size of corporations; in order to reduce the size of corporations, you must reduce the size of gov’t. You can start at either end, but we must aim at both.

Bruce, one thing the Chinese have proven is that capitalism is compatible with tyranny.

avatar Bruce Smith July 30, 2009 at 9:42 am

Yep, and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” illustrates it perfectly.

avatar Dan July 30, 2009 at 11:03 am

Bruce,

The communist remarks are unfortunate and counter-productive on all sides.

That being said I think you’re points deserve a response as the issue of China seems to get quite a few people hot under the collar.

“The country of China, as currently governed, is the place of the Tiananmen Square protests which led to approximately 400 to 800 Chinese citizens being killed by their own government for wanting the same democratic rights that the American investors enjoy.”

The Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 were not pro-democracy demonstrations. Some of the students and workers involved were indeed pro-democracy advocates but others were hard line Maoists upset by reforms and the opening of Chinese society. It was an eclectic movement. Some leaders openly courted confrontation at martyrdom while others sought dialogue. The American mythological reading of the events of 1989 doesn’t give a truly accurate picture of what was at stake, who was involved, and what the context of the admittedly repressive state response was.

“In my morality the people who do this investing really deserve the term ”commie rat” for their unfeeling, selfish and downright sociopathic behavior that in many cases not only deny jobs to fellow Americans in the name of greed but long term undermines the security of the United States.”

American investors in China deserve to be called communist and co-conspiritors in the killing of hundreds because:

a)The money could have been used to create jobs for American citizens in America. Putting money anywhere else is greed pure and simple.

b) Investing money outside of the United States constitutes a threat to national security.

Point A really isn’t China specific at all. The argument works just as well for Canada or Iceland. It isn’t really investor specific either as the purchase of products leads to the preservation of these jobs. So anyone who spends anything on anything that isn’t the product of American labor is motivated purely by greed and in fact an active denial of employment to fellow American’s (You are essentially responsible for their unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages etc.)

Point B wasn’t really fleshed out but I have two guesses as to what it means. First capital and labor investment in the United States contributes more tax revenue allowing for more weapons, troops, etc. Second capital and labor investment in other countries contributs more to their tax revenue allowing for more weapons, troops, etc. This however doesn’t really make sense as American investors will be paying some (Although less) taxes here no matter where their operations are. Uncle Sam gets paid either way. Unless your point is that it is a moral obligation to contribute the maximum possible amount in taxes and to purchase labor or capital in ways that do not are essentially treasonous.

I’m not convinced that this is legitimate moral reasoning. I’m also not sure how one could ever be sure one was acting morally in any situation, which is pretty important because if you don’t you’re a communist, a murderer, greedy, and treasonous.

avatar John Médaille July 30, 2009 at 11:17 am

Dan, in regard to your second point, it is interesting that the new encyclical insists that wealth should be primarily invested in the country in which it is produced. Yet the requirements of justice must be safeguarded, with due consideration for the way in which the capital was generated and the harm to individuals that will result if it is not used where it was produced. (40)

avatar D.W. Sabin July 30, 2009 at 11:32 am

Smith,
Dammit, who said anything about logic?

Medaille, While it would appear there is a certain , near automatic trajectory of capitalism toward tyranny in this lapsed -Republic and certainly as practiced in China under much different conditions, I am not entirely convinced that Capitalism is automatically tyrannical. Perhaps I enjoy the beating too much….for if it be a beating, it seems in my case to be a briar patch for Bre’r Rabbit. Then again, I must recall the old definition of a recession as when your neighbor loses a job and a depression is when you lose a job.

Seems this relatively straightforward call for a a fuller definition of liberty to include a sense of civic responsibility has taken flight into all manner of blind alleys.

avatar Bruce Smith July 30, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Dan. I mentioned George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” to John because I recently viewed a movie version of it in which the Communist pig leaders start to engage in underhand commercial dealings with a human farmer capitalist after telling all the worker animals the new Animal Republic would never have any dealings with human beings again. Thousands of Americans lost their lives fighting communism in Asian countries which they were told by their political and media establishment was a threat to American security and a heinous system for those living under it. After plowing my way through many books on communist Russia and China exposing the reality of these regimes I concur that they are heinous systems. This is still true of China despite Russia having fallen by the wayside. So what has changed? The Chinese Communist Party Leadership worked out that their tenure on power would be short unless they opened up their country to Western ideas of manufacturing and business organization. They also started looking at the successful Japanese economy and as Wikipedia states Deng Xiaoping’s post-Mao policies were probably inspired by the ideas of the German, nineteenth century economist, Friedrich List as were the Japanese (See James Fallow’s article in Atlantic Monthly December 1993). List recommended that successful industrialization depended upon having a good trade protectionist policy. After all he argued that’s the way the British did it and the Americans were doing it too (List having spent time living in the States). Deng Xiaoping would also be mindful of Lenin’s supposed dictum that capitalists would out of greed rush to hang themselves and, of course, he was right. Straight out of “Animal Farm” Richard Nixon and his business chums had no hesitation in taking up the offer to invest in China regardless of the fact the low costs of production would undermine US manufacturing plants and the guys in the Chinese government ran the country like a slave labor camp. Who cares business is business and greed is good!

With regard to your points I did not imply that investing in other countries was always pure greed. Those are your words. Of course, trade with other countries on the right terms is important because it keeps your own country’s businesses competitive. In addition, if we have any morality about us we will want all people to flourish depending on politic realities and especially under-developed countries where that has to mean partnering investment in those countries rather than pure exploitation as Jack Welch’s Barge Economics implies.

Secondly, investing in other countries clearly needs to be put under democratic devolved capital control in the United States and other countries since especially in the case of the United States it is now deeply in debt, wages have been stagnant for a long time for a significant percentage of the population and the tax base is beginning to fail quite rapidly after the Sub-Prime Fiasco and ensuing recession. It is absolutely no good relying upon Republican and Democratic Party political representatives to make these decisions at the current moment since both parties were responsible for the financial sector deregulation, global trade agreements that undermine the economy and are still subject to heavy subversion by business money (Senator Sessions of Sotomayor grilling fame being the latest dupe today on Yahoo internet news!). Once these parties are reformed, or replaced, it becomes possible for democratically controlled businesses to work with their political representatives to decide on the wisdom and necessity of overseas investment.

Finally. with regard to investing outside the United States being a threat to security you need to read up on the history of how the British created their empire which Friedrich List covers to some extent. The British were very zealous to build up their home base first to create the money to militarise. Also although it’s probably a bit of fluff internet search “Manchurian Microchip”.

avatar Dan July 30, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Bruce,

“With regard to your points I did not imply that investing in other countries was always pure greed. Those are your words.”

They are indeed my words but they remain the implications of your argument. As your logic goes investing in other countries and buying foreign goods leads to less dollars being invested in America and American goods. This leads to fewer American jobs, lower American wages etc. So why would you spend and invest elsewhere if you know as a direct consequence it will result in fewer American jobs and lower wages? Either because the quality of the product is better or because it is cheaper. Because you value the products use and value to you as more important than the wages and employment of your countrymen. How is this not greed?

“Of course, trade with other countries on the right terms is important because it keeps your own country’s businesses competitive.”

According to your logic, why is this good? Competitive means a lower operating cost or higher quality than a competitor (Hopefully both). Why does being competitive outweigh the employment and wages lost as a result of trade? Why are balance sheets, efficiency, cost and quality control more valuable than people?

“In addition, if we have any morality about us we will want all people to flourish depending on politic realities and especially under-developed countries where that has to mean partnering investment in those countries rather than pure exploitation as Jack Welch’s Barge Economics implies.”

Why would we want people’s flourishing dependent on political realities? Why should we be particularly concerned with flourishing in under-developed companies? Is human flourishing in Denmark less valuable than human flourishing in Somalia? Why? If we can cause ten human persons to flourish for the price of one human person flourishing in Denmark would it be a moral imperative to invest in Somalia until equilibrium was attained?

“Secondly, investing in other countries clearly needs to be put under democratic devolved capital control in the United States and other countries since especially in the case of the United States it is now deeply in debt, wages have been stagnant for a long time for a significant percentage of the population and the tax base is beginning to fail quite rapidly after the Sub-Prime Fiasco and ensuing recession.”

What is democratically devolved capital control? Is it the use of capital decided on the basis of one man one vote? Is it nationally based (Citizens of the U.S.A. voting on U.S.A. capital) or international (Citizens of the world voting on world capital)? Why is this solution clear?

“It is absolutely no good relying upon Republican and Democratic Party political representatives to make these decisions at the current moment since both parties were responsible for the financial sector deregulation, global trade agreements that undermine the economy and are still subject to heavy subversion by business money (Senator Sessions of Sotomayor grilling fame being the latest dupe today on Yahoo internet news!). Once these parties are reformed, or replaced, it becomes possible for democratically controlled businesses to work with their political representatives to decide on the wisdom and necessity of overseas investment.”

So until the next election cycle no solution is possible? Is their any solution outside the political? Any possibility of resistance outside of parliaments?

“Finally. with regard to investing outside the United States being a threat to security you need to read up on the history of how the British created their empire which Friedrich List covers to some extent. The British were very zealous to build up their home base first to create the money to militarise. Also although it’s probably a bit of fluff internet search “Manchurian Microchip”.”

This is not an argument. The reason seems to be because the British had a successful imperial project for reasons that Friedrich List outlines somewhere. Are we not now, by virtue of our deficit spending and increasing military spending creating the money to militarize?

avatar Bruce Smith July 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Dan. I think we have too many issues running here. I would like to deal first with a main one. I believe that the type of capitalism, global trade and a nation’s security are all inter-linked. Accordingly, I have been thinking that to reach better understanding of each other’s views I need to ask you a question which is simple to state but intricate to answer. The question is “Why do you think the Chinese Communist Party leadership is reluctant to permit multi-party democracy?” I do by the way accept they enjoy the lifestyle!

avatar Dan July 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Bruce,

In answer to your question because they believe they are serving the common good and that any opposition would be the product of opportunistic politicians that could gain power by catering to particular interests that would promote division, privilege, corruption, and decadence.

avatar Bruce Smith July 31, 2009 at 11:10 am

Dan. I agree with your answer. However, I will argue in more long-winded fashion that the Communist Party leadership has only partially learnt from history especially Deng Xiaoping of “does it really matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice” fame. I do think though they have learnt three principal things.

Firstly, China’s long history is one of trying to hold a largely flat geographical terrain under one government against disruption by invaders and internal warlords. They will, therefore, have easily perceived that too much freedom which allows special interests to operate can easily blow a hole in your empire! They will have also learnt that from the history of the British empire. The East India Company was established in England as a joint stock company in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who was also a stockholder as was King George III. The East India Company was one of the world’s first super corporations and could easily be called Worldmart for brevity. It was English aristocracy and businessmen who largely ran Parliament and some would own stock in Worldmart. Together with King George III (who still had considerable political power) they decided that Worldmart should be exempt from the tea tax they wished to impose on the American tea merchants and their American customers. The tea tax they argued was needed to pay for the wars with the French. Worldmart, however, had huge stocks of tea in English warehouses they needed to sell. Hence the tax exemption scam which back fired and caused the American Revolution. A very big hole in the future of the British empire!

Secondly, they will have perceived through the writings of Friedrich List as I mentioned earlier that pursuing a nationalistic economic development program can pay “dividends”. The protectionist policy of the British they will have seen as enabling that country to build up both its industry and its military forces. It was the strength of the British navy that forced open China for trading with the British foreigners and allowed Worldmart to become a major drug baron causing massive social disruption in China through the importation of opium.

Thirdly, they will have learnt a bitter lesson from Mao Zedong’s behavior which is that too much power can create set backs for a country’s development. The Cultural Revolution where schooling stopped for five years and the great March Forward famine were obvious examples but they could also learn that Chinese technological development stalled by 1500 AD due to the prohibitions of emperors and court bureaucrats. This, of course, left them vulnerable to a powerful military state like Britain with its interlinked corporate trading arms like the big Worldmart company.

What economic and political conclusions would the Communist Party Leadership have concluded from the above? I think that they would have perceived that since America has nuclear weapons no amount of militarization by China would enable it to adopt the British method of growing its economy by military backed trading or even conquest of other countries. Those days ended with the surrender of the Japanese in the Second World War. I think they would have recognized they could use a private market economy to act as a kind of autocatalytic (self-perpetuating) check against another autocratic Communist dictator slowing down and screwing up economic and technological development. I think they would have figured out by artificially pegging their currency and recycling their American dollars back into American government bonds and purchase of American companies they could over time keep in check a potential enemy by weakening it somewhat especially if they could encourage American capitalists to invest in manufacturing in China rather than their own country (they would have been aware of Lenin’s supposed dictum about capitalists and hanging rope). Of course such a policy meant severely curtailing the rights and demands of their own workforce such as banning Unions and the use of residence permits to control mobility and of course weak regulation of pollution. But China had long had a history of command economies and especially under the Communists. What, of course, they failed to figure out was that American elite capitalist governments were so dumb they would use the recycled Chinese (American) dollars to keep interest rates down that allowed High Tech Stock and Housing bubbles and that Wall Street would use the latter bubble to produce counterfeit financial instruments based on slicing and dicing Liar and Sub-Prime Loans.

So what lessons are ordinary folk in Western economies to draw from all this. Well the obvious one is the same as the Chinese Communist Party leadership that you need to put some mechanism in place that stops the sociopaths from screwing up your economy! By sociopaths I mean those individuals who have great power within an economy but have had a hard-wired, or learnt, empathy by-pass that enable them to take actions only in the interest of the glory, status and/or profit/greed demands of their egos despite the effect on the ordinary folk. The next lesson to try to understand is whether there is anything better than the autocatalytic market mechanism for running an economy and minimizing abuse. The answer seems to be no because markets automate the matching up of data very well if not always how you’d like and its too late to go back to hunter-gatherer distribution and reciprocity arrangements. So we ordinary folk in the Western economies just like the Chinese Communist Party leadership are stuck with a market mechanism that is vulnerable to being screwed up big time by the sociopaths. Where do we go from here?

Well to progress, the next question Dan you and I should attempt to agree on is how we can best control these powerful individuals who screw up economies and that brings us to control mechanisms. You may think that if all the world’s economies were controlled by Communist Command governments you wouldn’t have Sub-Prime Disasters and no beggar my neighbor policies so that’s the answer. I don’t know. Maybe you are libertarian and blame the whole thing on having governments in the first place. I do know for me that I believe ordinary folk do want to control their own lives as much as possible in order to flourish. I think they are instinctively hard-wired not to be used as means to ends if they can possibly help it by an individual, or individuals, who have no, or little, capacity to empathize with them. This hard-wiring I believe occurred in us as animals and by living in hunter-gatherer groups for many thousands of years and it uses both selfish and altruistic instincts. This is also why I think human history seems to show a movement towards increased democracy. The commoditization of nature I see as a sort of temporary hiccup excluding the notion of it being an unmitigated disaster.

So the next question Dan is “What control mechanisms do you believe in that will help prevent economic screw-ups like the types I’ve just out-lined? (Does the color of the cat really matter after all?)

avatar John Médaille July 31, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Bruce, I think that is an excellent and perceptive analysis of the mentality of the Chinese leadership and the history which formed it. But two things occur to me. One, the simple explanation is that if they allowed any real changes, the first real change is that people will get rid of them. The second factor is that they seem to be playing off the cities against the countryside.

avatar Bruce Smith July 31, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Thanks John. I think Enlightenment Liberalism and Communism are much the same in the sense that neither properly articulate, or address, how to have a good system for achieving the common good from a material and psychological viewpoint. That is their weakness and they never have understood that the color of the cat to catch mice is important. I guess having a residency permit system means that if trouble flairs up in the cities the Party Leadership knows it can quickly revoke the permits and send the newly urbanized peasants back to the countryside and in theory out of revolution’s way. This idea probably stems from the difficulty Mao had in getting the Revolution going in the cities because of the suppression methods used by the Nationalist Government.

avatar Dan July 31, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Bruce,

“”So the next question Dan is “What control mechanisms do you believe in that will help prevent economic screw-ups like the types I’ve just out-lined?””

Economic screw-ups, like all screw-ups, cannot be prevented. In order to always make the correct economic decision, on a macro or micro level, one must have perfect information. One of the problems with being human is our inability to know and experience everything all the time, hence, imperfect information, and of course, by necessity, bungling of all kinds.

Now better and more complete information will lead to fewer screw-ups and this is something to strive for.

Our greatest source of economic information is price. Price transmits an astonishing volume of information about any good or service. It’s an exchange ratio that allows us to literally compare apples and oranges. It gives us information about exchange value, about supply and demand, about scarcity, and about what people want and what they are willing to give up for it.

This would be where I believe the greatest possibility to reduce the occurrence and magnitude of screw-ups is found, in making sure that prices correspond to exchange ratios grounded in the real world of scarcity, supply, and demand.

Perhaps the greatest threat to price as actual real world information is intellectual property. Privileged charters to information creating monopolies. Another would be subsidies which artificially reduce or increase the price divorcing it from real world exchange value. These are two examples but the problem is large, it contains multitudes.

avatar Bruce Smith July 31, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Thanks Dan. I guess I mislead you by using the term “control mechanisms” it wasn’t price mechanisms I was referring to. It was mechanisms to control the abuse of power in the economic system.

avatar Bruce Smith July 31, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Just as a tragi-comical aside, was the announcement of continuing $1 million bonus payouts to staff from banks that had to be bailed out by the tax payer under the Bush administration really a Bush/Republican Party version of Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program?

avatar John Médaille July 31, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Bruce: ROFLOL

avatar Phillip Blond August 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Dear friends and colleagues,

Though I don’t know most of you, a sincere thank you all for these voluminous and highly informative postings. Its extraordinary useful and I think its important to build an alternative trans-atlanic consenus around these issues.

I can tell you that a new think tank has already been constituted and will launch in the autumn see http://www.respublica.org.uk/

I hope to continue this debate with you all and extend our critical range and deepen our analysis.

Perhaps we should try to organise, with like and opposed minds, a conference in the US on these issues?

Any thoughts on this are most welcome.

Best wishes to all

Phillip Blond

avatar Pete Peterson August 2, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Though not the major point of this piece, Mr. Medaille (and others) need to get their facts straight about Federal highway funding. This happens through user-generated fees (for the most part, gas taxes) not subsidies. In fact, the Federal Highway system (unlike the deficit-riddled transit systems) more than pay for themselves:

http://www.newgeography.com/content/00908-subsidies-starbucks-and-highways-a-primer

avatar John Médaille August 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Absolutely wrong. The fuels tax is collected regardless of where the fuel is used. It is a consumption tax on gas, not a use tax on the federal highways. When I drive on surface streets (which I mostly do) the money is still collected to pay for highways. Thus, I subsidize the highways even when I am not using them. Were there tolls, the gas tax could be lowered or eliminated, and the cost of the roads charged to the users of the road. Even the Cato Institute ought to understand that principle.

avatar Bruce Smith August 3, 2009 at 7:45 am

Whilst welcoming Phillip Blond’s initiative to help build a trans-Atlantic consensus around distributist and communitarian ideas I know from previous involvement in conference organizing that it helps a conference to be more productive if discussion on issues are as focused as possible. This means pre-selection of issues, topics or objectives. This would be possible to do via the internet pre-conference if a website and moderators were willing to take on the challenge. It can also help if the focused issues can be contained within an overall theme that will link issues and provoke interest. So by way of illustration off the top of my head, it could be a re-examination of the use of capital since capital is a source of abuse as well as benefit. Such a theme might generate a title like “Capital as Fire: Reinventing Its Use.” (Don’t all run for the fire-extinguisher at the same time!)

avatar Pete Peterson August 3, 2009 at 10:18 pm

With all due, respect, John, you are wrong here…and it’s not because Cato says so. Of course, you’re right to say that when you’re driving on state/county highways or local roads you’re not paying a user fee for Fed highways, but that’s why you also pay state gas taxes, which go into state and local road funds. There’s also the matter of sales tax on the gas you by, which also goes back into roads.

To think that the Fed gas taxes are not, in large part a user fee, is not telling the whole story. Maybe you never drive on the Fed Highway System, but you’d be one of the few. And while that Wal-Mart truck doesn’t pay a toll…you don’t either.

Another “user fee” that focuses on those Wal-Mart diesels is that every state in America except one (CT) there is a higher sales tax for diesel than for regular gasoline (http://www.californiagasprices.com/tax_info.aspx).

As an old print salesman, one of the phrases the truckers used to use was “if you got it, a truck brought it.” It might be nice to hypothesize about some imaginary Wal-Mart truck toll, but the fact is when you toll one truck, you toll every truck – the ones that deliver the the milk to the Tewksbury (NJ) General Store, and the Branchburg Wal-Mart (about 5 miles apart).

avatar John Médaille August 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Pete, quite obviously, and unarguably, if I pay the fuel tax whether or not I drive the freeway, then the gas I use off the freeway subsidizes the freeway. They are not a user fee, they are a consumption tax. I don’t pay a toll. That’s the problem. I am an adult, quite willing to pay for the services I use. Walmart is not an adult, not even person, and quite happy with the subsidies. Diesel pays more, this is true, but nowhere near their usage. The majority of damage done to roads come from weight, and the major cost in building them comes from the weight they need to bear. The truck didn’t buy the road, and the road is a subsidy for the remote producer over and against the local one.

Systems cannot be properly evaluated unless their costs are known and figured into prices. Externalized costs distort the price system. But in any case, I cannot understand the ground of your objection. Surely, you don’t seem to object to the users paying, and surely there can be no argument that weight and distance tolls would be more accurate than a fuel tax. So why not shift from the fuel tax to the toll?

avatar John August 3, 2009 at 11:11 pm

The symbolism of colour.

Once upon a time and not so long ago it was the tories that were warning us about the “red menace”—red Russia and China, reds under the bed etc etc.

Now tories are loudly claiming that red is the only possible future. They also celebrate and champion “red state” America over and against “blue state” America—blue states of course being hopelessly decadent.

Red is also the colour of gross materialism. And of course, rivers of human blood everywhere.

Blue by contrast represents the faculty of discriminative intelligence—discriminative in the most positive sense.

avatar Pete Peterson August 4, 2009 at 9:56 am

I actually don’t have problems with tolls – as long as they apply to all. What you don’t address is that while the trucker pays Fed gas taxes he frequently uses, he also pays the sales and State taxes for the by-ways that you drive on…he “subsidizes” your asphalt, as you “subsidize” his. You only frame one side of this equation in your argument. Also to your comment, “Diesel pays more, this is true, but nowhere near their usage” – do you have numbers to back this up? While they’re are multiple more cars than trucks on our highways, I’ll take your point that trucks do more damage. If so, then our debate is over how much more they should pay, not whether trucks pay more than you or me…they do.

I don’t have a problem with tolls, but I find taxes – at this stage technologically – to be a more efficient way of paying for road systems. Yes, toll the Fed highways, but also State/County roads as well. If you want to run more traffic through the Front Porch Republics, just toll the Fed highways…

But, again, your central premise was to propose some way of forcing Wal-Mart trucks to pay more. In one sense this dismisses the payments they do make – towards both the roads they use and don’t – and, in another, proposes the impossible, if not silly – company-specific truck toll.

avatar John Médaille August 4, 2009 at 10:13 am

Pete, I agree with your description: a series of cross-subsidies. But the problem of subsidies isn’t made better by increasing them, but by eliminating them. The bottom line is that the long-haul industry does not pay its costs; they are subsidized by the local user.
This privileges the remote producer over the local one, and destroys the local community which depends on local production. I was taken with your article on garbage-dump parties, but it is this system of subsidies which destroys this, even on the analysis in your excellent article.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 4, 2009 at 11:22 am

Do you have any idea how inefficient and time consuming ‘tolls’ would be for people? And, do you really expect that gov’t is going to reduce the gas tax while they impose a ‘toll?’ And, finally, all corporate taxes is passed along to the consumer.

avatar John Médaille August 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I know exactly how time consuming it would be: zero. It’s all done electronically.

avatar Bruce Smith August 4, 2009 at 12:56 pm

John is right you can have automatic highway detection and billing. Deterring long distance transfer of goods must in principle be good for sustainability one would hope, albeit that competitiveness over non-agricultural product quality may suffer in the short term with the nudge towards local production (Ricardo’s comparative advantage and all that). Phillip Blond’s concept of a return to tiered markets ( See his Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/jan/30/davos-religion )also has a good deal to recommend itself ecologically in terms of providing increased local diversity and helping avoid things like the Sub-Prime Fiasco which was amplified by globalised financial markets.

avatar Pete Peterson August 4, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Ah yes, a chicken in every pot and a toll on every road – now I get it…and the goal is smaller, less intrusive government?

So we eliminate gas taxes – Fed/State/Sales (local) and how do we pay for State/County/local roads? We already have some states pushing for tolls on Fed highways – on TOP of these other taxes.

To your point: “The bottom line is that the long-haul industry does not pay its costs”…so what exactly is the bottom line…I’m waiting to see data.

I know Wal-Mart provides an obvious whipping boy on this blog, but, John, you haven’t made the case (with actual numbers) that in additional upcharges trucks pay for diesel plus the already increased tolls on State highways plus the State and local taxes they pay for roads they’ll never use, that trucks – Wal-Mart or otherwise don’t pay more than their way. Your point:

I’m obviously not sure of this either…but I have cited several instances where trucks – Wal-Mart or other – pay more than cars.

Now if your goal is just to punish long-haul trucking in order to engender local industry, well, then, that’s another matter. Go ahead and add those tolls, or put those mileage tracking sensors in these trucks. They’re trying this in Oregon…but never mind the privacy concerns. But you haven’t proven the point that trucks don’t pay their way…and, in many cases, yours.

avatar John Médaille August 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Pete, sarcasm aside, I am having just a little trouble understanding your logic. On the one hand, you argue that long-haul already pays its fair share because the fuel tax is equivalent to a use tax. On the other, you argue that switching to an actual use tax would “punish long-haul” trucking. If the first statement is true, the second cannot be true. It would merely be a matter of switching the collection method.

Further, asking an industry to pay its own costs is not “punishing” it. There is no natural right to a subsidy, albeit we’ve all been raised to expect them as a right.

As for numbers, according to the American Trucking Association, the truckers pay 33% of all the federal and state taxes. But surely, more than half the costs of construction and maintenance have to do with weight. We would build roads to much lower standards at lower costs if there were only cars and light trucks. As my traffic engineer tried to pound into my head when I was responsible for these things, it is weight that destroys roadbeds. And, by the way, the trust fund is running out of funds, and is being subsidized by the general fund.

3/4ths of social justice issues are just proper cost accounting, assigning costs to cost causers.

avatar Pete Peterson August 4, 2009 at 11:15 pm

It’s pretty simple, John.

1. You haven’t proved your point on the supposed “free rider” (no pun intended) posed by long-haul trucking. To your last point, “surely, more than half the costs of construction and maintenance have to do with weight”, you’d have to prove that: A. this statement is true, and B. That trucks do exert more than half the WEIGHT on our roads and bridges. My experience in bumper-2-bumper traffic on the Fed Highways around me in LA belie this point. Certainly 90% of the traffic is passenger cars – that doesn’t mean that 90% of the weight is cars, but I have a hard time believing that it’s 50% as you suppose.

2. Trucks already pay more relative to their size on State highway tolls. They also pay sales tax on the gas they purchase, which goes into local road construction for roads they may never, and, in many instances, can never use. You don’t account for this.

3. In confronting your argument that if long-haul trucks paid their true costs local business would flourish, I’m saying that you haven’t proved this point, but you nonetheless raise a valid societal concern: the supporting and building of local businesses.

4. This being the goal, then more Fed highway tolling might play a roll in reducing long-haul trucking – for all industries – from Wal-Mart to the trucker from Strathmore that delivers paper to your local printing company. It becomes a “punishment” when the fees are over and above the costs. But, due to the societal “costs” this might still be a valid proposition. I just don’t see how you’ve proved your point financially. So I’m not saying that we would completely replace gas taxes with tolls…that’s a silly proposition that would necessitate not only dramatically high tolls on Fed/State/Local roads, but would also be regressive – affecting the poor much more than rich. I’m assuming that the tolls would be IN ADDITION to the current tax system. I think this is a pipe dream. And we’d no longer have the long-haulers paying the sales taxes and some of the State taxes, which go to the County roads they rarely use, but would, nonetheless need to be covered.

avatar John Médaille August 4, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Your point was that, one, trucks already pay their way, and two, if they had to pay it another way would be punishment. Don’t see your point.

I will ignore the silliness about trying to “prove” that trucks are heavier than cars to say that the road has to be built for the heaviest weight. If you are building for 80,000 pound trucks, it doesn’t matter if you have 90% 2,000 pound cars and 10% 80,000 pound trucks (actually, its about 15%); you still have to build it for the 80,000 pound truck. The major cost will occur at the margin, at the last pound the roadbed or the bridge is engineered to take. By their own claim, they only pay 33% of the cost. But they cause most of the damage and most of the initial expense.

Further, the trucks do use the streets; I don’t know of any warehouses on the freeway off-ramp. Even if they didn’t use the streets, that would just make it a case of cross-subsidies. Subsidies do not get better by multiplying them.

And it is the poor who subsidize the rich in this system. The middle class moves 30 miles from the city to buy a MacMansion in the suburbs. They got there over a two-lane blacktop, but as they move traffic increases, so they demand the legislature build them a six lane highway. And they get it. So they tax the single mom in the inner city to pay for the suburban road.

I don’t mind people living where they want to live; I do mind them demanding a subsidy to live there. They can have six lanes if they are willing to pay for them. It is a mindset that caused the Californication of the nation, that determined the very shape of cities, a shape that is more difficult and expensive to service, and will soon cause intractable problems.

The toll gets us in the habit of paying for what we use. It is a habit familiar to free men and to adults.

avatar Bruce Smith August 5, 2009 at 10:12 am

Surely it’s indicative of a sociopathic mentality that a big box company can take advantage of public goods paid for by members of communities and when it’s pointed out that the company is engaged in unsustainable environmental practices, exploitation of under-developed countries’ workers and environments, creating a monopoly against the consumers’ interest and destroying local enterprise amongst other accusations it responds with the mantra that the only reason for a business’s existence is to make a profit! Isn’t it time we all did some better joined up thinking than to fall for this self-centered logic?

avatar Pete Peterson August 5, 2009 at 7:43 pm

John, I appreciate your pushing me on the research. Still, the further I go the more my points are proven. Again, your central premise here is that long-haul trucks are “free-riders” on the Federal gas taxes that we all pay. My premise is that from a “Front Porch” viewpoint, I’m in agreement that policies to support and grow localized businesses and economies are generally a “good thing”, but you have failed to buttress this point (again, one I agree with) economically.

You do raise an interesting point in this last response in the greater costs to build roads that must take long-haul trucks. Still you don’t mention how much more a “heavyweight” road costs over a “lightweight” road, and, also, how this reinforcing might contribute to overall durability (ie if a heavyweight road lasts twice as long as a lightweight road there may be economic advantages). Also, remember that part of the reason for the development of the Fed Highway System was national security – enabling military transport across the country. This can only happen on heavyweight roads.

Am glad you mentioned the American Trucking Association in an earlier response. It prompted me to take a look at their site and actually correspond with their VP of Public Affairs. Here’s what I found out:
1. You mention that trucks pay 35.7% of Fed/State gas taxes, while they constitute 10.9% of the traffic
2. I wondered if “traffic” meant miles, and checked out this chart – http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2007/vm1.cfm#foot2
where the DOT says that in the most recent year studied (2007), on interstate highways, passenger cars travelled 122Billion miles, and trailer trucks went 42B – still about a third of total mileage – a heavier weight on those miles, no doubt, but passenger cars are the majority users of interstate highways.
3. To your point that trucks use local roads too…well, they do, but the DOT says that in “All Rural Roads” traffic, cars travelled 529B miles and trucks, 82.9B or 1/6 of car traffic. And again, through State gases and sales taxes, trucks are subsidizing our byways. Subsidies may not get better by multiplying them, as you say, but, by neglecting the trucks’ portion in subsidizing our roads you’re not looking at the full equation regarding your “free rider” supposition…not that I blame you for doing this…it weakens your argument.

To your earlier point that the transportation fund is running out of $$, I had placed a link to an article on that in my first post. I’ll just say here that the major reason for this is that 20% of Fed gas taxes go to “transit subsidies” (bus, light rail, subway systems). These much more closely approximate the types of subsidies you feel we’re paying for truck traffic in that a much smaller portion of the population uses public transportation that interstate highways. Again, the highway portion of the Fed Transportation fund is in the BLACK. And in this, the 20% of the trucks’ 35.7% is definitely a subsidy as trucks are not using light rail or buses. Trucks pay for local roads they rarely use, and local transit systems they never use.

avatar John Médaille August 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Pete, I’m having difficulty seeing how your statistics support your point. The trucks pay about a third of the tax and use about a third of the total mileage. But their usage causes a lot more damage, requires a lot more engineering. If you measure “pound-miles” instead of just miles, they use a multiple of what cars do. I have sat in too many committee meetings, listened to too many angry citizens, too many earnest traffic and highway engineers not to be aware of these facts. But then, one doesn’t really have to sit in on committee meetings or talk to engineers to know that 60,000 lbs. on the hoof does more damage than 3,000. This is just too trivial a point to argue about.

Again, it does not matter how much the trucks use the local roads, these roads still have to be engineered for the trucks. This adds tremendous cost.

The point about the roads being “more durable” is nonsense; it is the weight that destroys the roads, it is the major cause of the maintenance costs. Pete, these are simple matters of physics; this is not where the debate lies.

As for the mass transit funds, it is 2.86 cents/gallon, which works out to 15.5% of gasoline and 13.3% of diesel taxes, not 20%. But mass transit is another story; maybe I’ll address it in another post.

The subsidies distort the shape of industry and the shape of the cities. Instead of being for inter-city connections, the highly engineered roads become a necessity for cities that are now too spread out to be economical without subsidies. The whole thing is perverse, and has a perverse effect on cities and industries.

avatar Pete Peterson August 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Let’s go back to your original statement: “The Wal-Mart distribution model, for example, would collapse if their were weight/distance tolls on the so-called “freeways.”

Now I think it’s obvious that the term “freeways” here is misleading. In the very least we have a system of cross-subsidizing going on. If we were to eliminate all fuel taxes (a fantasy) and replace them with tolls you acknowledge that while trucks would pay more on the highways they travel (as we all would), regular passenger car drivers would also pay more for the State and Local roads that we use. We would also pay more for mass transit – a true “subsidy” paid on the part of the trucking industry.

Given your model, tolls would replace the higher diesel fuel taxes trucks pay – at both Fed and most States’ level, and, if we’re really trying to “get into the habit of what we’re using”, they really shouldn’t pay State or Local sales tax on gas (I’ll allow it on the Slim Jims at the truck stop).

So now we have a pure toll-based system – probably somewhat more expensive for all trucks – how much you haven’t opined. We’d have to create some master-”Fast Pass” for all of us, which would work across State-Lines – not to mention County and local roads. Oh, heck, why don’t we just put a microchip in every car and toll-taking monitors every few miles or so…on every road. Sounds like a real Front Porch operation…centralized and high-tech.

But you said it would “collapse” the Wal-Mart distribution model.

Now, here’s a little problem. They build all those Wal-Marts on the interstate for reasons. Part of it is the cheaper land to be sure, but the other part is the ease of supply. The Big Box stores rarely build in town. The trucks that drive on your local roads – County/town – are not Wal-Mart trucks. They’re Shop-Rite trucks or the Tru-Value trucks for the store in town. You’re building up your local roads (those that actually allow long-haulers) to supply local businesses…not Costco, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart.

avatar Bruce Smith August 6, 2009 at 8:59 am

Outside of the tolls, or no tolls, argument between John and Pete what is interesting in this debate is how inseparable having Public Goods is from having Government. This is Government to decide which Public Goods to supply, who should supply them and who should pay for them. It would seem reasonable to assume that we have Public Goods because the Market has opted not to supply them except as contractors to the Government. The Market’s reasons for not being directly involved in the supply of Public Goods has to be because it cannot cherry-pick its profits (Healthcare being the classic example of the totally absurd contradictions between profit and the Public Good of well-being where the insurance companies constantly look to deny cover wherever it can to loss-making propositions and usurp the role of the doctor by determining what drugs and treatments are available on the insurance plan). What seems to happen in a Market where investment capital is controlled by the few is that those few are constantly engaged in a battle to push the cost of the Public Goods onto somebody else in order to maximize profits irrespective of the honesty in doing this. They are also at the same time usually engaged in supporting a campaign to reduce the Public Goods where it has no benefit to them. The “somebody else” they try to push Public Goods costs onto is the ordinary citizen who usually lacks the power of direct day-to-day control of investment capital (and consequently is usually in no position to bribe Government). It would, therefore, seem better that a society seeks to resolve this contradiction by devolving investment capital to its citizens and thereby devolving the power of decision and influence also. The reason it also has a chance of being better resolved is because the payer is more directly identified with the other consumers of Public Goods. If you don’t pay then the schools close down, or the mains sewage system clogs up and this doesn’t just affect your immediate family it affects your relatives and your friends’ families. It forces the ordinary citizen to weigh up the benefits of being selfish or altruistic. Furthermore, it exposes for all to see that a system of elite monopolization of power derived from investment capital is a form of free-loading or cheating. Finally, the citizen as investment capital controller has more reason within the Private Goods Market to object to unfair subsidy and monopolization of trade and this also impinges on issues of sustainability.

avatar John Médaille August 6, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Pete, you need no help from me in calculating the amount of the subsidy; your own excellent research is enough to get an approximate figure. You say that the trucks drive a third of the miles and pay a third of the taxes. Very good so far. But then if you convert that to weight-miles (the basis of road engineering) the situation changes. I don’t know the real numbers, but lets say cars and light trucks average 3,000 lbs. and the semi’s 60,000 lbs. Suddenly each semi mile is worth 20 of the car miles. Now the subsidy looms large, does it not? If the big box stores had to carry the cost of transportation they would fail. Or at least, they would lose their subsidized advantage over local production. (Let’s not even go into the subsidy they get from Chinese currency manipulation.)

I don’t know why you maintain that the trucks shouldn’t pay usage fees for using state and local roads. I would say that if they don’t use them much, they don’t pay much; it they use them a lot, they pay a lot. This is not rocket science.

You say they build the big box out on the freeway because its “cheaper.” Of course. It’s subsidized. But this destroys the local business and exerts a centrifugal force on cities, pulling them apart. This makes the provision of all services more expensive: the sewer lines are longer, the patrol beats are wider, everything a gov’t does costs more. But that’s not the end of it. Now you cannot walk to a store, as we did when I was young. So to the cost of a gallon of milk, you have to add the cost of the drive to get it. It even contributes to obesity, since there is no longer any place to walk to.

Subsidies defy not only the laws of economics, but the laws of physics. An engineer cannot pronounce one system more efficient than another without knowing the costs of the inputs. If these costs are externalized, engineering itself is no longer possible. That is not to say we should never subsidize; there are public goods which may require it. But one needs to do so consciously and cautiously. The problem now is that there is a general expectation of subsidies; everybody becomes a special interest group. But the whole system is no longer sustainable. There are no “solutions” out there; the whole uneconomic system has reached its end. We need to be thinking not about how to fix what we have, because we can’t have that any longer, but about “What comes next?”

avatar John Médaille August 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Bruce, excellent observations. The market depends on public goods which it cannot itself supply. Roads are an example, since you cannot have a “free market” in roads; you cannot have different suppliers on the same route. You can have competing modes (rail, hiway, air transport, canals) and competing routes, but these will never be homogeneous products.

To your excellent suggestions I would add devolving, insofar as practical, as many decisions–and costs–on the local entities.

avatar Bruce Smith August 6, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Thanks John. What you say is absolutely right. From my past experience in Community Planning and Design there is a huge convergence between what the dominant market (and sometimes the state) supplies as environment and what ordinary individuals (not politicians) sitting down and working together would like in the place they live. As soon as you allow elitist control of capital it will tend to distort the decision making process and especially monopolization which reduces options for people in so many ways. One aspect of Freedom is about choice but our current system narrows it down in very undemocratic ways. Where, as you say, is the choice for American people in having to rely on China for many of their goods when elites in the form of Chinese and American governments together with American capitalists are so clearly rigging the market to determine that choice? The market-state is increasingly dictating the way we live and not for the best. Hobbes’s Leviathan is rearing its ugly head in a form he did not expect!

avatar Kevin Carson August 6, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I think John has nailed it on the nature of the cross-subsidy to long-haul trucking. Heavy trucks cause almost all the structural damage to road beds, but don’t pay almost all the taxes.

Re tolls, even if they can’t entirely substitute for fuel taxes, they can at least replace fuel taxes on those roads where excludability is feasible. The most equitable way to do it, IMO, is to fund the Interstates with weight-based tolls that fall mainly on trucks, to fund urban freeways with a combination of weight-based tolls and congestion pricing, and to reduce the total gasoline tax by a revenue-neutral amount. Then all the gas tax revenues go to roads where excludability and tolls are not an option (like county roads).

As for the urban residential and commercial street grid, one idea to toy with is privatizing streets to the residents and businesses located on them, and letting them take responsibility for funding their own repairs via assurance contracts and other voluntary funding mechanisms.

avatar N. P. West August 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm

It seems to me that the folks at FPR would be the obvious choice to get the ball rolling on a trans-Atlantic conference on traditionalism, localism, and communitarianism. Maybe get the folks at the G. K. Chesterton Institute, the Russell Kirk Center, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Humanities Institute, the Rockford Institute, the Howard Center, and the Center for Faith and Culture at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts to send representatives.

Also, what the traditionalist/civic communitarian/localists need is their own think tank like Res Publica since Heritage and Cato and the American Enterprise Institute don’t address our issues.

We also need more traditionalists to run for high office so we can eventually have a better quality bench of presidential aspirants down the road. No offense to my libertarian brethren but Ron Paul and his disciples just don’t cut the mustard when they care more about the Fed and free markets instead of issues that matter to traditionalists like localism, the environment, and families.

avatar John Médaille August 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

N.P., something like that is in the works, or so I understand. However, let me point out one big difference between the UK and the US. Phillip was able to raise 1.5 million pounds in a week to fund his new communitarian think tank. In a country 10 times the size, we couldn’t raise that much in year, or maybe in five. All the money (being corporate money) goes to the Austrian libertarians or to the neoconservatives.

avatar N. P. West August 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Well at least a conference is a place to start. Movements usually begin small and see fruition down the line, sometimes years down the line. For example the Russell Kirk Center and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have hosted educational events for students and academics of a traditionalist mindset for years and one has to believe that at some point some of those students and academics will come into their own in the movement or in the larger American scene.

Maybe the place to start is not by reinventing the wheel and thinking we need to create another Heritage. Chances are we aren’t going to get the big donors that the other think tanks get so maybe we should look at combining resources with other organizations (nationally and internationally) until something substantial can be done in this country.

For example, I see no reason to form another pro-family organization when Allan Carlson has done such a fine job with the Howard Center and the World Congress of Families. As to economics I know that the Chesterbelloc and the Distributist Review are doing good things but so is Stratford Caldecot’s Center for Faith and Culture which has a whole division devoted to Catholic Social Teaching on Distributist and Neo-Distributist economics. Likewise there has to be other localist and communitarian environmental groups out there that cover public policy and I am sure we could find common cause with groups that favor a realistic and humble foreign policy that takes the threat of radical Islam seriously.

Here are two of my suggestions for the conference idea:

First a small private meeting should occur between an international body of traditionalists, localists, and communitarians in which they lay out a statement of principles from which they all agree to move the traditionalist movement forward. This would serve as the “Sharon Statement” of the traditionalist movement (the Sharon Statement was the founding document of Young Americans for Freedom back in the 1960s).

Second two conferences should be held, one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. to capitalize on Red Toryism, progressive conservatism, traditionalism, communitarianism, localism, etc. get as much input from other parties and the public.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins February 16, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I hope there is some real honest to god “Red” in this movement. I don’t buy that the struggle between labor and capital can simply be overcome. When ninety percent of the population has to “get a job” rather than “ply their craft,” extortion does indeed take the place of contract. We won’t rebalance the needs of childcare without massive transformation in how employers view their employees. But in general, this is an appealing vision. Whether he has the nuts and bolts blueprint to make it happen is not clear. What is clear is that the “deepest pink” British Labor Party does not. Give the reds a chance.

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